Smith says Central Ohio is her home
COLUMBUS — For all Katie Smith has done, she’s still the same down-to-earth girl from Logan.
But when she patrols the stands of Nationwide Arena, or Value City Arena, or St. John Arena, or Madison Square Garden, she’s a legend.
It was evident this past Sunday, as she watched her alma mater, Ohio State, battle Louisville in the Countdown to Columbus women’s basketball event at Nationwide Arena.
In women’s basketball circles, Smith is the of the best to lace up a pair of sneakers. But the owner of three Olympic gold medals, two WNBA championships and a Final Four appearance, remains humble and has never forgotten where she came from.
“This is home,” she said of Central Ohio during halftime of Sunday’s first contest between top-ranked Connecticut and Stanford. “I have a house here and my parents still live here. I travel all over, but I still come back here.”
And, as much as Smith has never lost sight of roots, the folks back home feel the same about her.
The 1992 Ms. Basketball winner as the Buckeye State’s top prep player spent plenty of time Sunday posing for selfies and signing autographs, all of the things that come with being, perhaps, the most-decorated women’s basketball player in state history.
“I had no clue that basketball would take me to where I’m at now,” said Smith, who was also a standout track athlete for the Chieftains in high school.
“So, everything has been a blessing because it’s given me so much.”
Voted one of the top 20 players in the WNBA’s first 20 seasons, Smith was recently named head coach of the New York Liberty, one of the league’s original franchises, after previously serving as a player and assistant coach for the team.
It’s the icing on the cake of a career for Smith that’s taken her all over the world. She’s excited about the opportunity, but acknowledged the bright lights of “The Big Apple” won’t change her approach to how she teaches the game.
“I don’t feel much different,” she said about moving up the coaching ladder. “A lot of stuff we’re doing right now is similar to what we did when I was an assistant.
“There’s going to be some things that will be different when the season starts and you have different players there, but right now I’m just trying to pick a lot people’s brains, get a feel for it and put my personal stamp on it.
“I don’t think it will change a lot from what I’ve been doing.”
Smith was in the state capital in a plethora of capacities — WNBA coach, Ohio State fan, basketball fan and ambassador for a city that will play host to the Women’s Final Four for the first time next spring.
The Countdown to Columbus event served as sort of a preview of what fans and members of the media can expect when the event tips of late next March. And Smith is confident the city will put its best foot forward.
“I’m excited,” she said. “I’m a little bias, though, but Think this area is ready for it.
“It’s a sports town and has great women’s basketball fans. When the Final Four arrives all eyes will be on it. There won’t be anything else going on in the game. I think it will be phenomenal.
“This is a great warm up. Four top 10 teams. I love it. Good basketball is good basketball.”
One coach who’d like to be in Columbus is Dawn Staley, who guided South Carolina to last season’s NCAA championship. Staley and Smith share a unique bond as the two are alums of the short-lived American Basketball League.
The two met in the 1997 ABL Finals — Smith as a member of the Columbus Quest and Staley playing for the Richmond Rage. The Quest won the league’s initial crown, 3 games to 2.
“I think the WNBA and college basketball have helped each other,” Smith said. “Both of our games are so connected and it’s so much much fun to have that. They’re adding to us and we’re adding to them. I think it’s great.”
What Smith also finds great is the connection that’s building between the women’s game and younger players. Nationwide Arena was filled with plenty of youth and prep teams and she believes the bond will only grow between the two going forward.
“They’re going to dream,” Smith said. “You never know how this will spark them. To have these type of role models and talent right here is great. They’ll have these memories forever.”