All-Star cites less support for teams

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

    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

    "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.