Before the Lynx’s Saturday night game against the New York Liberty in Target Center, I sat down with Lynx legend and Liberty Head Coach Katie Smith to talk about her time in Minnesota and her transition to coaching. Smith was an inaugural member of the Lynx franchise and helped lead the team to its first-ever playoff appearance in 2003.
Julian Andrews, Web Editorial Associate: Thinking way back to when you [joined] the Lynx, I know that was a while ago, do you remember what was going through your head, what that feeling was like?
Katie Smith: It was an expansion team, so I was playing in the ABL and it was basically an allocation. I was playing with the Columbus Quest and my coach there was Brian Agler who took this job. They picked Kristin Folkl first and he was able to take someone else and he picked me. I was excited to obviously keep playing. I didn’t know much about Minnesota but one of my teammates, Carol Ann Shudlick, was from Minnesota, played at U of M. I was just pumped to continue on playing in the WNBA, and obviously once I got here I had a blast. Met so many good people, and keep up with them today.
JA: What’s your most vivid memory from your time with the Lynx, if you can pick one?
KS: It was honestly just the excitement and the fans. We lived downtown a little bit, just like leaving the games they’d hang out right outside, we’d go grab a bite… It was just that whole interaction and that bond that you have, that kind of love for the game and love for what we were doing. That connection with the whole community, and Mr. Taylor and Rodger [Griffith], just how much they cared about it and were excited to have a team.
JA: What did it feel like to help the franchise reach its first playoff series in 2003?
KS: I mean, it was hard! We were in the West, and our records, we’d always say if we were in the East we’d be in the dang finals! Our records were that good, but in the West with Houston and L.A. and everybody, we almost had to be perfect. We were always competitive, but we just had to play flawlessly. Getting into the playoffs was big, it was big for our franchise in general, and obviously for our fans. Yeah, we were always so competitive, but the West was so difficult! We loved playing the game, played hard every night, sometimes it just doesn’t always work out, but we were just really happy we could get ourselves in the playoffs.
JA: And how does it feel to be back here as an opposing coach?
KS: I love it, man, I love it. Every time I come back to Minnesota I see a lot of familiar faces, the fans, obviously, Reeve is a good friend of mine. Just as I said great memories of my time here back in the day, this is the longest tenure of any of my teams professionally, I was here for six and a half years, so definitely feel a special connection with these guys.
JA: I know you didn’t always see yourself coaching, can you talk a little bit about that journey?
KS: You know as players, some people know. I think for a long time I was like, I don’t really want to do the same thing, I want to branch out, not have the same schedule, but the more as I went towards the end of my career when Bill [Laimbeer] called me and said ‘Come play for New York then play a year then move over,’ you know, it’s at that point where you’re like, ‘Cool, I’ll do it.’ I had a feeling, I loved being around it. Until you’re in that role you don’t really know the time commitment and exactly everything that goes into it. But I really truly love the game, I love the players, I love the strategy, kinda love all the nuances, and I just love figuring out how to help [the Liberty players] have success and still be around the game. It’s been a good fit! Obviously, I’m in the very lower levels [of coaching] in terms of experience, but excited to just kinda grow and keep learning. That’s how I was as a player and I want to be that as a coach—every day, every year you’re just adding to yourself, constantly evolving.
JA: Can you talk a little bit about your relationship with Coach Reeve? Has it changed at all since you’ve become an opposing coach?
KS: [Laughs] Not really… The one thing I’ve always loved about her is that she’s always a truth teller. Even this past offseason I’d ask her like ‘How do you teach this?’ or ‘What do you guys do in the preseason,’ and again, they’re not giving up their plays, but Reeve is very open in terms of how she approaches things and just talking basketball. And on top of that just generally like, ‘What do you think about this? What should I do?’. I respect her, what she’s done, but as a friend and a person I’ve always just kind of clicked with her ever since our days in Detroit.
JA: What do you hope Minnesota fans remember about you from your time here?
KS: I think that I played hard, that I always came out ready to roll, and on top of that, that I loved what I did and I appreciated them. That I loved being here and trying to win games for them, and actually together that we went through this thing. I just hope they know how much I enjoyed it here and appreciated how hard we worked.
JA: Great, thanks so much!
KS: Appreciate it!