Staying in SLO is a series by Mustang News sports reporter Miles Berman highlighting current Cal Poly coaches that previously played for the Mustangs.
On Jan. 30, 2020, Cal Poly Men’s Basketball faced off against Cal State Fullerton at home. The score was 96-96 with 1:15 seconds left in overtime. A timeout was called.
First-year head coach John Smith spoke to his team. One of those players was his son, Jamal Smith, who has played under him for four years.
But one thing was different from the previous four. Both Coach Smith and his son Jamal were wearing green and gold, facing off against their former team – Cal State Fullerton.
Cal Poly would go on to beat Fullerton with a bucket as time expired in overtime, 101-100.
Three years later, Jamal has earned a graduate degree, played professionally overseas and won a Big Sky Conference championship with Montana State as an assistant coach.
Now during the timeouts, coach Smith is still at the helm, but his son Jamal is also there, working with the Mustang point guards.
“I knew I wanted to be just like my dad,” Jamal said about his initial interest in coaching.
Since transitioning from player to coach, Jamal has a new outlook on the game – and thus, a new outlook on his relationship with his father.
“I never understood the perspective of a coach and why [my dad] would be so hard on me to where we were arguing with each other in the middle of practices,” Jamal said.
Present day, Jamal can look back with gratitude on the discipline his father instilled in him and how it has helped him as a coach, particularly in his role at Cal Poly as the Director of Operations.
While Jamal does not want to stay in operations, he is currently focusing on “being the best I can be in whatever the team needs and whatever role that is.”
“Eventually, I want to be a head coach of my own program,” Jamal said. “I know I have a lot to learn, but I sorta feel like I’ve been coaching my whole life in the shadow of my dad.”
Jamal said he is grateful for the opportunity to both play under his father and now work for him at the start of his young coaching career.
“We learned from mistakes we’ve made as a player-coach,” Jamal said. “Now as coach-coach, we are more fluid.”
Looking back on how he got here, Jamal said that “being overseas then being in Montana away from family is hard.”
Now, however, Jamal is enjoying his time beside his dad back in San Luis Obispo.
“Being here surrounded by family and love is amazing,” Jamal said.