Stephanie Smith has always had a goal to become a Division I head women's basketball coach.
Earlier this week, Smith's career took another step in that direction when Northern Illinois University coach Kathi Bennett named Smith the Huskies' new director of women's basketball operations.
Smith, a 2000 Hampshire graduate and a two-time Daily Herald Fox Valley all-area captain when she played for the Whip-Purs (1998-99 and 1999-2000), went on to play four years at NIU and she couldn't be happier to be taking the position she's been offered by Bennett.
"I'm super excited, especially to do this where I played," Smith said. "I couldn't be happier to work with this program and see where it's going. After eight years as a high-school coach I got my foot in the door at the DI level and hopefully this is a steppingstone toward becoming a head coach."
A four-year letter winner for the Huskies (2001-04), Smith spent the last two years as a graduate assistant for Bennett. She returned to her alma mater after spending eight years as a high-school coach, including two seasons as head varsity coach at Burlington Central where she tallied a 28-28 record. She also served as an assistant at Marian Catholic in Chicago Heights and at South Elgin High School. She has also coached at the AAU level.
A 2004 graduate of NIU, Smith earned her master's degree in adult and higher education in 2013. During her career as a Huskie, Smith played in 113 games, starting 36 at guard. She scored 475 points (4.2/game) and held a career .350 3-point shooting percentage, good for 10th best in program history.
"In hiring Stephanie as director of basketball operations, I have hired a unique talent," Bennett said. "After being our GA, she has built and instilled in our players the positive attitude we need, and shares her love for NIU."
In her new role Smith will do less hands-on coaching and more administrative work, all things she will need to know to become a head coach. She will be responsible for a multitude of duties, similar to those former Elgin standout Sean Harrington performed in the same position for the University of Illinois' men's basketball team a few years ago.
"I'll still be on the bench but I'm responsible for things like travel arrangements, breaking down video, coach Bennet's schedule, and training a graduate assistant as I was trained," Smith said. "I feel blessed and honored to be a part of the Huskie family and to help these kids reach their goals as Division I athletes. My experience with high school players, parents and administrations is why I want to continue to pursue my goal of becoming a head coach. It's a calling I really want to answer, to help young people."
Bennett also announced this week the promotion of former Huskie player and DeKalb High School coach Debbie Whitman to an assistant coaching position.
"I am, as our entire team is, so happy to announce the promotion of Debbie Whitman to assistant women's basketball coach and Stephanie Smith to director of basketball operations," Bennett said. "Anytime there is an opportunity to promote from within with former NIU players and alumni who absolutely love NIU and a great passion to see us succeed, it is a no-brainer."
Whitman, a 1993 graduate of Northern Illinois University and NIU Hall of Famer, spent the 2012-13 season with the Huskies as director of basketball operations. A three-year letter winner for the NIU women's basketball team from 1990-93, Whitman was a part of a prosperous run for the program. She helped lead the Huskies to a 1991 WNIT appearance and the 1992 and 1993 NCAA Tournaments.
Prior to joining Bennett's staff in 2012, Whitman spent the 2011-12 season as an assistant coach at North Central College. A native of Wisconsin Rapids, Wis., Whitman has a long history in the DeKalb community, serving as the head coach of the DeKalb High School girls basketball program from 2005-10 where her teams posted a 95-51 record. Under her leadership, the Barbs captured conference, regional and sectional championships while advancing to the Sweet 16 of the 2006 IHSA Tournament. She spent two years as an assistant at DeKalb before assuming the head coaching duties.
"The respect I had for Coach Whitman's knowledge of the game was great when I hired her as our director of basketball operations," Bennett said. "After spending a year with her, seeing her in action day to day, the impact she has had on our players and in the community, I'm fired up to have her here to say the least."
Whitman is a member of several hall of fames as a player. She was inducted into the Assumption High School Hall of Fame in 2004, the NIU Hall of Fame in 2005 and will be inducted into the Wisconsin Basketball Coaches Association Hall of Fame in 2011.