Time to celebrate
Katie Smith was driving a few days before the NCAA Women’s Final Four in March when an area code for Springfield, Massachusetts, popped up on her phone.
“I was like, ‘Well, this is it,’ ” Smith said.
The voice on the other end asked Smith if she was having a good day.
“Because we’re gonna make it better,” Smith remembered the person saying.
With that, Smith learned of her selection for the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame, but she didn’t get a chance to celebrate with her fellow 2018 inductees at the men’s Final Four in San Antonio. Instead, the Logan native celebrated in Columbus, which was hosting its first Women's Final Four.
Smith will get that opportunity this week as the 2018 Hall of Fame class heads to Springfield for three days of festivities that include a Friday induction ceremony.
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She took Ohio State women’s basketball to its only Final Four in 1993 and won two American Basketball League titles with the Columbus Quest, two WNBA titles with the Detroit Shock and three Olympic gold medals during a decorated career.
On Friday, she’ll have a five-minute speech in which to cover all of it.
“It’s a little nerve-wracking because it is short, but I’m glad it’s short because it could be a really long night with everybody (speaking),” said Smith, who recently finished her first season as coach of the WNBA’s New York Liberty. “I’m actually very OK with the five-minute timeline.”
Smith said she started working on her speech — who to thank, which career moments to highlight — last month. She also had the benefit of being inducted into two halls of fame in the same summer and said her induction into the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame in June served as a good dry run of what she’d like to say.
Friday will be a celebration of a career Smith didn’t even know would be possible. The ABL and WNBA didn’t form until late in her college career and were in their infancy when she left Ohio State.
“It was just like, yeah, I’ll keep playing and we’ll put dental school on hold and it was nuts because it just snowballs,” said Smith, who is fifth all-time on the WNBA scoring list. “No clue how I played for 17 years. Somewhere in the middle you just say, ‘Let’s ride this thing until it stops.’ ”
Looking back on her career, Smith said she’s most proud of the way she handled her business and how she enjoyed all aspects of her game, from scoring to setting picks.
From an early age, Smith said, she didn’t back down from competition. That’s how others remember her game.
“She just didn’t cut corners,” said Adrienne Johnson, a four-year teammate of Smith’s at Ohio State. “Katie didn’t shy away from the competition at all. If we were running sprints, she wanted to win. If you were playing three-on-three, she wanted to win.”
Women’s basketball broadcaster Debbie Antonelli, who was asked by Smith to write her narrative for the Hall of Fame, said she first met Smith at a Sharon Fanning shooting camp at Kentucky when Smith was an 11th-grader in Logan.
Even as a high school player, Smith’s shooting ability and strength were evident, Antonelli said, and she used both throughout her career to diversify her game, playing and guarding multiple positions.
“You get into the Hall of Fame because of your offensive numbers, but when you look at the overall game, Katie had this incredible quality,” Antonelli said. “She transformed her game over the years to be able to win in any role, and I don’t know of anybody else who could do that when you start thinking about it like that.”
It was that versatility and drive that made the idea of competing for a national title at Ohio State Smith’s dream as opposed to a pipe dream, former Ohio State women’s basketball coach Nancy Darsch said.
“She worked tirelessly to make that happen,” Darsch said. “In Katie’s many stops throughout her basketball career, she has always raised the standard for winning.”
On Friday, that standard will be recognized with a Hall of Fame induction.