Then the phone rang, and Delaney-Smith was on call again—for a team far away from Cambridge, whose roster was full of collegiate All-Americans and future WNBA All-Stars.
Delaney-Smith was named head coach of the 2005 World University Games team last spring and spent August in Turkey, where the squad won the gold medal.
Delaney-Smith’s team finished a perfect 7-0 in tournament play and improved the USA’s World University games record to 81-15.
“[It was] very surreal,” said Delaney-Smith of being named. “The whole thing, from A to Z, when I got the phone call asking me to be head coach, it was like, ‘Is this candid camera? Is this a joke?’”
The USA Basketball Women’s Collegiate Committee selected her to head the team, with LSU head coach Pokey Chatman and BC head coach Cathy Inglese taking associate positions. The appointment came in the wake of Delaney-Smith’s ninth Ivy League title, which Harvard shared with Dartmouth a year ago.
Delaney-Smith is also the winningest women’s coach in the history of the Ivy League, and her 215 league victories are second only to the legendary Pete Carill of Princeton, who tallied 315 wins. She remains the only head coach in NCAA history to guide a No. 16 seed to a win over a No. 1 in the NCAA tournament, which she did against Stanford in 1998.
Delaney-Smith served as an assistant coach with the World Championship Team for Young Women in 2003, but the University Games presented her first opportunity to take over as head coach in international play.
“For an Ivy League coach to be asked to be the head coach is the highest honor short of the Olympics that you could have,” she said.
While many of her players took summer internships or joined summer basketball leagues, Delaney-Smith was coaching the likes of 2005 Naismith Player of the Year Seimone Augustus of LSU and preseason All-American Monique Currie from Duke. Players from perennial national powerhouses Texas Tech, Stanford, Notre Dame, and Ohio State were on the squad.
Delaney-Smith was the sole representative of the Ivy League on this year’s squad and is the first Ancient Eight coach ever to be named to the World University Games coaching staff. Her fellow coaches came from high profile national programs; LSU made the Final Four in 2005, and BC spent all of last season in the Top 25.
“What I think our big challenge was for me to have to balance the synergy on my coaching staff,” Delaney-Smith said. “Cathy is from BC and she’s on TV all the time, Pokey’s on TV all the time, and people are probably still saying, ‘Does Harvard have basketball?’”
Delaney-Smith won over any doubters with her team’s dominant run. The USA’s closest victory was an 88-64 drubbing of Czech Republic in the opening game. The USA squad also routed South Africa 92-22 in pool play and downed Russia 118-67 in the semifinals.
“I had every last second must-score play drawn out because I thought, ‘Oh my God, what if I can’t draw it for the gold?’” she said with a laugh. “We never used it.”
In the final, Delaney-Smith’s team beat Serbia & Montenegro 79-53 to earn the USA’s sixth gold medal in 14 trips to the World University Games.
“We were there to win the gold,” Delaney-Smith said. “That’s what we there to do. They were reminded of that probably more than they wanted to be reminded.”
Under Delaney-Smith’s guidance, the USA beat its opponents by an average of 43.1 points per game and put together a 30-0 run in the win over South Africa. It was an entirely dominant performance for a team whose roster was finalized just nine days before its first game in Turkey on Aug. 10. Delaney-Smith, Chapman, and Inglese had the unenviable task of paring down the squad during tryouts and then fashioning a starting lineup out of 12 superstars.
“I never had a day off in two months,” Delaney-Smith said. “It was really exhausting. But I loved it.”
—Staff writer Aidan E. Tait can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.