LOGAN — Basketball has taken Katie Smith on numerous life-altering trips around the globe.
And now, the 1992 Logan High School graduate — Hocking County's most-famous and all-time greatest athlete — is ready to come home.
"I am officially going to retire," Smith said late this week from New York via a phone interview with The Logan Daily News. "I'm ready. It's more of an unknown, and it's a little scary, but it's that next phase and (making the) transition that people do, whether its leaving college and entering the work force.
"Not totally knowing (where you're going) is a little scary," she added, "like 'this is all I've done,' and that slight unknown" of what lies ahead.
Now playing — and still playing well — for the New York Liberty, her fifth WNBA team, Smith's team is fighting for an Eastern Conference playoff berth.
But whether the Liberty's season ends Sept. 15 with a regular season game at Washington, or whether it ends with a league championship, it will be the last call for the 39-year-old Smith, the all-time leading scorer in the history of women's professional basketball in the United States.
And she's okay with admitting that it's time to move on.
"My body and my mind (are) good with it," Smith said. "It's time to move forward."
And as she moves forward with her life away from being an active player, Smith knows that she has literally lived a dream.
"I've been asked 'if you weren't doing this, what would you like to do for your dream job?' " Smith said. "I'm doing my dream job. Now it's time to find something else. This part of my life has been absolutely amazing, and now I'm looking forward to the next.
"I'm soaking up and savoring (everything) that has happened over the years," she added.
Basketball has been the vehicle Smith has driven to nearly-unparalleled success.
Smith, who played her first organized basketball game as the only girl on the then all-boys Logan Bobcats youth basketball team in fifth grade, led the Logan Lady Chiefs to a pair of Final Fours and a berth in the 1992 state Division I championship game... the only time an LHS athletic team has played for a state title in any sport.
From there, she guided Ohio State to the 1993 women's NCAA championship game, then won two professional championships with the now-defunct American Basketball League's Columbus Quest.
She moved on to the WNBA, where she has played for the Minnesota Lynx, Detroit (now Tulsa) Shock, Washington Mystics, Seattle Storm, and now the Liberty, in a 14-year WNBA career. She won titles with Detroit in 2006 and 2008 and, during that time, earned three gold medals as a member of the USA women's Olympic basketball team.
Smith has been named one of the WNBA's all-time top 15 players and, entering a game Friday night against Indiana, was third all-time in scoring (6,244 points) in the league.
She's logged uncountable numbers when it comes to points, rebounds, minutes played, games played, and travel miles for all sorts of teams at all sorts of levels in all sorts of places, including overseas, during her basketball life.
"Back in the day, playing biddy basketball with the Bobcats, no way" she thought it would lead to such a life and such a career. "Then came high school and college. We didn't grow up thinking (about pro basketball) or watching the WNBA on TV (because women's professional basketball didn't exist in the United States at the time) and not one clue did I think that I could do it this long or make it a career for so long.
Basketball has "opened doors, I've traveled here and traveled there, met this person and that person, all because of this game," she continued. "It's really amazing when I look back at it. I think I've got about all the basketball out my body that I can. I feel good being able to hang them up and feel good about it."
But retirement doesn't mean she'll be sitting around in a rocking chair.
"I'm headed back to school (at Ohio State) to finish my last year of grad school to be a registered dietician," revealed Smith who, this week, was doing college homework in addition to playing two WNBA games and attending early-morning practices. "I have my thesis and final year of that coming up. It's already started. This is my third (and last) year. I'm back in school. A couple classes I've already started, then when I get back home I'll actually go to class."
Imagine being a freshman and sitting in a classroom with a world-famous athlete.
Along with earning her stripes as a dietician, she also wants to coach.
"Hopefully I'm going to be in New York as an assistant with (Liberty coach) Bill (Laimbeer) next summer," Smith said. "I very much want to coach. I want to get some experience. I want to go home and finish my degree, and (being a dietician) will go hand-in-hand with sports because I can be more of dietician (geared toward athletes).
"I do want to coach, whether it's college or professional," she added. Under Laimbeer in New York, she would be "kind of be a jack-of-all-trades (with) all the responsibilities you could ever assume. I can get a (coaching) crash-course."
It's said that many great players have a difficult time transitioning into coaches because they expect their players to be able to perform to the same standards they once did.
Smith doesn't feel that will be the case with her, however.
