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2011 Preview: The Key Addition

Kevin Pelton, StormBasketball.com | June 1, 2011

Sue Bird had a simple but consistent request in her exit interviews with Storm Head Coach Brian Agler, who doubles as the team's director of player personnel.

"I think for the last five years," said Bird, "in every extra interview, I've been asked, 'What do you think we need?' and I've answered 'Katie Smith.'"

Agler needed no convincing. Having coached Smith with both the ABL's Columbus Quest and the WNBA's Minnesota Lynx, Agler hoped for a reunion in Seattle, but the timing was never right until this past offseason. Following one season with the Washington Mystics, during which Washington won a franchise-record 22 games and had the Eastern Conference's best record, Smith sought to continue her career with the Storm. After some haggling between Agler and the Mystics, who maintained Smith's rights, a sign-and-trade deal was struck and Bird's wish was answered. Smith was coming to Seattle.

Brian Agler and Katie Smith at Media Day.
Terrence Vaccaro/NBAE/Getty Images

Agler and Smith were a successful connection in Columbus and Minnesota, winning a pair of ABL championships.

On the Court

Over the course of her 14-year professional career, Smith has played just about every role possible. A promising youngster fresh out of college when she and fellow Ohio native Agler first connected in Columbus, winning both titles in ABL history, Smith soon established herself as a premier scorer. When Agler gave her the keys to the Lynx offense, Smith set records with her prolific scoring. For more than five years, the 46 points she scored in an overtime game at Los Angeles in 2001 stood as the league's top individual effort. Smith led the league in scoring that year at 23.1 points per game, the best mark ever with a 30-second shot clock.

When Smith was dealt to the Detroit Shock at the 2005 trade deadline, her role changed quickly. Despite her best efforts, Minnesota was never able to get out of the first round (and hasn't been back to the playoffs since trading her). In Detroit, Smith joined a core that had won a championship two years earlier. She adjusted her game, even moving to point guard to play alongside established perimeter stars Deanna Nolan and Swin Cash. After a season to integrate Smith, her addition would help propel the Shock to three consecutive WNBA Finals and championships in both 2006 and 2008.

Smith has started at all three perimeter positions, and even played some power forward in Agler's small lineups in Minnesota. She's been a go-to scorer and a distributor and defended every type of high scorer. (Agler notes that Smith used to give Lauren Jackson trouble defensively despite giving up seven inches to the Storm's MVP.) All of that experience will help Smith fit in wherever the Storm needs her.

"What Katie brings is just perfect for our team," said Bird. "She�s very versatile offensively and defensively, and Brian loves that. We�ll be able to do a lot of things on both ends of the court because of her. Without a player like Katie, we might not have been able to do that. She�s going to bring a different element that we haven�t really had, and I think it�s going to be a great thing."

Bird envisions scenarios where she, Smith and either Cash or Tanisha Wright operate almost interchangeably on the perimeter, sharing ballhandling duties and attacking mismatches. Like Agler used Svetlana Abrosimova last season, Smith can back up all three players at times, giving them needed rest and allowing him to find enough minutes for Smith on the court.

Beyond her skills, Smith's toughness will be an asset for a Storm team that benefited from the energy of Abrosimova and the physical play of Le'coe Willingham off the bench last season.

"Katie�s a proven winner," said Cash. "She�s hard-nosed, she�s going to get down and dirty and that was part of the reason why we got her when we were in Detroit. She brings not only veteran leadership but also that aggressive style of play."

Fitting In

Given her r�sum�, Smith would be justified in expecting a starting spot. She started all 33 games she played for the Mystics a year ago, averaging more than 30 minutes per game. But demanding a certain role isn't in Smith's nature, and she's been entirely comfortable coming to Seattle to support the Storm's established starting lineup.

"She understands that just because she comes off the bench doesn't mean she's less of a factor on our team or less important," said Agler. "It takes maturity to understand that."

In a larger sense, Smith wants to complement the things that made the Storm so successful last season. She views herself finding ways to help without disrupting the Storm's established on-court chemistry.

"I have a strong personality, but I fit in," she said. "I�m not somebody who is going to cause any problems. You come and do your job. You bring what you can to the table and sit back and figure out how to play with Sue and Lauren and Swin and get into that system because they obviously have something they�ve established, but it�s not that difficult. It�s just basketball. It�s about playing together, about playing hard. Do that and it�s really an easy deal."

Achilles tendinitis has kept Smith off the floor for part of training camp and kept her from playing much with her new teammates. Yet Smith isn't concerned because she expects to get comfortable with them quickly.

"It doesn't take me long to be able to play with people and be able to catch on to offenses and know what I'm doing," she said. "I'd like to be out there to get my own feel, but I don't think it will be too hard when I get on the floor with everybody playing."

The players who have played with Smith in the past - Cash in Detroit and Bird for USA Basketball, a pairing that has resulted in two of Smith's three Olympic gold medals - describe a similar experience.

"I know what it's like to play with her," said Bird. "It's very easy for me, personally. The times we have played together, it's been great chemistry."

Smith poses with Bird and Jackson at Media Day. (Neil Enns/Storm Photos)

A Trust Factor

What Smith has seen during two-plus weeks of training camp has only reinforced her appreciation for the quality of players and people she's joined in Seattle.

"There's an ease there with Katie."
- Bird

"They're pros," she said. "You understand why they've had success. They work hard. They're mentally tuned in all the time. They're smart. There's a competitive thing to them. You get underneath their skin to where they want to prove that they can get it done if they get beat a couple of times. Anybody who's competed at a high level has that, but it's fun to know that a majority of the people on your team are gamers.

"With these guys, you have such a trust thing that they can handle situations and they look at situations similarly. We can work together well. I know you can handle yourself under pressure or whatever's asked of you."

That feeling is mutual. Every conversation about Smith seems to come back to a similar theme. Because of who she is, and what she's accomplished, players and coaches feel confident in what she will provide the Storm.

"I think her teammates understand her strengths and try to bring them out," Agler said. "They have a lot of trust in her. Of course, she has a lot of experience with people, which helps that."

"There's an ease there with Katie," said Bird.

The expectation is that will translate on the floor, starting Saturday.

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