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Interview: Kamiah Smalls talks about Philly basketball, education and the EuroLeague

We interview Kamiah Smalls, the James Madison University alum who currently plays for Villenueve D’Ascq ESB Lille Metropole in France.

2021 Connecticut Sun Media Day
Kamiah Smalls during the 2021 Connecticut Sun Media Day.
Photo by Brian Babineau/NBAE via Getty Images

With her team currently undefeated in the EuroLeague, Kamiah Smalls, the 5-foot-10 point guard from Philadelphia, should be happy with her first season in France.

And yet, we were surprised to learn that she feels she should play better. Kamiah was able to find some time to talk to us before Villenueve-d’Ascq’s EuroLeague game against USK Praha about what drives her on and off the court; she also shared her experiences and expectations for the rest of the season.

Minnesota Lynx v New York Liberty
Kamiah Smalls played three games for the Minnesota Lynx in 2022.
Photo by Evan Yu/NBAE via Getty Images

Growing up in Philly, were there any local players that you idolized? I am inclined to think that the number 3 on your jersey is not accidental.

Come on, I think Philly would disown me if I didn’t say that Allen Iverson is one reason I wear number 3! Even though he isn’t actually from Philly, he has always been the face of Philly basketball. Outside of him, we have Dawn Stanley, an actual Philly native who gave so many kids in the city hope! Dawn for me was huge, she made me feel like I could do it too!

How would you evaluate Philly as a potential WNBA location? The fans in Philly are known for their high expectations towards their athletes. Would they give a potential expansion franchise time and space to grow?

Philly would be a perfect location for a WNBA team! I think the bar would be set very high because Philly is a competitive city, so the fans always expect the best from our teams. I think they would give a little space to grow but not too much (laughs). We like to be at the top! So with those high expectations comes a lot of love, but also a lot of competitive people that want to brag on their city being the best! I would say Philly would have one good year to figure it out (laugh).

Can you tell me more about your mom and her influence on your career?

I don’t even know where to start. My mother Connie is my biggest fan and has been since the day I decided basketball was what I wanted to do. She has always put me in positions to go after the things I want and has been there every step of the way, good and bad. She instilled a huge, humble heart in me and, outside of my basketball talent, I am a firm believer that the young adult she raised me to be is part of the reason I’ve been in some of the rooms I’ve been in. I owe that woman the world because that’s what she has given to me.

How important was it for you to graduate? And how hard was it to be a student-athlete?

Graduating was my top priority. I love my sport, and this has always been my first passion/love, but I’ve also seen a lot of things in this game fall through for a lot of people. I believe knowledge is power, and maybe one day the ball could stop bouncing. It was very important for me to figure out my passion outside of the sport and become educated on those things so that, if it was time to step away from the game, I wouldn’t be too lost. Balancing being a student-athlete is not an easy task. It takes time and commitment to both jobs. The hardest part is understanding you can’t just focus on one side, you need one to have the other.

You have a degree in kinesiology. What sparked your interest in the human body?

The human body has always been something that has had my attention. Growing up I actually wanted to be a physical therapist, but because of my basketball commitment I was not able to enroll in that program. Kinesiology was the next best option. Being involved in this sport, using my body so much, not always understanding why I was feeling certain things in my knees, in my elbows, etc. made me really want to educate myself on human health. I love helping others too, so I thought if I could get a degree in exercise science I could understand my pain and other athletes’ as well.

Do other players come to you for advice? Or you do give it out on your own, giving them recommendations as to what they can do to ease the pain or speed up their recovery? Or maybe you spend time with physios, asking them more questions and trying to expand your knowledge?

I would say both for sure. I have a lot of young players come to me and ask for advice on jump starting their pro careers, figuring out that rough patch in their collegiate careers. I also offer a lot of advice to my younglings too. I feel like I’m a leader and a part of that is giving knowledge to these younger players, because I’ve been through some of these things. I feel like I always want to be someone who people can turn to for a helping hand because I desire that from my vets. I definitely ask a lot of questions to my physios when I’m getting recovery because I do still believe that is a career I want to purse after I’m done playing. It’s important to me to keep expanding my brain in that area of life too.

How would you evaluate your EuroLeague experience so far? Prior to the season you were selected as one of the players to watch this year. Are you happy with you and your team’s performance?

EuroLeague is everything I Imagined it would be! It’s the most exciting stage I think I’ve played on. There are no weak teams and I love that. This is the level of basketball where the dawgs show. Personally, I’m not the happiest with my performance at this very second. I feel like I should be adding much more because I can and I know that right now I’m in my head more than anything. I make sure to stay as positive as possible for my team. I think we have a very competitive roster and we are so close to wining some of these games; we have to keep working on playing a full game, But in all, I’m happy with my team performance. I just want us to take that next step because I do feel like we deserve to be a top team in this competition. It’s a marathon not a race though, so I know we will figure it out!

A special thank you to Lorenzo Gallotti of Two Points agency for arranging the interview.