Over the years, Katie Smith has been a lot of things — the WNBA’s all-time leading scorer, a four-time league champion and a three-time Olympic gold medalist.
These days, as coach of the New York Liberty, the former Ohio State star is displaying her basketball skills from the sideline, not the court.
In her second season at the helm of the WNBA franchise, Smith has led her team to a 7-7 record, good for third place in the Eastern Conference. The Liberty is riding a four-game winning streak, the longest of Smith’s coaching career.Get the news delivered to your inbox: Sign up for our BuckeyeXtra newsletter
After dropping the first four games of the season, New York has gone 7-3, stealing four games on the road to reach .500.
“We’ve become a little bit more consistent on the defensive end — being disciplined and locked in and really flying around,” Smith said. “I’ve thought our energy from the start all the way until now has been really, really good, so we’ve been building since the beginning.”
Smith, 45, was named coach of the Liberty in October 2017 after spending three years there as an assistant. Before that, she played two years for the Columbus Quest of the defunct American Basketball League, winning championships each season, then 15 seasons in the WNBA. At Ohio State, she was the first woman’s player to have her jersey number retired.
As a former player, Smith understands the critical role she has as a coach, and the delicate balance between implementing a game plan and letting her athletes play.
“It’s not a complex game, but there’s a lot of little things that go into it, making sure you’re locking in on the things that matter the most and understanding the team and what they need,” Smith said.
“Do they need all of that information? Do they need less? What do we need to do in practice to change habits or to get them to do things we really need to do in a game? Every day you’re reevaluating and thinking, 'OK, how can we get better at this?'”
Smith also understands the role she has at practice in setting the tone for the players.
“All of my coaches, all of my experiences, all of my teammates have shown me how to prepare and how to show up every single day — whether your body hurts, whether you're tired, whatever’s happening, that you’re locked in about the job you need to do at hand,” she said.
“I try to live that as a person and as a coach: showing up for my team every single day and making sure … that I’m giving them everything I could possibly give them on that day.”