Life has been interesting to say the least for ex-Stanford women's basketball player Brooke Smith since the six-foot-three center graduated in 2007. Last year, she was the 23rd overall pick in the WNBA Draft by the Minnesota Lynx. But her time in the Great White North was short as they released her on April 20. Smith then landed with the Connecticut Sun on April 29, but was cut by them on May 11.
That is what led her to Italy, where she played in Serie A during the 2007-08 season and posted nice numbers, averaging 14.6 points, 10.3 rebounds and 2.7 steals per game. Smith landed a spot on the training camp roster of the Phoenix Mercury, made their opening-night roster and anxiously awaits making her WNBA debut. TheBootleg.com recently caught up with her by phone from Phoenix and here's what she had to say.
A native of San Anselmo, CA, Smith admits that she grew up a Cardinal fan and always dreamed of attending Stanford, something that made her decision to sign with Duke out of high school even more interesting. "Back in high school, it had come down to Stanford and Duke," she said. "Growing up, I had always loved Stanford and wanted to go there, so I'm not really sure why I went to Duke. That was really the only place that I would consider going other than Stanford because of the academics."
Smith spent one season at Duke, the 2002-03 campaign but decided after that to transfer to Stanford. After sitting out the 2003-04 season, she quickly became a solid contributor for the Cardinal in 2004-05, when she averaged 13.3 points per game and was named to the Pac-10's First-Team All-Tournament Team.
As a junior in 2005-06, she averaged 17.2 points, 7.5 rebounds and 3.1 assists, earning All-Pac 10 and All-Pac 10 Tournament honors. Smith capped off a solid career by averaging 13.9 points, 7.6 boards and 3.5 assists as a senior in 2006-07. "It was great," she said of her time in Palo Alto. "I loved my experience at Stanford. I loved the teams, the coaches and had a really positive experience there."
One thing she especially remembers is how much the rivalry with Cal grew during her stay. "When I first got there, Cal wasn't that strong, so the rivalry wasn't too huge," Smith said. "But it's definitely been growing over the last two years. That's great for the Bay Area and for women's basketball. I think it makes the games more fun when you have someone local like that who is one of your fiercest rivals."
Her solid career led her to become a first-round draft pick of the WNBA's Minnesota Lynx in 2007. But Smith wasn't able to stick with them and signed with Connecticut but was also cut by the Sun. She is now on her third different team in just two seasons.
Smith admits that when she first came to the professional ranks a year ago, she didn't really know what exactly to expect. "I think coming out of college, you don't know what to expect," she said. "That's what happened to me going into the whole Minnesota thing. I didn't know what the WNBA was going to be like, how I was going to fit in or how I would adjust. It didn't work out but then I went to Connecticut and that didn't work out either. But, I learned and grew from those experiences. Everything happens for a reason. It's been interesting to see how different teams are run and how different coaches are run. It's interesting to see how things are done differently at different places."
But she does feel like she has found a place where she can thrive in Phoenix. "It's definitely a cool thing being part of this team," Smith stated. "Making it in the WNBA is something I am really excited about and feel really good about. I haven't had a chance to play yet but know my time will come. I know that I will have to start somewhere and look forward to getting my foot in the door here."
However, after being cut from the WNBA twice a year ago, Smith's basketball career led her abroad to Italy, where she thrived and did well enough to earn another shot at the WNBA. "It (playing abroad) was different but was a good experience," she said. "It forced me to grow up by being on my own. It's different from college because the culture is different and you're not around a bunch of teammates that you've known for years. It was great to be there, see the country and to experience a different culture and way of life. It was a different place to live and it was cool, a really good experience."
Like most players who venture abroad to play professionally, Smith immediately noticed some pretty major differences, not just in how the game itself is played, but also in how the teams are run. "The club I played for wasn't extremely professional, so the biggest difference is that things are more well-run here," she said. "Things are put together better here, you get paid on time and other things that you overlook here. Overseas, things aren't handled the same way that they are here and it's sometimes easy to take things for granted."
After what she experienced last year, Smith clearly has no illusions about how tough the jump is from college basketball to playing professionally. So, she knows she has some adjustments to make if she is to thrive and survive in the WNBA. "My biggest adjustment going from high school to college and then college to the pros is that the players here are bigger and stronger," she said. "You keep trying to grow and get stronger. For me, it's just a strength thing. I've just got to keep trying to get stronger and get more adjusted to this style of play. That's what I'm trying to do."
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