"I've played for so long that you start to understand things differently," she said. "The hardest thing will be how to explain it (to players), how to be concise, how to continue to be creative because everybody is so different in how they learn and how they remember things.
"The next phase (coaching) is not going to be about me, but about them and how can you continue to help them grow," she continued. "It might not be at your pace, and they might not think like you, but it has nothing to do with you... it's how do you help them by what you know and get them to understand and get better."
Smith has always been both a student of the game and a coach on the court.
"I think if I was younger and wanted to coach I would have a harder time" making the adjustment, she admitted, "but now it's 'how do you help this person become the best basketball player they can on their own journey and their own way.' I think it can be exciting and rewarding."
Coaching will also help her replace the void of actual athletic competition that has driven her for nearly three decades.
"If you're in coaching you might not have that much (playing) withdrawal, but we'll have to see," Smith said, adding with a laugh that "you're not going to catch me playing a lot of pickup (games) or needing that in my life because my body would hurt too much."
She's not done yet, however.
"We still can (make the playoffs)," Smith said. "We still have a very good shot. Indiana, Washington and ourselves (are within) one or two (games) in the loss column and we play Indiana twice and Washington again. As up and down as we've been (New York is 11-17 and in fifth place in the Eastern Conference), we still have a shot to get in."
Four teams in each conference make the playoffs, "and once you're in, you never know what can happen," Smith said.
Entering Friday, Smith has started 24 of New York's 28 games, averaging 5.5 points and 26 minutes a game. The Liberty lost one of their stars, Essence Carson, before the season started.
"I feel pretty good," she revealed. "My back feels good. My knee's a little achy, a little stiff, but nothing but normal wear and tear. I feel good for the most part.
"Essence (was injured) early," she added. "I might have started anyway with her and Cappie (Pondexter), playing a good chunk of minutes (and) defensively guarding the best players on the other team. Offensively, it kind of depends upon the game. I've played the point, fitting in and trying to knock down shots when I get them. Our post players and Cappie are our strengths and that's what we're working around."
While Smith has always been the type who wanted to play as many minutes as possible, she also understands Father Time is beginning to catch up.
"I can't play 38 minutes (a game) like I used to, but I can still knock down shots and play defense," she said. "I just can't do it for an extended period of time."
There are some things she won't miss about basketball.
"I'm definitely not going to miss warming up, going to practice, getting this body loose, the beating on each other in practice, or all the drills," she said with a laugh. "I'm glad I'll never have to do those again. Maybe (as a coach) I can put people through those drills.
"Some of the drills (she learned in elementary school) are still there," she added, "and they're about fundamentals. The athletes you play against (are) at a higher level, but a lot of the drills, a lot of the skills are things you were doing when you were little. It's repetitive... you just have bigger, faster, stronger people doing them."
With her career winding down, Smith wants to come home — to Logan, Hocking County and Southeast Ohio — and conduct a youth basketball tournament.
"I'd like to do something in Logan and donate some of the (proceeds) to the Loryn Cassidy Memorial Scholarship Fund," Smith said, speaking of the 2012 LHS graduate and great basketball and soccer athlete who died in an automobile accident earlier this summer. "I didn't know her well, but my mom did, and she told me she was super, super kid.
"I'm still working on that, but I would love to have teams from all over Southeastern Ohio" attend," she added. "It would be fun to do something and see people and catch up and have it be for a great cause. And if they have an alumni game (for the Lady Chiefs, which is in the works this season), if I'm in town, I'm playing!"
No matter what, one of her stops will, assuredly, be the Basketball Hall of Fame. And she admits that she has thought about it.
"I do think about what I've done," she said, adding that she's done "everything that can possibly be done" in the game of basketball. "When you look back on it, it's surreal to think that I did all that. In a sense, it's almost been unbelievable.
"You go to work and play a game and try to do the best you can," she continued. "All of these things came from working hard and sacrificing — anybody who has success does those things — and it kind of blows you away. It's been a mind-blowing experience to think of all the things that came from basketball."
Smith know that basketball has put her on — and sent her all over — the map.
"Basketball is really everything," she said. "It's my life. I have basketball to thank for the many, many experiences that I've had. It's been unbelievable, and it's still going to be a part of the next part of my life.
"It's time to move on, and I'm really looking forward to it," Smith added, "but this part has been pretty darn cool."