Katie Smith: A true basketball role model

Katie Smith wasn’t born with a basketball in her hands.

But it didn’t take her parents long to put one there.

“I started playing basketball at the age of five,” Smith said while attending the iBELIEVE Foundation fundraiser at Belmont Hills Country Club last week.

And, as they say, the rest is history.

Smith, a 5-11 dynamo on the hardwood, has a list of accomplishments that would rival Who’s Who in college and professional basketball.

In high school, she was named the Gatorade National Player of the Year as she guided Logan High School to the Ohio Division I state championship game. She was also named a high school All-American by the WBCA and took part in the first-ever WBCA All-Star Game in 1992 where she scored 14 points and earned MVP honors.

From 1992-96, Smith was a 4-year starter for The Ohio State University women’s team, breaking the Big Ten’s all-time scoring record – male or female. She was voted the conference MVP as a senior.

For that accomplishment, she was the first female to have her number retired by OSU on Jan. 21, 2001. She was inducted into the Varsity O Hall of Fame later that year in October.

“That was awesome … surreal,” she said with a sparkle in her eyes. “Sometimes it doesn’t register, but then I realize ‘wow, that’s me.’ I also think of all the great basketball players that Ohio State has had in its history, and it’s an honor to have my jersey hanging up there with a lot of other greats.

“I love Ohio State and will always be a Buckeye.”

Her hoop career from far from over as she played in the ABL for the Columbus Quest for two years, winning both league championships.

It was on to the WNBA from there, and all she has done is become professional basketball’s all-time women’s scorer with more than 7,000 points. In 2005, she became the first American female basketball player to surpass the 5,000 point mark. Two years later, she eclipsed the 6,000 point plateau.

In 2006, Smith became the first player to win the WNBA All Star game as a member of the Eastern and Western Conference teams. She is also the only player to wear ABL and WNBA championship rings.

She was named the 2008 WNBA Finals MVP and at the 2010 All-Star Game, she was selected as one of the Top 15 players in the WNBA’s 15-year history by the fans vote.

In addition, she also helped the United States win gold medals in the 2000, 2004 and 2008 Olympic Games, as well as the 1998 and 2002 World Championships.

“In high school and college, I didn’t get it done as far as titles go, but I’ve had a blast. I never thought that this is what I would be doing for as long as I have.

“I love basketball,” she added. “I love to compete. I’ve had many great experiences because of basketball.”

What was it like to play for her home state Buckeyes?

“To be able to grow up in Ohio and then play for Ohio State, that was great,” she explained. “It was nice to have that for myself, but it was also nice to play so close to home so that all my family and friends could watch me play.”

So, with all of her success, who does she give the credit to?

“First of all, my mom and dad for giving me some good genes to work with,” she allowed. “Secondly, all the hard work and attention to detail … all the years in the gym putting in the effort. The behind the scenes stuff that people don’t see and realize is a part of it. They see you play and win, but they don’t see all the sacrifices that it takes, as well. There is no substitute for hard work.”

During her WNBA days, she has been a part of two 3-team trades.

“The first one was kind of an eye-opener. I never saw it coming, but it’s the nature of the beast,” she said of the deal that sent her from the Minnesota Lynx to the Detroit Shock. “I realized it’s a business, but it does keep your eyes open.”

The second deal was not as shocking.

“It was kind of a business deal. It was a planned thing,” she said of the trade that shipped her to the Seattle Storm via the Washington Mystics and Indiana Fever.

What was it like to represent the USA in Sydney, Athens and Beijing?

“You can’t really express your feelings in words,” she admitted. “It’s a really proud time because you’re representing your country, family and town. It’s kind of like you’re there for everybody that has supported you in the past.

“Playing in the Olympics is always something I dreamed of … something that I always wanted to do, and then, when you’re standing on the podium listening to the National Anthem, that was awesome. That’s when you realize that all the training and tournaments make the journey worthwhile.”

So what does the future hold for one of America’s best basketball players ever?

“I’m in grad school at Ohio State studying medical dietetics,” she said. “I hope to be a registered dietician in a couple of years.”

How about continuing to play?

“I’m still going to play,” she said with some hesitation. “I still feel pretty good. I’ll play as long as my body allows me to, but I know my career is coming to an end sooner or later.

“I’ve got a couple of irons in the fire,” she added of her non-basketball playing future. “I wouldn’t mind coaching. That’s a possibility, but I’m not sure what level I would start at.”

Whatever level it is, I’m sure she will be a winner like she has been all of her career.

North can be reached at knorth@timesleaderonline.com