Colorado’s Haley Smith goes for a layup over Ariana Freeman during practice.
Colorado's Haley Smith goes for a layup over Ariana Freeman during practice. (Jeremy Papasso / Staff Photographer)

 

Haley Smith assumed competing for league championships and NCAA Tournament berths simply would be part of the deal when she arrived at the University of Colorado.

As a freshman three years ago, Smith joined a program enjoying a rejuvenation of its glory days. The coach, Linda Lappe, was a proud CU alum who had bled black-and-gold during her playing days, and the Buffs were coming off a 25-win season that ended with the program's first date in the tournament in nine years.

Smith figured she would be key part of similar seasons to come. But as is often the case in life, it hasn't turned out that way.

Now a senior, Smith will be counted on to do a little bit of everything in 2016-17 as first-year head coach JR Payne begins her rebuilding project.

"For me, working hard every day is something I've strived to do my entire four years here," Smith said. "Especially coming off the season we had last year, it's not always about the wins and losses and the numbers. That's something coach JR said really well...she would never guarantee wins, but she can guarantee we're going to go out there and play real hard.

"That's something that I come into every day with that mindset. If I put in the hours and I put in the hard work, the results will come."

Smith has been a mainstay with the Buffs since her freshman season, when she appeared in 32 of 34 games while starting the final 20 in a year that ended with the Buffs' most recent winning record (19-15) and a berth in the WNIT. A tireless workhorse, Smith appeared in all 62 games the past two seasons while logging 61 starts. She ranked third on the team last year in scoring (10.7 per game) and is CU's top returning rebounder, averaging 5.7 a game as a junior.


Advertisement

Given her versatility, Payne already has Smith pegged for a number of different roles for her senior season.

"She is a great leader. I tell everybody I wish I had 10 Haley Smiths on our team," Payne said. "For one, she's our kind of player. She's very versatile, she can do a variety of different things. I love that about her basketball. She's also a kid that goes 100 percent effort in absolutely everything she does, which also fits our M-O of playing really tough and playing really hard.

"She's going to play basically two through five this year. We had a scrimmage last week and she led us in rebounding, led us in scoring, led us in steals. She's the player who's going to have to do everything for us. We're asking her to be more vocal and be more outspoken, and she's an absolute rock for this team."

While Smith exudes a typical player's optimism for a run at a postseason berth, the reality is the Buffs may be challenged to improve on last year's 7-23 campaign as Payne sets the building blocks for future seasons. A few seasons after her playing days are done, Smith will be satisfied if she can kick her feet up during a future CU postseason run and feel as if she played a role in establishing those building blocks.

"Whether or not the (NCAA Tournament) happens this year or not, I'll consider it a successful season if we are on that path," Smith said. "Let's say when Kennedy (Leonard) and Alexis (Robinson) are seniors, if they're able to win a Pac-12 championship or the Sweet 16, it would be great if it was the hard work of our senior class this year that helped them put them in this position.

"Our legacy will probably be showing our younger teammates what it means to work hard and pushing them in the right direction."

Pat Rooney: rooneyp@dailycamera.com or twitter.com/prooney07


Colorado head coach JR Payne answers questions during CU media day on Tuesday. Go to BuffZone.com for more photos.
Colorado head coach JR Payne answers questions during CU media day on Tuesday. Go to BuffZone.com for more photos. (Cliff Grassmick / Staff Photographer)