NEW YORK — Basketball has taken Logan Lady Chiefs great and Logan High School Athletic Hall of Famer Katie Smith down more roads than she can ever begin to remember.
But there was one road that, until the last few years, she never thought she would travel: the road known as coaching.
It was officially announced Monday that she’ll begin her new career as a head coach by playing the garden — Madison Square Garden, that is — as head coach of the WNBA’s New York Liberty.
Smith succeeds her coaching mentor, Bill Laimbeer, who is leaving to become head coach and general manager of the San Antonio Stars. The franchise is moving to Las Vegas in time starting with the 2018 season.
Coaching wasn’t on Smith’s to-do list until late in her playing career. She played for Laimbeer when the Detroit Shock won the 2006 and 2008 WNBA titles, and then again her final two seasons in 2012 and 2013.
“I didn’t (think about coaching) until Bill said ‘come to New York, finish your career, then you can move over and I can bring you on as an assistant coach,” Smith told her hometown newspaper, The Logan Daily News, on Monday morning. “I thought ‘I’ll give it a shot,’ but I never really thought I’d coach.
“I probably didn’t want to,” she added with a chuckle, “but coming on to coach with him there was a lot of learning and understanding about what you could do, how much you had to do, and then growing and really embracing all of it. It’s been a learning curve just understanding how much goes into everything from the coaching staff, the support staff, and all of that.”
Smith has coached under Laimbeer each of the past four seasons and has been his associate coach for the last two.
The 1992 LHS graduate scored a record 7,885 professional regular-season points in both the WNBA and the American Basketball League… a total that doesn’t include her other career scoring numbers with the Lady Chiefs (2,740), Ohio State (2,578), USA Basketball (1,535) and post-season WNBA/ABL (754).
Ohio’s “Ms. Basketball” in 1992, she led the Purple & White to the state Division I finals, and the next season got the Lady Buckeyes to the NCAA finals as a freshman. She later won two ABL titles, two WNBA crowns and three gold medals with the USA women’s Olympic basketball team.
In 2011, when the WNBA honored its all-time top 15 players during the league’s 15-year anniversary, Smith was one of the honorees… and in 2016, when the league turned 20, she was tabbed as one of the 20 all-time best.
Now that she’s been on both sides, Smith was asked which is tougher… playing or coaching.
“Coaching!” she exclaimed. “You’re thinking about every piece and every person and how you can teach and explain things better, (watching) film and making sure everybody’s good but also challenging them. That’s the hardest part.
“You do put a lot more hours in watching film and prepping than you did as a player,” she added. “Now there are a lot more things that I have to think about and prepare for.”
It’s fair to say that Smith may not have went into coaching had it not been for Laimbeer — one of the “Bad Boy” Detroit Pistons as a player in the NBA — who helped resurrect her playing career with the Shock after getting her in a trade from the Minnesota Lynx in 2005.
“He’s really shaped me as a coach,” Smith said. “We all take stuff from people we play for or watch, how we do things or how we don’t want to do things. I appreciate everything he’s done for me, and what I appreciate most is that he allowed me to do whatever I could do.
“He allowed me to vocal, he allowed me run drills, listen in on conversations and be in on personnel decisions,” she continued. “He really allowed you to be hands-on to expose you to everything behind the scenes, both as a GM and coach. I’m thankful for his being up front and allowing me to learn.”
Smith was (and is) known as one of most-competitive people in women’s basketball. Any opponent she’s faced in high school, college or the pros — not to mention games played abroad or pickup games with friends or family — can attest to that.
So maybe she was late catching the coaching bug… but now that she’s gotten it, look out.
“Many people have heard me say ‘I don’t want to coach,’ but you know what? At the end of the day, I love basketball, and I love competing,” Smith said. “But I also love and want the challenge of putting these ladies (with the Liberty) in a position to be successful and being there for them and being a part of that.
“It’s not really about me,” she continued. “It’s about how can I break things down more, do I need to teach more, watch more film, what do I need to do to help them and use them to the best of their ability so we can have success?”
“At the end of the day you want to be able to lay your head down at night and know that you did a good job. What that means in wins and losses, who knows… but I love the game, I care about the players and I want them to have success.”