Katie Smith has been a high school star, a college star, a WNBA champion and an Olympic gold medalist.
She has played point guard, shooting guard, small forward, and sometimes on defense, even power forward and center.
She has been an assistant and a head coach in the WNBA.
But she has never played exactly the role she will assume as she begins her probably short-lived stint as the Lynx’s top assistant coach.
Here, she will be a “buffer,” a role her new boss, Cheryl Reeve, once played, to Smith’s benefit.
The Lynx held a news conference Tuesday to introduce Smith, a former Lynx star, as the team’s new assistant coach. When Smith’s head coaching contract was not renewed by the New York Liberty, Reeve immediately called Smith, and eventually hired her to replace Walt Hopkins, who left the Lynx to become Smith’s successor.
Reeve and Smith worked together from 2006-2009. Smith was the star player for the Detroit Shock. Reeve was an assistant coach under Bill Laimbeer, the fiery former Detroit Pistons star, who now coaches Las Vegas.
“We always talk about this time in Sacramento,” Reeve said. “Katie’s a competitor. She’s getting opportunities to score and wasn’t making shots, and Bill was expressing frustration. Like, ‘C’mon, Katie, you need to make those shots!’
“Katie responded in vintage Smith fashion. We talk about her cussin’ and spittin’ and she’s a hand talker and she’s yelling, ‘I’m not trying to miss, Bill!’ It was one of our favorite times to talk about, because we were in the Finals and we’re fighting for our lives, because if they won, the confetti was going to come down. And we won, and then won the title at home.
“There were a lot of times like that, with Bill getting under her skin and yelling, ‘C’mon, Smith.’ And I’d have to come over and say, ‘OK, here’s what we need to do,’ and calm things down.”
Reeve called herself the “buffer” between Laimbeer and his players. Now Smith will be Reeve’s buffer.
“I think she knows that,” Reeve said. “Everyone that we hire, they know that some of the players are interpreters for me. There’s great value in that.”
Laimbeer wanted his point guards to run his offense without play calls from the bench. When he acquired Smith, he wanted her to take on that responsibility.
But she had played mostly shooting guard, so Reeve would give her options during every timeout, so she would feel comfortable running the team. “Bill probably doesn’t even know that,” Reeve said with a smile.
Reeve is every bit as fiery at Laimbeer, with whom she remains close.
“She was a go-to for me as a player under Bill,” Smith said. “Someone I respected both in basketball and as a person. She was the one I would talk to quite a bit about, ‘What are we running, what are we doing?’ Someone who had a level head, who thought the game, who understood the game, and since then has really been a mentor for me. The kind of person I reach out to.
“Sometimes when I was in New York, I’d say [to Reeve], ‘Take your Lynx hat off and shoot it to me straight.’ A friend. And someone who is really a mentor to young coaches in the profession.”
Smith played for the Lynx from 1999-2005. She made the playoffs once, in 2003, for a franchise looking for a foothold in a crowded sports market.
She returns to a franchise that is the envy of the league in every category, from fan support to facilities to business operations.
Do modern Lynx fans recognize how important Smith was to the young franchise? Reeve came up with an answer after spending time with Smith at the Timberwolves game on Monday night.
“Katie is beloved here,” Reeve said. “The fan base was smaller then, but I do think she’s appreciated.”
Smith will spend a year or two as Reeve’s buffer. Then she’ll likely leave to hire a buffer of her own.