Nov. 3, 2004
By Brian Tom
During her college career, women's basketball player Rhonda Smith-Banchero was known as a tough, aggressive player. She is arguably the best inside force to ever don a Husky uniform, powering her way to the top of the Washington record books in several categories. For her excellence on and off the court at Washington, Smith will be inducted into the Husky Hall of Fame on Friday, November 4.
"It's a great honor," says Smith about joining the Husky Hall of Fame. "Not many people are inducted, so that's something I feel very proud of. It puts that final exclamation point on a great career."
Smith came to Washington from Seattle's Franklin High School and left the Huskies in 1995 as the school's all-time leading scorer and third-leading rebounder, compiling 1,801 points and 803 rebounds. She was known for her deadly accuracy, recording the second-best career percentage (.530) in school history. She still holds the record as the only Husky to lead the team in field goal percentage for four years.
Individual stats are not the only measure of Smith's greatness. Behind her leadership, the Huskies went 80-40 and made three trips to the NCAA Tournament during her four-year career. Smith also led the Huskies to the preseason National Invitational Tournament championship, earning MVP honors with 38 points versus Texas Tech in the final game.
Smith's dominance earned her numerous accolades and recognitions. She earned three All-Pac-10 nominations and was also voted to the District VIII All-America team as a junior and senior. She was also named the Seattle Post-Intelligencer's female star of the Year in 1995 and was the first Washington player recognized as a Basketball America All-American. Not only does Smith fondly remember all the athletic awards, but she cherishes the relationships she formed at Washington.
"My college experience was absolutely amazing," remembers Smith. "It was probably one of the best times of my life in terms of the friends that I made and the close-knit community that we had in the athletic department. It was really a fun time."
One of those friends that Smith met while on campus was Napoleon Kaufman, a fellow Husky Hall of Fame inductee. In fact, the two were such good friends that they were housemates their senior year.
"We had a great time and we would just laugh for hours about stuff," says Smith about living with Kaufman. "It will be really nice to see him and it's going to be a fun (Hall of Fame) class to go back and reminisce with."
While Kaufman went onto a NFL career after college, Smith embarked on a professional basketball career of her own. She entertained Seattle sports fans after signing as a fifth-round pick with the Seattle Reign of the ABL. Smith then went on to play professionally in Taiwan where she averaged 33 points and 12 rebounds per game. She later became the first Husky to ever be drafted into the WNBA when the Sacramento Monarchs made the 6-foot-3 center their third-round selection (46th overall) in 2002. Shortly after that, Smith hung up her sneakers to begin life after basketball.
"Playing basketball is really not conducive for having children and having a normal family life," says Smith, who along with her husband, Angelo Banchero, a former Husky football player, are the proud parents of a two-year-old son, Paolo, and a two-month old daughter, Mia. "My children are 22 months apart, so I've got my hands full."
Despite a busy professional and personal life, Smith has never wandered too far from campus. She still lives in Seattle and is a weekly tailgater for Husky home football games. Smith currently works for Windermere Real Estate and still dabbles in basketball, serving as an assistant coach at Holy Names Academy.
"I'm just extremely happy where I'm at," says Smith about her current life. "This (being inducted into the Husky Hall of Fame) is just the icing on the cake."
Besides Smith, former swim coach Earl Ellis, football players Napoleon Kaufman, Jeff Jaeger and Lincoln Kennedy, plus the 1970 and 1971 Men's Crew teams will be inducted into the Hall of Fame. Former athletic administrator, Don Smith, will receive the Don H. Palmer Award. For more information on buying tickets to the Husky Hall of Fame celebration, click here or call the Big `W' Club at 206-543-3013.