Making your mark as one of the most prolific long-range shooters in NCAA history. Winning the Rocket Mortgage Three-Point Shooting Competition, nearly beating the best men’s shooter on national TV. Competing at the highest level with other female athletes — even becoming lifelong friends with some.
Achievements like Kendall Spray’s in collegiate athletics have a lasting impact. She wavered between feelings of nostalgia for that magical time and hope for a future in human resources after FGCU coach Karl Smesko called her in July 2022. It was mere weeks after she left campus and drove back to her Nashville home.
With a bachelor’s in health science and a master’s in human resources from Clemson University, and an entrepreneurship graduate certificate from her only year at FGCU (2021-22), Spray figured she’d work in a corporate HR department.
However, Smesko wanted to know if she was interested in being director of operations for the FGCU women’s basketball program.
“It felt like the right opportunity for me to learn and develop into a better person and in my profession, to eventually move up one day,” Spray says.
“At FGCU, I learned so much about basketball — the game and taking it to a whole other level — than I had ever experienced before. I could see the impact that our coaching staff had on the game and in players’ lives.
“From that one year, I decided that I wanted to get into coaching. Before I came here, I wasn’t so sure about that. But when I came here, it magnified what I wanted to do after playing.”
Spray accepted the FGCU post in August 2022 and was put in charge of the program’s off-court logistics, including travel and meals. Additionally, since the 2022-23 season, she also attends practice sessions and occasionally gets called into drills.
Spray sees it all through the lens of her career. She ranks fourth all-time in NCAA history with 466 three-pointers in her 154 games with the University of Tennessee at Martin, Clemson and FGCU. At FGCU she is second in program history with the most threes in one season (103) and third in overall shooting percentage.
Moreover, for one transcendent night, she was the greatest shooter in women’s basketball as she won that Rocket Mortgage contest on ESPN.
“It just goes to show that hard work pays off, and just sticking to the principles that your coaches, parents and family teach you every single day,” Spray says.
“Hard work pays off, and it’s not just your hard work. It’s what your coaches have put into you, your parents in getting you to the gym every day.
“To be able to wear FGCU on my chest one more time meant a lot, and hopefully, it put us on the map even more than we already are, coming on national television. I was happy to do it for my teammates and everybody supporting me up to this point.”
Spray can’t help but feel blessed whenever she looks back on her life. When she left UT Martin after two years, she came to FGCU on an official visit but decided to transfer to Clemson. She spent three years there, and still had one year of eligibility left due to the NCAA extension for athletes who competed during the pandemic season of 2020-21.
Smesko, the architect of FGCU’s ascension in NCAA Division I women’s basketball history in terms of winning percentage (.847), knows a good player when he sees one. And he saw a lot in Spray. So, when she indicated interest in finishing her career at FGCU, he warmly welcomed her.
“He’s a genius when it comes to basketball,” Spray says. “I learned so much in one year of being here. He took my three-point percentage up by 9 or 10%. He already knew I was a good shooter, but he made me into a very elite shooter just by fixing a few things and getting me open shots by playing into his system and having teammates willing to set me up and help me get those wide-open 3s.”
In retrospect, she regards her decision to leave Clemson for FGCU as “a pivotal moment” in her life.
“I think coming here lit a fire in me,” she says. “I know that in my last year, I found so much joy in playing.”
And now, she’s finding an equal amount of joy being a part of a program that still has many of the same elements as her playing days at FGCU.
“I’m working really hard, but I’m also smiling, and everyone’s laughing around me,” she says. “It has brought basketball to my life at a different level. I’ve learned to love it more and learned so much more about the game. I’m grateful for all of the relationships I built as a player and now as director of operations.
“It’s very much a family atmosphere, and everybody’s inclusive. I’m just very grateful for the opportunity I’ve had so far. I can’t thank Coach Smesko enough for the opportunity to not only play but to join an elite staff.”