Caprice Smith Headed Back to Her ‘Favorite Place” as DePaul Assistant
Yearning for a new opportunity while never far away, Caprice Smith turned her sights toward a college basketball coaching career, even while being part of a thriving basketball powerhouse.
Hopeful for a chance to return to college hoops over the course of the last few years, the one-time DePaul Blue Demon is delighted to be back coaching in a video coordinator role for the defending Big East Champions.
“It’s my favorite place to think of in terms of if I had to do it all over again, if I wanted to go to college, Lincoln Park is amazing,” Smith said. “It’s not right down within all of the chaos, but you’re still close enough.”
Initially joining her longtime coaching mentor, Jason Nichols, at Morton College in Cicero this past summer after an 11-year run with Montini Catholic, the opportunity to join her former collegiate coach Doug Bruno and the thriving Blue Demons program was something she knew she had to do when the chance came about.
“To quote him (Nichols), I would be an idiot to not take that opportunity,” Smith said.
Smith continued, “It was like, you’re about to either embark on a new journey one way or another.”
Once a rebounding extraordinaire, Smith scored 1,199 career points, grabbed 712 rebounds (tied for 10th in school history) and was a part of a team that won 92 games compared to 33 losses during her collegiate playing career.
All that after a notable high school run of success at Trinity High School in River Forest, during which Blue Demons coach Doug Bruno was witness to Smith’s knowledge on the hardwood as a first-team all-state performer for the Blazers.
“From the moment I saw her play back at Trinity, Caprice has always been a very, very smart player,” Bruno said.
Alongside Nichols, who also coached her at Trinity, Smith was part of four state championship-winning Broncos teams, including in each of her first three seasons with the program during Nichols’ long run of success at or near the top of girls basketball in the state of Illinois.
The longtime Broncos assistant even recently coached against the likes of current Blue Demons Darrione Rogers (Lake Park HS) and Kendall Holmes (Benet Academy), and an untold number of skilled athletes from the region in both the regular varsity season and on the AAU circuit.
“With AAU basketball I got to be a head coach: It just allows me to take control of the game, learn certain aspects leadership-wise,” Smith said. “When I first got in, I was four years removed from high school myself. So it was like, you have to learn how to communicate with girls who are almost in your age group, but not at a friend-level. As an authoritative (coach), you can like me, but you’ve got to respect me and listen to me.”
Bruno said he has known for some time that Smith possessed the knowledge and “horsepower” to be the type of coach to put in 60, 70, even 80-hour weeks.
“She’s been coaching since she got out of here and she’s more than ready,” Bruno said. “She let me know a couple years back that she wanted to get into college coaching, and so we had an opening and I always want to the best of our ability reward our own and bring our own back.”
The connection between Smith and Bruno remained in place over the years, with plenty of conversations personally and professionally. For a decade, on-and-off, Smith coached at the Doug Bruno Girls Basketball Camp. There, Bruno had the chance to see how his former player was growing as a teacher of the game and of individuals.
And for Smith, who has known for several years that she wanted to get into college coaching, the switch from Morton College to DePaul was a no-doubt choice, despite coming with the tough feelings associated with departing Nichols’ side.
“Once I felt like I could be committed to it, it was like the light clicked on,” Smith said. “You should hurry up and get in it because your opportunities aren’t forever.”
Now that Smith is settling into a role on campus during COVID-19 times, she’s getting acclimated to frequent meetings in a limited time frame, most of which are conducted remotely. The Blue Demons have been able to be on the floor with one another four-to-eight hours a week, which typically translates to four two-hour sessions each week.
In her role, Smith faces more limitations than she’s accustomed to, while learning new technology for her position, as well as other tasks. Social media posting and engagement, print-out materials and mailing are also included in her role.
“The NCAA does not allow the video coordinator or the director of basketball operations be on the floor,” Bruno said. “She’s in every coaches meeting we have. She’s with us all the time. She’s listening to what we’re talking about, preparing for practice, preparing for recruiting, just preparing to meet the players. She’s in all the discussions about what’s going on, but once she hits the floor, she can’t technically be teaching.”
But now that she’s had a little bit of a taste of coaching collegiately, it’s hard for Smith to believe how much her mindset toward leading young women on the hardwood has changed over the years, citing the tutorship of Nichols, and the noticeable growth she has seen from his days coaching her at Trinity. She learned how to be the fun or supportive coach. After all, “how could you not be? He’s so serious?” Smith said, laughing about Nichols’ demeanor.
“When I was in college, I didn’t even think about coaching,” Smith said. “It was something that I just kind of got asked to help out or something and then I ended up loving it. I was like, ‘Man I can’t, I don’t see myself doing this at this level for an extended amount of time.’ Because it wasn’t something I had aspired to do to begin with. But like college coaching, it was something that I always had in the back of my mind but I didn’t have, I guess, a clear understanding of… am I ready to be out on the road doing stuff?”
Now that she is, Smith is grateful for the opportunity to learn under her former college coach, who she says is always learning and evolving.
“Knowing coach Bruno for so many years, I know that his knowledge of basketball is ridiculously vast but … he’s not one of those kind of guys who’s like, ‘I do stuff this way, this is what we’re going to do,’ he’s always looking up other ways to do stuff,” Smith said. “He’s always learning. I feel like I hit the jackpot in terms of finding someone who learns stuff first.”
Given her all-around love for Lincoln Park, Smith’s feelings of hitting the jackpot have only just begun again.