Chandler Smith’s hard-working mindset follows her from Brewster ranch to basketball court at Gonzaga
Her work ethic was nurtured in the stable, but it’s better appreciated at the Kennel.
For three seasons, thousands of Gonzaga fans have watched Chandler Smith fill the stat sheet the way she filled the barn on the family ranch back in Brewster.
She chases down every loose ball as if it were a stray calf as the most versatile player on a team that has many candidates.
“I just want to be a contributor and feel like I’m helping the team,” Smith said after a recent practice.
She’s still doing a little of everything and having fun at the same time in this, her senior year.
That includes the hard work in the classroom, where Smith is working on her second master’s at GU and on Wednesday was named to the West Coast Conference All-Academic team.
Smith appreciates her good fortune, especially the large, loving family with a passion for hard work and basketball – always basketball, till the cows come home.
Two decades before she was born, her father Dale helped the Brewster Bears win a state-record 82 consecutive games at the Boone Street Barn.
Chandler followed the same path. As a sophomore in 2012, she led the Bears to the State 2B title game at the Arena.
Coached by Roger Boesel, her father’s old teammate, she helped the Bears win a State 1A title as a junior in 2013.
Even then, she was checking all the boxes. An even six feet, she averaged 21 points, better than nine rebounds, seven assists and four steals.
All the while she tries to emulate her role model, Stephen Curry, including his No. 30 jersey.
Her game didn’t waver against top-tier AAU competition, and colleges noticed.
“We recruited the heck out of her,” said GU coach Lisa Fortier, who was still an assistant under Kelly Graves when Smith reached her senior year.
“We even rode horses at the ranch,” recalled Fortier, who faced competition for the four-star recruit from Baylor, Oregon State and other big-time programs.
For GU, it was a case of bad timing. Little did either know it at the time, but a few months later, Fortier would take over the program when Graves went to Oregon.
The 18th-ranked wing in the country in 2014, Smith chose Nebraska, which offered a down-on-the-farm atmosphere and an agribusiness program.
“Gonzaga didn’t have that,” said Smith, who eventually came around to the fact that it had everything else.
Fortier recalls waking up to a text from Smith’s club coach, Steve Klees, with a photo of her release from Nebraska.
Even more poignant, Smith told Fortier later, “If I had known you would get the job, I never would have gone to Nebraska.”
“But obviously, I’m back here and loving it,” Smith said. “And my parents get to come to all the home games.”
Almost as often, Smith returns the favor and drives home to Brewster, a place where she “can go to buy milk, and instead of 10 minutes it takes two hours, because you see people who know and you want to talk to.”
She also misses the chores, pitching in whenever she can.
“We’re just so proud of her unselfishness,” Dale Smith said. “A lot of that has to do with being raised on the ranch.”
Injuries cost her half of her freshman year at Nebraska, but she ended the season in the NCAAs.
Back in her home state in fall 2015, the toughest adjustment was sitting out the next season because of NCAA transfer rules.
“It was kind of frustrating, but I knew my time would come,” Smith said.
It came in the 2016-17 season, when Smith’s nose for the ball earned her 16 1/2 minutes of playing time a game behind senior Elle Tinkle.
Last year, she started all 33 games, averaged 9.4 points and was second on the squad with 5.7 boards, helping the Zags win another WCC title.
“She always had great court awareness,” Dale Smith said. “And she always had that point-guard mentality.”
Smith also possesses a deadly pull-up jumper, one of the Zags’ surest weapons this year.
“I don’t know if anyone has a better one,” Fortier said. “It’s phenomenal, and her passing – she does things you can’t teach.
“Plus, she’s great off the ball.”
Off the court, Smith has been phenomenal.
As a junior, she made All-WCC first-team academic and all-district. By then, she had already earned a bachelor’s in marketing and was pursuing a master’s in business administration.
Last year, she completed that as well, taking extra classes in the summer. Now she’s working on a second master’s in organizational leadership and carries a 3.87 grade-point average.
That will come in handy – on the farm or elsewhere – if dreams of pro ball don’t pan out.
Other people’s dreams matter, too.
“As a team captain, she wants to make sure that everyone feels OK,” Fortier said. “But she really is about putting your head down and doing what you have to do.”
There’s more work ahead. For Smith, it will be the last roundup.
The WCC Tournament in Las Vegas starts on March 7, with a sure NCAA appearance to follow. The Zags are 25-3 and ranked 16th in the nation.
Not a bad senior year, no matter how it ends.
But first comes Senior Day on Saturday at the Kennel.
“I’m hoping I don’t cry, but I probably will,” Smith said. “I’m going to miss this place so much. You see the fans, you can tell they care so much for you as a person.
“I just wish every game was a home game.”