Column: Farewell to a basketball hero

I’m getting ready to go to Cincinnati for the Conference USA men’s basketball tournament. It will be the last conference games for our seniors, B.B. Waldon, Altron Jackson and Mike Bernard. But another senior who is the most important basketball player at USF doesn’t even play on the men’s team. The woman who had more of an impact on USF athletics than any other student ever has ended her career last week. Dione Smith played her last game as a USF Bull. The season-ending win over Memphis wasn’t enough to catapult the Bulls to a spot in the conference tournament. There were only 444 people in the stands, and Dione’s career ended without much fanfare beyond the pre-game ceremony. But the impact of her legacy at our university will extend far beyond her playing career.

Two years ago, Dione was dismissed from the team by her former coach. She thought it was less about her ability and attitude, and more about the color of her skin. So she decided to take on the powerful athletics department in court. It eventually took a rash of former players and coaches joining the lawsuit to give it the credibility it needed to go forward. The case is still being litigated, but it all started because one woman risked being ostracized and had the courage to say something was wrong. Because of that courage, problems were addressed and changes have already been made. Lee Roy Selmon took over as athletics director, and Jose Fernandez was elevated to women’s head basketball coach.

I never met former athletic s director Paul Griffin or former women’s coach Jerry Ann Winters. All I have to go on is the e-mails and reports left from their tenure. From the evidence on paper, it seems like there was a problem, and instead of making small changes to help change a culture, they decided to ignore it and hope it would go away. It appears a change was needed, and because one woman’s courage, that change was made.

Dione acted in life the same way she plays on the court … with tremendous guts, intelligence and heart. On a team that improved greatly this season, she was the catalyst. I went to most of the women’s games this year, and Dione was one of the reasons I hated to miss any of them. Her small frame, lightning quick hands and incredible strength for someone her size was completed with her tireless effort. She wasn’t a scorer, but rather led as the floor general and let others take the shots. She led the conference in steals and finished fifth in assists. If there was a stat that measured heart, she would have led the nation.

I’ve never met Dione, but one of her teammates said, “She’s so determined and hardworking, her work ethic is incredible.” It probably won’t happen because of the lawsuit, but I’d love to see her as an assistant coach to Jose Fernandez. I bet he’d take her heart in every Bull’s body for the rest of his time here; I know I would.

So, thanks, Dione. I loved watching you play and wish you all the best. I hope all of our future athletes have the guts and courage on and off the court that you showed.

  • Collin Sherwin is a senior majoring in political