Life is what happens while we make other plans.
What changed Ashlee Smith’s life is another life.
After becoming an integral part of the women’s basketball team in her first two seasons at Saint Mary’s College in Moraga, Calif., the Skyview High School graduate missed last season with a knee injury.
That threw off her plans somewhat, but did not change her life as much as when she learned she was pregnant.
“It’s pretty unreal, I guess. I don’t know how to explain it,” Smith said recently in her family’s Salmon Creek home as her 11-week-old daughter, Addison, Harris sat contentedly.
“Being an only child, I was pretty nervous once I found out that I was pregnant, because I’ve never been around kids. That was quite a change for me. I never would have thought I’d be here this early. I knew I wanted to have kids in my mid-20s, but definitely not at 21 or while I was still in school and playing basketball, because that’s definitely going to be a challenge.”
It is a challenge she has accepted.
With plenty of help from a supportive family — both her own and that of Addison’s father, Tim Harris — as well as coaches and teammates, Smith is determined to make it work.
Harris also played basketball at Saint Mary’s but has since transferred to Concordia University of Irvine, Calif. Smith will be living with Harris’ family in San Jose and dealing with a 65-mile commute to campus in the East Bay area.
Child care while she is at school or with the team will be split between the Harris family, which includes three of Addison’s aunts, and a friend who lives between home and school.
Smith was living with Harris’ family before giving birth on Sept. 27 in Walnut Creek, Calif., near the SMC campus.
“They’re really helpful and I’m really close with them,” Smith said. “It was good while I was down there and my parents were here.”
She returns to California on Christmas Day and will begin practicing the next day with the Gaels (8-4 going into Wednesday’s game at Oregon).
Smith’s parents, Scott and Cindy, will watch Addison when Smith and the Gaels make the Portland/Gonzaga trip on Jan. 12-14, and at the West Coast Conference tournament in Las Vegas.
Before learning of her pregnancy, Smith said, her hope for the current season coming off the ankle injury was “definitely just to get back in the swing of things, like before I even got injured.
“Even when I was pregnant, I was still doing summer workouts with the team, and the ankle was perfect.”
Smith took a leave of absence from school for the first semester of the current academic year, making her ineligible until its conclusion at the winter break.
News and reaction
Basketball was not near the top of Smith’s concerns after learning she was pregnant. Her thoughts were likely the same as any young woman getting that news.
“It was more about me, really — what I was going to do and the support I was going to have; how her dad was going to take it, and his family,” Smith said. “Basketball was definitely not a priority right when I found out I was pregnant. It was, ‘What am I going to do? How am I going to handle it?’ ”
Smith flew home the next day after telling her parents. She wanted to wait until returning to school shortly after that to tell coach Paul Thomas, but, “My dad was like, ‘No, you need to tell your coach right now.’ ”
Smith said she was “pretty scared,” but Thomas has been “really supportive.” One of Smith’s current teammates has a daughter who is nearly 3, providing her with support and experience in her new balancing act.
Support from the school did not stop there, either.
“I met with our athletic director, and he said, ‘Your scholarship’s going to be fine. Don’t worry about that. Just worry about yourself and the baby, and everything will be OK,’ ” Smith said.
Once she had those conversations, she began to develop a plan for the rest of her time in college. She decided to rejoin the team at the semester break, and take minimum course loads over the next three semesters to finish playing basketball with the 2012-13 season and graduate in 2013.
Back to basketball
While she is eager to play as soon as possible, Smith knows she was only able to do so much while away from the team.
“It kind of took me a while to be able to start running and stuff again,” she said. “I worked out with the team until I was six months pregnant, and that definitely helped. If I wouldn’t have done that, I would have been completely out of it once I had her.”
Helping once she was able to get back to work on basketball after the birth has been Steve Hook, her high school coach — with assists to her parents and grandmother when it comes to watching Addison so Smith can work in the gym.
Smith — a 6-foot-1 forward who averaged 10.8 points and 6.6 rebounds a game as a sophomore in the 2009-10 season — could see her first action as soon as the West Coast Conference opener Dec. 29 at Loyola Marymount.
“What kind of shape I’ll be in will determine how soon I’m getting into games,” she said. “I don’t think I’m in great shape. I’m slowly getting there. I also think it will be a lot different when I’m actually with the team and running with the team. I’ll have people to run by me to push me. I feel like I can only push myself so far.”
She said her teammates have already met and love Addison, Smith said, and Smith and her parents have been following the team online and on Twitter.
“It’s hard to feel like I’m not part of the team, but I know I am,” Smith said. “I talk to them all the time. I’m just excited to get back into it.”
Smith hopes to find an internship next summer then work after graduation with a sports team, preferably in California. She hopes that her relationship with Harris keeps progressing — “A lot of people ask me that,” she said of any marriage plans.
It’s all part of becoming more responsible, now that she has a huge responsibility in her daughter.
“It seems like you just kind of have to,” Smith said. “It just comes naturally, I guess.”
While time management is challenging and basketball is important in Smith’s life, it is not as important as her little girl.
“She’s obviously my No. 1 priority now, but basketball is definitely just as important as before, and I’m going to do whatever I can to play and finish out,” Smith said. “I guess I’ll just hope for the best with basketball and her. That’s really all. When I was pregnant, my mom said, ‘You’ll be surprised. You’ve never known that you could love something so much.’ It’s definitely the truth. She’s definitely a blessing.”