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Wednesday, June 9, 2004
All-Star cites less support for teams

Associated Press

MINNEAPOLIS -- Katie Smith's basketball resume includes an appearance in the NCAA championship game, an Olympic gold medal and four straight WNBA All-Star berths. She's also the all-time leading scorer in the history of women's professional basketball.

What's her career goal?

"I still want to go to dental school," the Minnesota Lynx guard said Wednesday.

Hardly the typical goal of a star athlete whose name will be in record books for years. But the WNBA is hardly a typical professional sports league -- and Smith knows it.

Asked if she expects the league to still be around in a few years, Smith -- speaking at a meeting of sports editors and broadcasters hosted by the Minnesota Associated Press Sports Association -- candidly replied: "Honestly, no idea."

The strong interest in women's college and international basketball hasn't filtered into the WNBA, which still struggles with low attendance numbers. Smith said fan and player loyalty isn't as strong.

"Professionally, there isn't that pride," said Smith, who's preparing for her second stint with Team USA this summer in Athens, Greece. She helped the United States win a gold medal in the 2000 Sydney games.

"There's a lot more riding on it," she said of international competition. "It's just a bigger deal."

Smith had a few suggestions to help increase WNBA fan interest:

  • More national television coverage for some teams. (The Lynx are on national TV only once this season.)

  • A regional draft or regional placement of players. The Lynx tried to land University of Minnesota star Lindsay Whalen in this year's draft, but the Connecticut Sun asked for too many key players in a proposed trade.

    Smith was asked if she thought the WNBA suffers from playing a summer schedule. But she pointed out the league would have to compete against college basketball and the NBA regular season if it played during the fall and winter.

    "Honestly, I really don't know where we fit in. ... I'd watch college basketball, too," she said with a laugh.

    Smith is six points away from reaching 3,000 WNBA career points, is currently fourth on the WNBA all-time scoring list and is averaging 18.1 points per game in seven 2004 regular season contests.

    Having played in 166 WNBA games, Smith is on track to be the fastest player to reach that milestone. Los Angeles Sparks center Lisa Leslie did it in 172.

    But Smith's impressive accomplishments haven't packed the Target Center stands, which mystifies Lynx coach Suzie McConnell Serio.

    "She's someone we believe the Minnesota people could get to know and fall in love with," McConnell Serio said.

    The Lynx play the Sparks at L.A. on Friday. The Sparks are one of the WNBA's more popular teams, but the southern California fans are preoccupied with another Los Angeles team playing in the NBA Finals.

    "I think it'll find its niche, you just need to pick and choose your cities," Smith said when asked if the WNBA might be more successful if it had teams in cities without NBA franchises.

    Should the WNBA fold, she said some players will head back overseas -- others would be "lost."

    But the 30-year-old Smith might not have much to lose. She said she's already preparing for life after basketball by taking classes at alma mater Ohio State -- she led the Buckeyes to the 1993 NCAA title game -- with the hopes of going to dental school.

    "The body will not hold up," she said.