Thursday, September 16, 2010

Hey, JMU Nation, remember me?

Who says you can't go home again? (OK, we just did, but we're trying to set up a story here so cut us some slack.)

Former James Madison assistant and Furman Hall of Famer Jackie Smith Carson seems to be doing just fine five months into the task of resurrecting the women's basketball program at her alma mater. Since Smith Carson planted her feet in Greenville, S.C., everything we've heard about Lady Paladin hoops radiates such energy and enthusiasm. Of course, her players are going to have to prove it on the court. But if positive attitude and want-to count for anything, the new coach is setting one heck of a foundation.

In fact, we thought she might be so busy looking forward she wouldn't have time to look back to her days at JMU. But Smith Carson made time, and thoughtfully reflected on life with the Dukes, whether she's still got game and why we shouldn't hold our breath waiting for her to match coaching wits with JMU coach Kenny Brooks.  

Would 'whirlwind' be a good word to describe your life since you took over at Furman?

Whirlwind is the perfect word!! The first few months of being a new head coach are filled with non-stop decisions, meetings, and demands. You really don't have time to be scared or worried about whether or not you are making the right decisions. When people ask how it is going, I simply say that I am trying to keep my head above water!

You obviously thought this would be a good job for you. Now that you've been there for a spell, has it been what you expected?

I knew it would take a pretty special job to take me away from JMU. I loved working and learning under Coach Brooks and I took pride in helping him build a first class program. When the opportunity arose to become the head coach of my alma mater, I knew I wanted to get the program back to the top of the Southern Conference. So far, it has been better than I expected because I landed a wonderful staff and have gotten overwhelming support from the Furman community, parents, and players.

Team Edward or Team Jacob?

I am not a fan of the Twilight series but I know just enough to know that Bella needs to go with Team Jacob!

Although I'm sure you absolutely, positively love it at Furman, the three things you miss most about JMU/Harrisonburg are:

Hands down, the No. 1 thing that I miss the most are the players and staff within the program. It sounds so cliche, but we really were a family. It was amazing how so many different personalities could truly complement each other. Every person within the program helped mold me to the coach that I am now. Coach Brooks is my mentor and it was an awesome experience to work under him.

The second thing I miss about JMU/Harrisonburg is the support given by the university, students, and community. Knowing that we would play in front of thousands of loyal and supportive fans at almost every game, home or away, was a wonderful feeling. The Crown Club is a one-of-a-kind booster club that truly loves and supports the JMU women's basketball team.

The third thing I miss about JMU/Harrisonburg is how close it was to my family in Woodbridge, Va., and my husband's family in Bedford, Va. Harrisonburg was an ideal location, so both me and my husband could get home within 2 hours. It was perfect for those tough days when I just needed to sneak off to "home sweet home" for a couple of hours.

Is your game still sharp enough for you to take your current players to school on the court? (In a not-that-long-ago previous life, Smith Carson was one of the greatest players in Furman's history)

I have made it a point to try to stay in shape just in case one of the girls decides to challenge me. I definitely will get some shots up and play noon hoops with other coaches before practice starts to keep my game up a little. I demonstrate all the drills I want them to do so I think that gives them a pretty good indication that I can bring my game back out if I need to. I think it helps my case that my jersey is hanging in the rafters above their head during workouts.

So far, what would you say is the biggest difference between being an assistant and being the Big Kahuna?

As an assistant, you are used to being in the shadow. As the Big Kahuna, I am in the spotlight and there is no place to hide. A typical day involves at least 20 people walking into my office asking me to make a decision about something. That doesn't include the hundreds of emails and phone calls you receive as well throughout the day. So many people want a piece of your time, and trying to build a relationship with everyone can be tiresome. I think being the head coach of your alma mater carries an added pressure as well, because there are so many people still in the community that remember me from my playing career and are equating my success as an athlete with how I will be as a head coach.

Your thoughts on Cher's outfit at Sunday night's VMAs.

I was like, "Wow!! Okay, Cher!" It was definitely an outfit that she dug out of the back of her closet, but if she still has the body to pull it off, go for it. (Smile)

Finally, how long must we wait before that much-anticipated Furman-JMU matchup?

Don't count on that matchup anytime soon. Hahaha! It would be way too weird to coach against Coach Brooks, the girls, and the fans in the immediate future. Plus, I do not want to be on the other side of that scorer's table so the JMU Pep Band can prove why JMU had the best home court advantage in the CAA.

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