Coaching Keeps Competitive Juices Flowing For Smith

 

By Patrick Ralph

 

When Katie Smith retired from the WNBA in 2013 after 14 seasons, the seven-time All-Star was not sure if she wanted to coach for her entire post-playing career. The 2008 WNBA Finals MVP searched around for what she was going to do next.

 JESSICA HILL, AP

JESSICA HILL, AP

Smith then received a call from someone who knew her well: her former head coach Bill Laimbeer. Smith played under Laimbeer for six seasons, five of which came in Detroit and her sixth coming in New York during her final WNBA season. Smith and Laimbeer won two WNBA titles in Detroit together in 2006 and 2008 with the now defunct Shock.

Laimbeer called Smith to get her into coaching. Despite not initially wanting to pursue a coaching career, Smith joined Laimbeer’s staff as an assistant coach. After two seasons on the bench, Laimbeer promoted Smith to be his associate head coach.

After Laimbeer left New York following last season to become the new head coach and general manager of the Las Vegas Aces, Smith now finds herself as the head coach of the Liberty.

“Bill called me and got me in,” Smith said. “I originally did not want to be a coach for my entire career. But within 2-to-3 years it changed. I always thought that it was something I would enjoy because of the game and the people.”

A three-time WNBA champion and two-time WNBA Coach of the Year, Laimbeer knew that the three-time Olympic gold medalist Smith would be a coach someday.

“She understands both sides of the floor well and she’s a student of the game,” Laimbeer said. “She’s super competitive and always wants to win. She wants to be successful and wills her teams to win. I knew she would be a coach.”

Since arriving to New York in 2014, five-time WNBA All-Star and 2012 league MVP Tina Charles has been with the Liberty all five seasons that Smith has coached. As the team’s leading scorer and rebounder at 21.6 points and seven rebounds per game, Charles has experienced Smith as both an assistant and head coach.

“She’s always demanding the best out of us and holding everybody accountable,” Charles said. “She makes sure that individually we’re taking care of each other and being engaged on the court.”

Through 10 games this season, Smith is 4-6 as a head coach. If the season were to end today, the Liberty would find themselves on the outside looking in at the playoffs for the first time since 2014 after finishing with the best record in the East over the past three years. But New York’s losing record can be pointed less to poor play and more to early season injuries and nail-biting losses, especially on its new home floor at the Westchester County Center in White Plains.

In September, the crowning achievement of Smith’s basketball career will take place in Springfield, Mass. as she is enshrined into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame. Smith, who is the all-time leading scorer in women’s basketball history with over 7,000 career points between the ABL and WNBA, will go into the Hall of Fame alongside WNBA legend Tina Thompson.

But even though she can call herself a Hall of Famer now, Smith says that she is constantly trying to learn and improve as a head coach.

“Everyday I go home and somedays I say ‘I should have done that or I wish I could have done that better’”, Smith said. “I try to be better everyday and learn a little more. I always challenge myself to try and put these ladies in the best position possible.”