Jun 22 2011 3:27PM

WNBA 15 for 15: Katie Smith, Three-Point Queen


Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE/Getty Images

The year Katie Smith graduated from college at Ohio State University1 women’s basketball leapt into the national consciousness as the U.S. women’s Olympic basketball team earned a decisive gold medal at the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta. That excitement was met by the launch of two women’s pro leagues: the WNBA and the ABL.

Smith opted to join the ABL, staying close to home with the Columbus Quest.2 For the next two years she barely lost a game, as the Quest won two league championships.

The ABL folded midway through its third season, leaving Smith and many other professional women’s basketball players wondering about their futures.

“That was kind of a tricky time,” recalls Smith of the months leading up to the 1999 WNBA Draft. “You had an influx of all these ABL players that are bouncing over to the WNBA.3 You have WNBA players trying to save their jobs. There was some negotiation.

“They wanted to protect what they had, but also wanted the best basketball league. Eventually, that’s what it was.”

Bonus Points
1.During her time at Ohio State, Katie Smith broke the Big Ten scoring record for career points—male or female. She was Big Ten MVP her senior year.
2.This summer, Smith is reunited with Quest coach Brian Agler, as she joins the Seattle Storm.
3. Among the other top names were Yolanda Griffith, DeLisha Milton and Natalie Williams.
4.In addition to winning gold in Sydney, Smith also won Olympic gold in Athens in 2004 and Beijing in 2008. After the Beijing Games she announced her retirement from USA Basketball.
5. At the end of the 2010 WNBA season she had 7,193 total career points.
6. Smith was MVP of the 2008 WNBA Finals.
7. Smith was traded from the Lynx to the Shock in the middle of the 2005 season.
8. She connected for at least one three-pointer in 31 of 32 games (regular season was 32 games back in 2000).
In the end, a limit was set on how many ABL players could be selected in the 1999 Draft. Smith was one of those picked. Although much was new and different, Smith wound up playing for Minnesota Lynx, which was coached by Brian Agler, the same coach who’d led the Quest.

“Coming into the league, it was getting used to the summer games, the compact season,” Smith recalls. Her rookie season, she was healing from a torn ACL suffered in late 1998. “It was a lot of mental focus, so it was different. You just want to come in and compete.

“For Brian Agler and our team, it was just going out there to do what you can. For me, obviously I am a scorer. Being able to be a threat in a lot of different ways.”

Smith spent the 1999-00 offseason training and touring with the U.S. national team in preparation for the 2000 Olympics in Sydney, Australia.4 She arrived for the 2000 WNBA season in top condition. That year she set a new WNBA single-season record for three-pointers with 88 made. In 2002, she broke the league’s all-time record—at that point held by Cynthia Cooper—with her 233rd triple.

“Three-pointers, I can shoot them,” Smith says modestly. “A lot of times I settle for them because they’re easier than driving sometimes when you’re tired. I’ve shot a decent amount. It’s something that I feel comfortable with and strong at.”

With her ABL and WNBA points combined,5 Smith is the all-time leading scorer in women’s professional basketball, with 5,760 WNBA career points heading into the 2011 season. While she is proud of her individual accomplishments, which includes being named to the WNBA’s All-Decade Team, she is more eager to reflect on the WNBA titles she won with the Detroit Shock in 2006 and 2008.6

“Obviously, it was special,” Smith says. “You play to win. You want to win a championship. You also understand at the end of the day if you didn’t get one by the time your career is up, it does not mean your career is a failure. Sometimes it’s circumstance. It just wasn’t in the cards.

“Going to Detroit, I never would have thought that would have been as great a move as it was.7 The players, the coaches, it was a phenomenal experience and we had a great team.

“I was excited and put everything I could into it and so did my teammates. It was kind of a relief. It also felt good that people were pulling for you. It was kind of neat that people were happy for me getting one. I’m not so sure they wanted me to get two.”

She doesn’t recall a lot about the 2000 season8 other than the nightly effort that the Lynx put on the court.

“We were trying to earn respect and not be overlooked,” Smith says. “We played hard. We played together. Every night we were ready to battle. On top of working and playing hard, trying to win as many games as we could, we also enjoyed our time together.”