One-On-One With Tangela Smith

By Brad G. Faye,
Posted: April 27, 2009

In 2007, the Phoenix Mercury landed the number one overall pick in the WNBA Draft. On Draft Day, however, that pick was traded to the Minnesota Linx for veteran center, Tangela Smith.

Some questioned why a team which appeared to be in a rebuilding process would trade the number one overall pick for a player entering her tenth season as a WNBA pro. Starting every game for Phoenix during that memorable 2007 Championship season, nobody has had any difficulties understanding the move since.

Smith was fourth on the Mercury that season in scoring and first in both rebounds and blocked shots. In fact, her 1.65 average of the latter was good four fourth overall in the entire league. Her greatest success was of course being an integral part of the Mercuryís first-ever WNBA Championship after contributing 10 points in the decisive Game Five against the Detroit Shock.

Smith and the Mercury opened up the 2008 season with a memorable ring ceremony, unfortunately one of the few outstanding moments from that season. All-Star Penny Taylor announced she would not return to the team following her appearance in the 2008 Olympic Games. Not too long after that announcement, Smith underwent arthroscopic surgery on her right knee which cost her the rest of her season, as well. With two of their top performers out, the Mercury failed to qualify for the postseason just a year after winning it all.

With the recovery process behind her, Smith is now hoping to help the Mercury return to the elite status they enjoyed during the 2007 campaign. Working out at US Airways Center every morning on the teamís practice court, Smith recently sat down with to discuss the disappointments of last year and why Mercury fans have plenty of reasons to be optimistic as the 2009 season approaches. First off, Tangela, can you talk a little about your offseason? How did you manage to keep yourself busy?

Tangela Smith: From October through February I was in China playing for the WCBA (Womenís Chinese Basketball Association). I played on a team called Liaoning Hengye and we won the championship which was great. They have a league rule which only allows one American per team which made things interesting. I had a translator who followed me everywhere I went, including, of course, the court during games. That helped and some of the girls on the team spoke a little English but definitely not enough to carry on a conversation or anything. Me and some of the girls have kept in touch since via MSN Messenger but itís funny because all we can really do is send each other happy faces and things like that. I had the opportunity to meet some really nice people from that experience though and ever since itís been about me staying in shape for the upcoming season. Are there any specific teammates you kept in touch with? Take any trips with?

Smith: I mean we all keep in touch, but I didnít see anybody. I talked to most of the girls this offseason Ė Diana (Taurasi), Cappie (Pondexter) and Kelly Mazzante. As far as us getting together and things like that, itís tough because weíre all spread out everywhere playing for different countries. So while we all get the chance to do plenty of traveling, itís usually not with one another. Last season obviously didnít go as well as you and the team expected. What was perhaps the biggest obstacle that couldnít be overcome?

Smith: There were a lot of things that could be looked at, but we donít want to use any excuses, the bottom line is we didnít do what we had to do. We started the season off slow which you just canít do in this league because there arenít as many games. You have to start off strong and we didnít. By the time we started putting it all together it was just too late. You underwent arthroscopic surgery on your knee late in the season. How are you feeling now and are there still any concerns involving the knee?

Smith: Everything is good now. It was really bothering me throughout last season and I tried to play through it but eventually had to opt for the surgery. There are always going to be aches and pains because Iím getting a little older now, but overall it feels really good. It was really tough not being able to play and it was a really bad time for me. Luckily, Iíve got great teammates who were there to support me. They knew I didnít want to have the surgery but they all kept reminding me I had to do what was best for my body. Looking back now, Iím really glad I did it. Last season was your first playing under Corey Gaines as a head coach. How would you compare him to some of the other coaches youíve played for throughout your career?

Smith: Heís really intense. Iíve had a lot of intense coaches but Corey has a certain passion for basketball and he really wants to win. At the same time he can be a fun person to be around and weíve enjoyed playing for him as a head coach. There are a lot of similarities with him and Paul Westhead but he definitely puts in a few of his own tricks. Itís tough to explain, but both share the same philosophy and you can definitely see that Corey has spent time with him as both a player and a coach. Over the summer, the Mercury brought in a few new players. Can you evaluate the team's offseason moves and how much you're looking forward to playing with some new teammates?

Smith: We still have our core group in tact but were able to bring in some players who will be able to come in and contribute right away. Nicole Ohlde is really going to be able to help us in the post so we can take some pressure off of Diana and Cappie. If those two can avoid double teams, itís just going to make things that much easier for them. I think itís going to be great and am really looking forward to it. What can Mercury fans expect from the team this season and do you believe the ballclub can return to the championship form we saw in 2007?

Smith: Weíre really focused on starting off strong and thatís something that was very difficult for us last season. We are going to start training camp a little bit later which will allow all of us to be here. That wasnít the case last year and we never had an actual chemistry which allowed us time to gel. Diana and Cappie will have finished their seasons overseas and weíll have everybody here for training camp which is a big plus.