Commentary

Katie Smith joins Liberty as assistant

Originally Published: November 19, 2013
By Mechelle Voepel | espnW.com

Katie Smith retired from playing in September, but she knows her mind could pull a few tricks on her next spring as she watches the New York Liberty prepare for the 2014 season.

"I don't have the itch to play now, but I might think, 'Maybe I can still do it,'" Smith said, chuckling. "In terms of just working out, staying in shape, my routine is still kind of the same. But the truth is, it's exciting to move on and now be able to jump in with both feet to something else."

Her new occupation is being an assistant coach for Bill Laimbeer with the Liberty. Smith will join the staff as another former WNBA standout, Taj McWilliams-Franklin, moves on to other pursuits.

Smith finished a 15-year stay in the WNBA with career averages of 13.4 points and 2.9 rebounds, and she was also one of the league's best and most versatile defenders. Smith has long been like a coach on the floor, having played until age 39. And she has worked in an administrative grad-assistant capacity for her alma mater, Ohio State.

I don't have the itch to play now, but I might think, 'Maybe I can still do it.' In terms of just working out, staying in shape, my routine is still kind of the same.

-- Katie Smith

"But I can't say I've really coached; this is definitely my first real go at that," said Smith, who averaged 6.1 points and 1.9 rebounds this past season. "There's a lot that goes on behind the scenes. Of course, I've watched it and been aware of it. But to be the ones to hash it out, why we're doing stuff -- that will be a different dynamic for me.

"Film-watching, doing the scout and then presenting it in a way that people can understand it. And now I'll see the management side of the game, too: how to put the pieces together in running an organization."

Smith, who finished an All-American college career with the Buckeyes in 1996, started as a pro in the short-lived ABL in Columbus, Ohio. She won two titles there playing for coach Brian Agler.

In the WNBA, Smith spent six-plus years in Minnesota before a famously lopsided trade during the 2005 season, pulled off by Laimbeer, brought her to Detroit. There she won two WNBA championships. The Shock relocated to Tulsa, but Smith didn't. She ended her WNBA career playing for Washington, Seattle and New York. She also won three Olympic gold medals with the United States.

"Over the years as a player, in your own mind, you think, 'How would I do things?'" Smith said of coaching. "I'd think, 'This is what I would pull from what I've seen Bill do, and this is what I would pull from Brian.' Things like that. But I'm looking forward to getting a crash course in actually doing it all."

The Liberty finished 11-23 and missed the playoffs in Laimbeer's first season back in the WNBA after coaching in the NBA. So New York will get a lottery pick in April's draft.

[+] EnlargeKatie Smith
Ned Dishman/Getty ImagesKatie Smith looks forward to a crash course in coaching with her former team.

The date of the lottery has not yet been announced. The league and the players' union are still negotiating a new collective bargaining agreement, for which the players' primary goal is expanding rosters to 12. The players also want to see a workable injured-reserve system that can protect players who are hurt, but that doesn't severely limit teams from managing rosters to compete more effectively.

Meanwhile, WNBA fans are waiting to hear who will take over as head coach in Atlanta and Tulsa. The other opening created after this season -- at Phoenix -- was filled last week as the Mercury hired Sandy Brondello.

Brondello, 45, is a former WNBA player from Australia who got into the league in 1998 and, like Smith, competed in multiple Olympics. Brondello is a little older but part of the same generation of players as Smith.

Smith thinks those players who essentially founded the WNBA are still going to be important to the league for the next several years.

"I think we need to stay visible and involved, and that could be in a variety of ways," she said. "It could be at the high school or university level, talking about our experiences and what the game has done for us.

"We have to continue to give publicity to women's sports and say how that's impacted our lives. We need to still stay vigilant about making sure people have these opportunities."

Smith is finishing her master's degree at Ohio State and will be a registered dietician. She'll also do some scouting of the college game in preparation for the draft. She's eager to see the Liberty take steps forward next season, when the team will be back in Madison Square Garden in Manhattan.

The Liberty have played the last three seasons at the Prudential Center in Newark, N.J., as the Garden underwent extensive renovation during the summer months. Smith competed in the Garden as an opposing player, and she knows how loud the place can get when the fans are engaged.

"If we do our part on the floor next year, it's going to be a great atmosphere," Smith said. "I thought the fans did well going to Newark, with how they supported us. But the energy of coming into the city, it's just different. I'm looking forward to it."

She's also eager to work with Laimbeer, whom she credited with giving her playing career a needed jump-start in 2005 when she came to Detroit.

"Ultimately, he's the one who's calling the shots," Smith said. "But from my playing experience, what's good is you can have a clear, comfortable dialogue with him. Whether you agree or disagree, you can tell him, and he'll make the decision.

"I watched how he managed people and situations. It will be a good learning experience now working with him."

Mechelle Voepel joined ESPN.com in 1996 and covers women's college hoops, the WNBA, the LPGA, and additional collegiate sports for espnW.

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