Katie Smith finished her long and decorated playing career last year, but she is far from done with basketball.
The Ohio State all-time great recently finished her first season as an assistant coach for the New York Liberty in the WNBA, and she told BuckeyeSports.com she enjoyed the experience as the Liberty went 15-19 and missed the playoffs.
Although this was the first time she was a full-time coach, she has had a variety of experiences over the years working with players, including various stints helping her alma mater in different capacities during the WNBA offseason and while she continued to work on a graduate degree at Ohio State.
She also served as a kind of coach on the floor at times, especially later in her career when she became a role player, including time at point guard. While she found those experiences helpful, she quickly learned actually coaching full time is a much bigger endeavor.
"There's just a lot going on," she said. "Play calls, trying to write up a play call, I would never -- I mean so many years need to pass by or I need to steal a lot of plays until I get that comfortable feel, but it was really a blast. Hopefully I'll have another chance to do it."
She spent her first year on the sidelines learning from Bill Laimbeer, the former Detroit Pistons center who has become one of the top head coaches in the WNBA. Before taking over the Liberty, Laimbeer led the Detroit Shock to three WNBA championships. Smith was a player on two of those squads and developed a good relationship and respect for Laimbeer along the way, leading to the opportunity to begin this next step in her professional life under his tutelage.
She has aspirations to be a head coach some day but admits she has a lot to learn before she is ready for that.
"It was different," she said. "Obviously the hours are a lot longer, trying to prep and figure out ways to get what you want accomplished, planning video and practice time. Each player is a little different, how to communicate. But I really enjoyed the scouting -- to a point. Obviously the ton of film watching is not the most fun thing I've ever done, but it also allowed me to know my team front and backwards. But I loved working on court. I like being around the players. I like the in-game, trying to think of adjustments. Obviously there's a ton of stuff to learn, but I really enjoyed it."
Smith finished her career as the all-time leading scorer in United States professional basketball history. She made more three-pointers than anyone in WNBA history while checking in No. 2 on the WNBA scoring list and 10th in career assists. A versatile player who was the all-time leading scorer in Big Ten history when she finished her college career in 1996, Smith led the Buckeyes to their only Final Four appearance to date (1993) and went on to win Olympic Gold three times before calling it a career.
"I think for me as I played and as I got older I kind of went through the period when I was a you're-The-Man-type of player, you're carrying teams like anybody and then you kind of move on to a role so then your perception changes and you're thinking differently," she said. "I played point guard for a stretch and had to learn how to use people and use their strengths, like how can I use her? She's a great shooter. I've gotta find her. That I think has helped make the transition easier, just trying to be creative."
She does not intend to rush through the beginning part of this next phase of her basketball life, though.
"Would I like to be a head coach some day? Yeah, I would, and if it's professional or college, I could probably do either, but at some point I'll probably have to pick," she said. "But now I'd like to just continue to learn and like I said steal plays and figure out what works for me, how I like to run practice, what I like to do, so I probably will do it at some level and then obviously try to use my degree in other ways. I definitely enjoyed it enough to keep trying it."
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