Amber Smith, who spent several seasons as women’s basketball’s director of player development, was promoted to assistant coach in May 2018 and is in her third season as a full-time assistant coach.
Smith has been instrumental in the success of the Kentucky women’s basketball program the past five seasons both on and off the court. In her first year as a full-time coach in 2018-19, Smith helped Kentucky to 25 wins, a top-four finish in the SEC and a berth in the NCAA Tournament. Her direct work with UK’s point guards – Taylor Murray and Jaida Roper – helped Kentucky become much more efficient offensively with Roper setting a career-high in assists while Murray ranked top-20 nationally in assist-turnover ratio.
Smith’s impact on the 2019-20 team was significant as she continued to show an ability to develop top guards as Rhyne Howard became a unanimous candidate for National Player of the Year as a sophomore and was first-team All-America by the AP, USBWA and Wooden Award. Jaida Roper, Sabrina Haines and Chasity Patterson showed increased development under Smith with Roper becoming one of the best point guard in the SEC while Haines and Patterson averaged double figures and were key contributors. Overall, UK finished third in the SEC and were ranked top-20 nationally all season long ranking fourth in the nation in turnover margin while its 252 3s made during the year set a new program record and was top-25 nationally.
While serving as the director of player development, Smith helped coordinate student-athlete community service while working with the players in a variety of areas. Her development work has been rewarded by UK having the SEC WBB Scholar-Athelte of the Year each of the last two seasons. The UK women’s basketball program also made history under Smith’s leadership with two players selected in the 2017 WNBA Draft in third-overall pick Evelyn Akhator and 33rd-overall pick Makayla Epps. Akhator was the highest draft pick in program history.
Smith returned to Lexington in the spring of 2016 as the director of player development after spending three years in the coaching ranks at the Division I level. The native of Winter Haven, Fla., started her coaching career as a graduate assistant coach at Tennessee before a two-year stint as an assistant coach at Louisiana Tech, where her main roles were recruiting and on-court development. During her time in Knoxville the Lady Vols won 29 games, including winning the Southeastern Conference Tournament Championship and advancing to the NCAA Tournament Sweet 16.
A member of the most successful senior class in Kentucky women’s basketball history, Smith played in 123 career games for UK at guard with 109 starts. She was a member of the 2008 SEC All-Freshman Team and ranks sixth all-time in program history in assists and eighth all-time in assists per game. During her tenure, Smith averaged 7.0 points per game and 3.4 assists per game, helping Kentucky advance to four consecutive postseason tournaments, including two trips to the NCAA Tournament Elite Eight.
Smith has been recognized nationally for her success after college as she was one of 50 participants chosen to attend the 11th-annual Women’s Basketball Coaches Association’s “So You Want To Be A Coach” program in April of 2013. Additionally, Smith was one of 12 recipients of the NCAA’s UPLIFT Registration Scholarship, allowing her to attend a professional development symposium for aspiring young basketball assistant coaches in 2014, and the Steve and Kaye Maynard Women’s Basketball Graduate Assistant Scholarship.
A May 2011 graduate from UK with a bachelor’s degree in integrated strategic communications, Smith is part of Mitchell’s 100% graduation rate at Kentucky. She recently earned her Master’s in sports management from Morehead State University in May 2020.