The WNBA’s New York Liberty has parted ways with Head Coach Bill Laimbeer who posted a 92-78 record while holding the reins, moving west to the Las Vegas, who for the League’s Aces now holds the position of President of Basketball Operations/Head Coach. In his departure came an opportunity for one of The Ohio State University Buckeyes most accomplished athletes – Katie Smith, as she moved up from assistant coach to head coach.
Katie who for 15 seasons reigned terror in the back-courts of the WNBA, 2nd in the league’s history for scoring with 6,452 points, while surfacing as the # 1 scorer in women’s basketball history (combined ABL & WNBA) with 7,885 points. She has been voted as one of the top 15 all-time players in the WNBA’s history. Also, Katie can smile in the mirror knowing she was the first female athlete in the Buckeye’s history to have her number retired (Jan. 21, 2001) ….
Need I go on?
As I have mentioned, Katie is now the Head Coach of the Liberty. Currently they are 4-7, 4.5 games behind the leader, Los Angeles Sparks, and are 3-4 at home. But the Liberty does look good, regardless of what their record currently shows. Tina Charles, 6-4 Center (#31) out of Connecticut, is averaging 20 points per game (landing her as the current # 5 player in the points category). She also averages 6.8 rebounds pregame. Kia Nurse comes in at # 29 in scoring with an average of 11.3 per game. But perhaps one of the most under-looked players on the Liberty is back-up Center, Kia Vaughn, who averages 4.1 points along with 3.9 rebounds per game. She is a strong player who seems to be in the mix often, disrupting plays from the opposition. This is a value often never sighted. I contribute her effectiveness to both Katie’s ability to recognize the need to play the best five – while rotating the best available. Another Buckeye legend, Herb Williams, also a coach on the staff of the Liberty, too deserves recognition for both Charles’ and Vaughn’s abilities to move in and play with a punishing style.
This is Katie’s rookie season as Head Coach of the Liberty, following Laimbeer of whom she credits with inspiring her, primarily targeting his blunt and straight-forward style, of which she truly appreciates.
“I finally said, ‘Let’s see what I can do,'” Smith said of starting as a Liberty assistant in 2014. “Now here we are, and I love it. Coaching is nerve-racking; it’s stressful. Dentistry would have been a little bit more of a secure profession. But I’ve chosen the other side. I think it’s because I love the game.”
She, of course is speaking of her plan ever since her college days at Ohio State was to someday go into dentistry, like her father. Over and over as the years went by, Smith said she didn’t want to coach. She wanted a lifestyle different from what she’d had as a player. But, this is not how things panned out. She eventually became such a big name in the sport as a player, that naturally, she would become a hot commodity on the circuit following her days as a player – for coaching and teaching – and winning for an organization eager to win. She fit the bill to the tee.
In 2015, the Liberty had the best regular-season record in the WNBA, 23-11, but lost to Indiana in the Eastern Conference finals. In 2016 and this year, they finished third in the WNBA. Under the new playoff format with single-elimination games in the first two rounds, they lost second-round games to Phoenix (2016) and Washington (2017) at home.
The Liberty’s last appearance in the WNBA Finals was 2002, and they’ve never won a league title. As a player, Smith won championships in the short-lived ABL in Columbus in 1997 and ’98, playing for current Sparks coach Brian Agler. When she won her WNBA titles in Detroit, current Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve was a Shock assistant.
The opportunity is here. She is embracing it with that desire that a Scarlet and Gray blood-stream only knows. “I think it’s huge for the women that have grown up and come through women’s college basketball and the WNBA that we continue to find ways to give back and make it stronger,” Smith said. “Because at the end of the day, we care. We are passionate about the game and the league.”
Good luck Katie Smith and New York Liberty. I shall be watching, as a resident of NYC, I know exactly where Westchester County Center is in White Plains.