Originally published in The Fordham Ram on September 22, 2016.
From the second she stepped off the court for the last time, Samantha Clark knew she was going to miss Fordham Women’s Basketball a lot more than she once thought. “Coach Gaitley always asked me [about coaching after her senior year] and I said, ‘No, definitely. I don’t think so. After this I’m done,’” said Clark. “And then I started to miss it as soon as we stopped playing and I was like, ‘Wow, I should really think about going into coaching.’”
On Sept. 12, a press release was issued by the women’s basketball team: “Samantha Clark Named Director of Player Development for Fordham Women’s Basketball.” Coming as a surprise to those outside of the inner basketball circle, it was welcome news. Clark graduated last year after a stellar senior campaign, earning Second Team All-Atlantic 10 honors along with being named to the Atlantic 10 All-Defensive Team. Clark was a clear leader for the team as its only active senior after classmate Khadijah Gibson was lost to injury before the season started. And now, she will bring that leadership to the coaching staff.
While Clark’s hiring makes a lot of sense and seems like an obvious decision, things were not so clear cut behind the scenes. After pestering Clark all season about potentially joining the staff to no avail, head coach Stephanie Gaitley offered up the first available spot to former Fordham Men’s Basketball player and then volunteer assistant Khalid Robinson. Initially, Gaitley did not think there was an open spot within the staff, as most of the entry level staff was “fairly new.” However, following a family tragedy, one of the coaches had to return home, opening up a spot for Robinson. “Ironically, Khalid called me the same day,” said Gaitley. “Radford [University, in Virginia] had offered him a video position.”
At the same time, Gaitley was helping her own former player look for basketball jobs after learning of her desire to try out coaching. Due to Robinson having a claim to the open Fordham position, Gaitley helped Clark look elsewhere, though she says that Clark would have been her first choice if she had come to her sooner. “But in the meantime, she was checking into other positions and I had her meeting with other people,” said Gaitley. “She was very eager and very aggressive in following up with these things.”
Clark, however, had a tough time looking anywhere else. “I thought it was kind of hard,” she said. “I just kind of judged everything against what I’ve had at Fordham. We get treated so well here. All the staffs were great, but I just always in the back of my mind was like, ‘Wow, it would be so great if I was at Fordham with my coaches that I played for and everything.’”
Despite being offered the job with Radford, Robinson had his sights set higher, and was in a unique spot to take advantage of it. “His ultimate dream was to be a part of the NBA, and my son [DC Gaitley, former Fordham Men’s Basketball player and teammate of Robinson’s] is with the Spurs. My son helped him out and set a few things up,” said Gaitley. She told him to tease out that thread, as the Fordham position did not need to be filled until August. Robinson’s dream came to fruition, as he was offered a job with the Golden State Warriors.
This opened the door for Clark to make her triumphant return. “When Khalid got the Warriors position, I offered her the position [with Fordham],” said Gaitley.
“It just happened to work out for me, so I was excited by that,” said Clark.
The transition to coaching players she had played with just a few short months ago has been a little jarring. “It’s so weird but it’s great to see them all,” said Clark. “It’s a different thing, but it’s great to be able to help them out since I’ve had experience here.”
“She was just so well respected by her teammates and her coaches that it’s been an easy transition,” said Gaitley. “I don’t worry about the age gap because of the fact that there’s a great sense of maturity on Sam and she knows that you can’t cross a certain line when you’re in the position of a coach as opposed to being a player.”
While “coach Sam” (a title Clark described as “so weird”), “coach Clark” or simply “Sam” might be new to coaching, she is not going to be limited in her first year. Her title may be Director of Player Development, but on Gaitley’s staff, titles are just names.
“We are looking into doing some analytics and trying to figure out which players are best in which situations and which team is best on the court,” said Gaitley. “Right now, Sam is currently studying that area for me.”
But analytics is not the only thing Clark will be covering for Gaitley’s multi-faceted staff. “She’s going to have her hand in a lot of different things,” said Gaitley. “She’ll also be a little bit of marketing. She’ll be doing a lot of video with us as well, because my assistant in charge of video will be doing some strength and conditioning. So Sam will be getting video, whether it’s breaking down our players or getting ready for a certain opponent, she’ll be playing a major hand in that as well.”
“Coach has told me a lot of what she’s looking at,” said Clark. “The coaching staff’s been great, sending me links to look into things. Coach has been great. I’ve been giving her some ideas, she gives me feedback and I just keep going and looking for the things that she wants.”
Clark hopes to be able to help the Rams build off of her 14-17 senior season, which was a disappointing finish based on the women’s basketball team’s standards. “I’m excited to see this team grow,” she said. “Last year wasn’t the best of years. It was my senior year so I still loved it, but I want to see this team take off and be the best they can be. Having them grow for last year would be awesome to be still around to see it.”
While Clark may have ended her playing career — “I still haven’t played yet. I still say I’m in retirement and I’m not ready to come out of it yet” — she may have found a new home on the sideline. At the very least, her plan is to find out. “I wasn’t sure if coaching was definitely something I wanted to do, so this is a great start for me. I’m off the court, but I’m still around it,” she said.
The Rams will open their season with an exhibition game at home against Muhlenberg on Nov. 4.