COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — Katie Smith has been running around the women’s Final Four all weekend, serving as the unofficial hostess of the sport’s biggest event.
There were awards to hand out, courts to dedicate and parties to attend. So the best women’s basketball player from Ohio in history decided to skip going to San Antonio, where the men’s Final Four is being held, to be announced as part of the 2018 Basketball Hall of Fame class.
“I have a lot of stuff here; that’s why I felt I would like to be in Columbus,” Smith told The Associated Press. “It’s the first time we’re hosting and I’m super invested in things. The city is putting on a good show. It feels like the perfect match to celebrate here with those that were with me from the beginning. They didn’t fight me much about staying.”
Smith is one of the most decorated players in all of women’s basketball. She retired following the 2013 season as the top scorer in women’s professional basketball history with 7,885 points, and she ranked second in the WNBA with 6,452 points at that point.
“You take pride in what you do and to be recognized for it means a lot,” Smith said. “When you are playing, you’re not thinking about the Hall of Fame. I played for a long time and it does mean a lot to be recognized among the best.”
She had a stellar career at Ohio State, where she helped guide the Buckeyes to the NCAA title game as a freshman and broke the Big Ten’s all-time scoring record for both men and women. She then won WNBA titles in 2006 and 2008 with the Detroit Shock and two ABL titles with the Columbus Quest, guiding that team to the only two championships in league history.
That second Quest title team never got a chance to receive its championship rings because the league folded, so coach Brian Agler spearheaded a movement to get those players their jewelry.
Smith and her teammates received them Saturday night at an event in front of a 1,000 fans. They held an autograph-signing, where Smith and her former Quest teammates basked in the adoration of their fans.
“It was unfortunate they never got a chance to be celebrated for winning that championship, and this was the perfect place to give them the long overdue recognition,” Agler said. “If you think about that team, they had four Olympians on it and it might have been one of the best women’s basketball teams ever.”
Smith, who will be inducted in the hall in her first year of eligibility is joined in the class by Tina Thompson, Steve Nash, Jason Kidd, Grant Hill, Ray Allen, Maurice Cheeks, Lefty Driesell, Dino Radja, Charlie Scott, Rod Thorn, Ora Mae Washington and Rick Welts.
“I’ve coached a lot of players, but never have I coached one more competitive than Katie,” Agler said. “With the success she’s had both at the collegiate level and the championships she won at the professional level and the Olympic gold medals, I can’t imagine anyone else being more deserving than her being inducted.”
The 43-year-old Smith was honored to be included in the same class as Thompson, against whom she spent years playing while in the WNBA but was a teammate of hers in USA Basketball.
“We’re forever linked. The great thing is I respect Tina on and off the court,” Smith said. “She’s a great person and a great player. It is fun to go in with someone I really appreciate.”
The two were announced as part of the 2018 Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame class earlier this year.
She might have a conflict with the September induction ceremony for the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame; she is now the head coach of the New York Liberty, and there is a chance the team could be playing in the WNBA playoffs the same weekend.
“If that’s the choice I have to make, I’ll be happy to try and figure that one out,” Smith said, laughing. “If that happens, I’ll never want to leave this year.”
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