Katie Smith focuses on propelling the Liberty to success

Lois Elfman | 1/10/2019, 2:50 p.m.
Last season was rough for the New York Liberty, one of the WNBA’s original franchises.

Last season was rough for the New York Liberty, one of the WNBA’s original franchises. Adapting to playing at the Westchester County Center, finding its rhythm under first-time head coach Katie Smith and developing optimal team chemistry frustrated the team in 2018. Since season’s end, Smith has been focused on improving all aspect of the team and returning to the playoffs in 2019.

It’s been a hectic few months for Smith, who was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame last fall and the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame last spring. “[The HOF induction] was nice; it kind of forces you to reminisce,” Smith said. “You’re thinking about the people and places. It made me appreciate this long journey that started in fifth grade.”

She also attended the FIBA Women’s Basketball World Cup, which the U.S. team won. Three Liberty players competed: Tina Charles on the U.S. team, Rebecca Allen with Australia and Kia Nurse with Canada. In addition to cheering on former teammate Dawn Staley in her first head coaching outing with the senior national team, the trip allowed Smith, who won three Olympic gold medals and two World Championships in her playing career, to scout international players.

“I had never been to an Olympics or World Championship as a spectator, so it was a lot of fun,” said Smith. “I reconnected with people I played with overseas.”

As of now, the Liberty has the second pick in the 2019 WNBA Draft, and Smith is scouting the college game this winter looking for talented players who fit well with the team. She’s also staying connected to Liberty players overseas.

“Last year was a tough year for everybody,” said Smith. “We’ve got to come into this year ready to work. We have to play harder. We have to play together. This is our job and we’re going to show up every single day.”

She continued, “I’ve obviously been watching games. There is a handful of kids you’re kind of honed in on at the No. 2 spot. We’re doing our due diligence and watching games. Then, we’re figuring out what pieces we’re going to keep and who we maybe need to part ways with or who we can get that will enhance us in a place we need it…We’re scouting out everything and trying to figure out how to put the best team together.”

The Liberty’s season opens with a home game May 24.