Patience and confidence: Sara-Rose Smith’s journey from role player to star sixth player

Mar 24, 2023 - 2:00 PM
Mitchell Scaglione/ Mizzou Athletics

In a two-part collaboration with Edge of the Crowd, I wrote about Sara-Rose Smith’s journey to Mizzou, starting from her time spent in the youth leagues in Australia and going all the way up. You can check out part one here. Now it’s time to tell her Tiger story.

Sara-Rose Smith knew her time to shine on the Missouri women’s basketball team was coming. With four players leaving the program in the offseason, it paved the way for Smith to make her mark as the player she and her teammates knew she could be. It was just a matter of time until fans got fully introduced to her dynamic and versatile play.

Smith came to Columbia in 2020 during the height of the pandemic. In the Covid-shortened season, she only appeared in 13 games but showed a knack for crashing the boards and defense. She grabbed six rebounds each against New Orleans and Southern Illinois, also adding two steals in the latter game.

In the 2021-22 season, Tiger fans started to bare witness to Smith’s untapped potential as not only a defensive guard but one who could score. She nearly hit a double-double (10 points, 7 rebounds) in a non-conference game against Idaho State and scored 10 points against SIUE on 100% shooting. She embodied this spark that would burst into flames just a few months later.

Patience and core values

In today’s day and age, the transfer portal is a hot commodity for many reasons. Some enter because they want a change of scenery, some for NIL purposes, and others for lack of playing time. There is no issue with an individual utilizing the portal if they want to, but many players choose to stick it out and wait their turn no matter how tough it may be.

Smith’s role with the team in her freshman and sophomore seasons was far less than what she wanted, but instead of leaving when times got hard she decided to trust the process and honor her commitment to Mizzou. “I wanted to stay true to who I was and stay true to the commitment that I had,” Smith said earlier in the season in a postgame sit-down.

“[Transferring] is not what I wanted to do,” she said. “I spoke about it earlier in the season... fall in love with the process is one of our core values. I think I encompassed and embodied that in everything I sort of did leading up to now.”

Veteran leadership

Playing the role of veteran is one of the most valuable roles you can have on a basketball team, no matter your on-court experiences. As a junior this season, the younger players looked up to Smith for advice about not only basketball, but life. She’s adapted to that role extremely well but gives credit to one particular teammate who really helped her transition into the college world.

“The main person I am going to credit, who I try to base my leadership on is [Haley] Troup,” Smith told me. “She put me under her wing the second I got to campus and she’s been phenomenal in every aspect.”

Haley Troup is the definition of a veteran leader and not just because she concluded her sixth and final year in the black and gold. Whenever Smith needed someone to call or hang out with to talk about life or basketball, Troup was always there for her.

Smith knows how hard it can be to adapt to a new environment as a freshman away from home. Even though Averi Kroenke is from Columbia and Ashton Judd’s home is only about three hours away, Sara-Rose took pride in being there for the freshmen duo, and she’s ready to embrace her leadership as a senior when a new crop of freshmen — there’s four coming in — get to campus.

“I take really big pride in knowing that I’m going to carry on the leadership from Troup,” Smith said. “Anything [the veterans] and I can do to make the transition as seamless as possible, I’ll do that.”

 Jaydyn Isiminger/Mizzou Athletics


Back in September, I predicted in Rock M’s preseason roundtable that Smith would absolutely break out this season. I knew she would take on her new role extremely well but to what extent, I didn’t know. When the proverbial phone rang and Smith’s number was called, Sara-Rose quickly emerged as a pivotal spark off the bench while playing starter minutes.

Smith is extremely versatile and athletic. We saw flashes of her defensive abilities throughout the season along with her ability to alter shots. She’s a solid rebounder, which the Tigers desperately need, and she averaged 2.3 per game in 31 games. Smith may be listed as a guard, but her 6’1 frame contributes to her versatility of playing a combo forward.

In the offseason, Smith worked on all aspects of her game which led to a dramatic increase in every single statistical category. This season she finished with averages of 6.7 points, a team-leading 6.7 rebounds, 1.2 assists and 25 steals, all career-bests. Defense was a critical part of the whole team’s offseason development, and this only helped Smith reach new heights. Her offensive breakout, however, was sparked by self-confidence.

“I think it all came down to trusting myself and my abilities on offense,” Smith said. “I know I am more than capable of getting to the rack and [scoring] but it was just trusting myself and knowing that I can do it.”

Smith’s trust in herself allowed her to take shots from anywhere without hesitation. She acknowledged not shooting well from beyond the arc this season, but she attempted more than 50% more shots this season than in her first two combined. In fact, Coach Pingeton encouraged Sara-Rose to let the ball fly. Not only was her self-trust a huge factor in elevating her offensive game but her coaches and teammates supporting her shot-taking and decision-making, even if the ball didn’t find its way through the net, allowed her to gain confidence this season on the court.


In the season opener at Missouri State, Smith burst onto the scene quite literally everywhere. She played 31 minutes off the bench and recorded her first-ever double-double notching 10 points and 10 rebounds to go along with two assists and a steal. The 10 points matched a career-high and the 10 rebounds reset her career-high. That feat would be surpassed against Arizona State when Smith played for 34 minutes off the bench and posted another double-double with 11 points and a new career-high 15 rebounds.

As the season progressed, she kept improving. Smith concluded the season with six double-doubles, all while coming off the bench. Even if her scoring wasn’t necessarily there on a given day, she made great decisions on offense and would always be there to fight for a rebound on both ends.

The burning question though is if Smith was even aware of when she got close to a double-double. Some players pay attention to their stat line the whole game and know what they need to achieve this feat. Others don’t have any idea and are just solely focused on helping their team without paying attention to their own personal stats. There is nothing wrong with either of these perspectives because that’s just how people play their game. However, Smith never personally knew when she was getting close to a double-double.

“That [situation] was funny because I had no idea myself how close I was,” she told me. “My teammates would be screaming at me from the bench saying that I needed one more rebound or a certain amount of points. I never knew, but the people around me did. They wanted that for me and wanted to celebrate it with me. It feels good knowing that people want this for each other.”

Smith dedicates the support and encouragement from teammates to want to celebrate each other’s successes as a testament to the Mizzou women’s basketball program’s culture. The culture the team and coaching staff has built/are continuing to build is the sense of a family.

With the emergence of her play this past season, Sara-Rose Smith will no doubt continue to build on this season and elevate it to a whole new level.

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