Freshman Smith is Stanford's first international recruit
STANFORD, Calif. (AP) Alanna Smith had already left for her flight across the world to join Stanford's basketball team, so she never saw her mother's tears as the freshman departed Australia by herself.
Smith unintentionally made history the moment she stepped on campus.
Amazingly, she is the first international recruit ever for the Cardinal women's program, even after all of those talented squads in recent decades playing for Hall of Fame coach Tara VanDerveer.
''It was the hardest for my mom to let me go,'' Smith recalled of the emotional goodbye almost three months ago. ''But it's been a goal of mine for quite a while now. My uncle went to college in California and it's been stuck in my head that I wanted to go to college here.''
It has been daunting at times how much she has to learn, adjusting to a new level, new rules and even popular foreign phrases - ''tailgating'' tripped her up not long ago.
Or, there's ''bear-hugging'' while playing post defense. ''Which we call half-fronting,'' Smith explained during a recent sitdown in Jimmy V's Sports Cafe on campus.
And, somehow, this fortunate freshman got through her first quarter of college without a single final exam next month, just two final papers, to which she notes, ''I'm very, very lucky.''
''It is hard to believe Alanna is our first international player,'' VanDerveer said. ''She is a gem.''
''It seems crazy to me as well,'' Smith said. ''I'm surprised there haven't been any international recruits here, but it is getting a lot bigger. This year, so many Australians have gone to college that I know.''
She visited Wake Forest and Texas before settling on Stanford - not a difficult call given the coach, academic reputation and the great weather and culture in Northern California.
Smith had a good feeling about her choice from the start.
''The team is so welcoming. They're my family now. It's been a lot of fun getting to know them,'' she said. ''It's been really cool just being here and experiencing it all.''
Now, she just hopes to get to a Golden State Warriors game soon to watch Aussie center and NBA champion Andrew Bogut.
Her parents know their daughter is in good hands.
''Both Stanford and Tara have unrivaled reputations in Australia so when Alanna was finally accepted we were ecstatic,'' Smith's father, Darren, said via email. ''And to be the first international student-athlete for the women's basketball program is a significant achievement for Alanna and really shows the next round of kids here in Australia that the pinnacle can be reached, even from halfway across the world.''
Her dad will attend some games in December while coaching an Australian junior team on tour in the area.
Coming off a surprising loss to Bay Area neighbor Santa Clara, Smith and the 13th-ranked Cardinal (3-1) were set to play in the Gulf Coast Showcase starting Friday against Missouri State in Estero, Florida.
Smith is averaging nearly 14 minutes per game, scoring 7.3 points and grabbing 2.3 rebounds, and she can shoot the 3.
''The American 3-point line is actually closer than where our 3-point line is in Australia, so that makes it a little bit easier for me shooting a step in,'' she said. ''Now I just have to work on consistency.''
VanDerveer nearly had her first international recruit last season. Penina Davidson, a 6-foot-3 forward from New Zealand, had attended Stanford camp and planned to come to school but instead wound up in Berkeley for the rival California women's team after her test scores didn't get her into Stanford. VanDerveer encouraged Golden Bears coach Lindsay Gottlieb to bring her aboard.
So, Smith is the one making her mark on the program's history though her family didn't know it ahead of time. VanDerveer often checks in with the freshman to let her know there's always an open door to the coach's office if anything comes up - like a pesky cold that slowed her down early in the season.
''There's great talent places other than the U.S. and for our coaching staff to be able to tap into that is pretty cool,'' junior guard Lili Thompson said. ''We're super lucky to have Alanna. She fits into the team great.''
After playing in Russia during the summer for the under-19 Australian team, Smith arrived at Stanford in September - a year after her official visit.
The versatile Smith can play the wing and create mismatches with her height or go down low to the post.
''She has a great feel for the game. It is a huge adjustment for her and it has been tough,'' VanDerveer said. ''She has a great international game - runs well, puts it on the floor and loves to score. We have some work to do on defense and rebounding.''
Smith is eager to accept any coaching along the way as she makes the transition.
''I feel so blessed to be able to have the opportunity to come internationally,'' Smith said. ''I'm just really happy to be here.''