BLOOMINGTON — After Olivia Lett led the Illinois Wesleyan women’s basketball team to the NCAA Division III national title in 2011-12, Coach Mia Smith wanted her to become an assistant.
Following a year playing professionally in Spain, Lett has accepted Smith’s offer.
A former national player of the year, Lett replaces Tasha Gaston-Bell on a staff that includes Melanie Ward, Chad Cusac and Jenn Jorgensen. Bell moved to St. Louis after getting married last year.
The poor economy in Europe has reduced the number of professional opportunities for American players.
“Without really having any European options, we decided to go ahead and give it a go for at least as long as I’m here,” Lett said. “I’m trying to get to a league in Australia that starts in March.
“I would like to play one more time, but if it doesn’t happen, this is a great opportunity for me to help coach all year.”
A 6-foot guard, Lett averaged 15.2 points for Universitario de Ferrol in Spain last season when she was named one of the top 10 players in a 20-team league.
“It was just the right fit at the right time,” said Smith of her new coach.
Lett will mentor five seniors and one junior who were once her teammates.
“I’m certain that they all respect her and all the new kids have certainly heard her name,” Smith said.
Lett admits it was strange coaching teammates at first.
“But I think because I was a captain when they came into the program that I’m not really taking this coaching role much different than that,” Lett said.
“I kind of chime in the same ways I would when I was a senior captain. In that way, things haven’t changed that much.”
Lett feels the upperclassmen are comfortable with her.
“They know they can approach me with questions or concerns or things like that,” she said. “I guess my role is to try to almost be a mediator between the players and the coaches.”
Smith has been impressed with Lett’s coaching knowledge and communication skills during the preseason.
“She can put a player’s perspective on it,” Smith said. “In practice, she’s been getting in and playing.”
Lett was known for her offense after averaging 21.8 points as a college senior.
“Coach has been surprised at how many times I’ve chimed in about things defensively rather than offensively,” Lett said. “I think that is kind of because I was always an offensive player so I see the weaknesses in a defense a lot easier.”
Lett’s pay at IWU almost makes her a volunteer. She also works for Just Right Lawn Care in Bloomington and hopes to soon add substitute teaching to her non-basketball duties.