AAHS grad Pierce part of FGC coaching staff

LORETTO — Growing up in Altoona, Mandi Pierce has been around basketball all of her life.

She had success as a Lady Lion before taking her talents to St. Bonaventure for two seasons and then transferring to Florida Gulf Coast for her final two.

With a degree in resort hospitality management, Pierce entered the hotel field as a front desk receptionist and guest services at a small hotel in South Beach.

However, the urge to return to the one thing that she loved grew.

“I just missed basketball,” Pierce said. “You start getting older and you’re wondering what is your niche? What are you good at and what do you love — and it’s basketball.”

So, she reached out to Karl Smesko, her college coach at FGCU, and let him know that she was interested in a job once one opened up.

“I’ve always been impressed with her work ethic and her attention to detail,” Smesko said. “Those are things that you really need from that OPS position. I had offered her a job in that position years earlier but she was in Miami working at a hotel. But then she told me she wanted to get back in basketball. When it (the position) opened up, she was the best person for the job. She’s done a great job for us.”

That opportunity finally came three years ago, and Pierce was finally back apart of the game she has been missing.

“I always stayed in contact with my head coach, coach Smesko. I’m just telling him when there’s a position open here (Florida Gulf Coast),” Pierce said. “And, finally something opened up, so he contacted me, we did the interview and the rest is history.”

Now in her third season as the director of basketball operations for the Eagles, Pierce has a new appreciation for what goes on in the world of a college basketball team.

As the director, she is in charge of planning virtually everything that the team does at any given point in the day.

“I can’t be on-court,” Pierce said. “I’m an off the court coach. So, I can’t unfortunately do any of those things that I wish I could do.”

That doesn’t mean she isn’t busy though.

“So, basically what I do as the director is I book all the flights, the hotels, the transportation, all of our food — so we eat a lot,” Pierce said with a laugh. “I have to book that for 24 people, which is our travel party. Also, our itinerary — so, when we shootaround, whenever we practice. So, everyone looks at me when we’re on the road for what’s going on.

When I’m home, I take care of a lot of our camp — I direct that. And, anything that coach Smesko needs, I take care of that as well.”

While the job carries with it a great burden of being on top of things, Pierce doesn’t see what she does as a job because it’s something she’s loves so much.

“When I work, it doesn’t feel like a job,” Pierce said. “I just love it. And, it’s awesome because I played for them, so there’s a lot of history that goes behind it.”

Her parents and sister have left the Altoona area and moved down to the Naples-Fort Myers area, so Pierce has family around, but she also has plenty of family left in Altoona.

Which is what made coming back to Saint Francis with her team that much more rewarding, and while her return to the area was short, she was able to spend some time Wednesday with family.

“I have cousins that are here. My grandparents — my grandma and my pappy are here,” Pierce said. “I got to spend some time with them. I’m only here for a short period of time but I got to see them.”

The ultimate goal for Pierce is to move up the coaching ladder.

“We do a lot of film, so I try and sit-in and learn as much as I can. I’m really busy once the season starts but I try as much as I can,” Pierce said. “These coaches I coach next to are just awesome and they have so much knowledge. So, the goal is to keep moving up the ladder. I have to do my time here (as director) and then assistant coaching is what I would want to do next.”

The dedication it takes to be in the coaching profession is one thing that Pierce has seen firsthand as something you never see or know when you are a player who is concerned with just playing the game.

“As a player, you don’t understand everything that goes into everything. The commitment and the hard work that these coaches are doing. So, I’ve learned I had to adjust because the bus isn’t just going to show up,” Pierce said. “So, I had to take care of those type of things. And just on the coaching side, just how hard all the coaches work, We spend endless hours watching film and just studying. It’s rewarding especially to surround yourself around those types of people. I think that will just give me a great opportunity to get where I want to be.”

However, Pierce isn’t rushing the process and is happy just being involved with the game that she has loved since she was a little girl. She knows that everyone must put their time in and things will happen when they are supposed to.

“I think she would be great at it (assistant coach),” Smesko said. “Right now, we don’t have any spots, but you never know when one will open up. She would be somebody I would highly recommend somewhere else if that’s really what she wanted to do.”