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Inside the W with Michelle Smith: Katie Lou Samuelson Following Sister’s Footsteps

Katie Lou Sameulson has no shortage of role models for the early days of her WNBA experience.

The University of Connecticut has produced many WNBA players – 36 of them to be exact. And 23 of them were drafted in the first round.

But none of them will have quite the same perspective as her big sister, Karlie.

Karlie will be entering her third WNBA season with the Los Angeles Sparks, re-signed in February by the team as a perimeter specialist.

Katie Lou will likely be a high first-round pick in Wednesday’s draft after a stellar college career for the Huskies in which she participated in four Final Fours, winning the national championship in 2016.

Katie Lou, the All-American and two-time conference player of the year, brings world-class perimeter shooting, strong passing, rebounding and length to the league, a different player than her sister and under different circumstances. At 6-foot-3, she is a versatile talent who has shot better than 40 percent from beyond the 3-point arc and can rebound consistently out of the backcourt.

“I’m biased, but I think she’s the best player in the draft,” said Karlie Samuelson, sitting in the stands at Amalie Arena in Tampa on Friday, waiting to watch her sister compete in her final NCAA Final Four.

“She is dealing with something I never dealt with, which is expectations. I was a complete underdog,” Karlie said. “For her, I think there’s a little bit of pressure with that, but she’s dealt with that her whole college career.”

Karlie was signed as a free agent after a strong career at Stanford, where their older sister, Bonnie, also played. She did not have the experience of having her name called on draft day. Her place on a WNBA roster has never been a given, but instead has been the result of hard work and resilience.

Karlie was invited to training camp with the Sparks at the end of her college career in 2017, but an injury kept her from playing in the league that summer. She returned Sparks camp in 2018 after spending a season overseas in Italy, where she averaged 14.8 points a game. Karlie earned a spot on the Sparks opening-day roster.

She was released early in the season and then re-signed a month later, appearing in 20 regular-season games and one playoff game for the Sparks in all.

Katie Lou’s journey may not be so suspenseful, but there is much to be learned from Karlie’s experience.

“It’s interesting, coming from our two perspectives — it’s going to be a little bit different,” Katie Lou said. “I really understand and appreciate how hard and how much work you have to put in. Karlie has had to fight hard to get a spot and I’m obviously hoping to be drafted.”

Katie Lou has watched her sister set an example of how to be a professional basketball player. She’s already heard her talk about the importance of taking care of herself physically, about the importance of having a “go-to” scoring option in a league full of scoring talent. The conversations have been brief for this moment, as Karlie has given her room to focus on the end of her college career.

“But when that moment comes, that’s when I’ll be able to soak it all in,” Katie Lou said.

Still, Karlie has served an powerful example. “How she takes care of her body, everything she does just to make sure that she is putting herself in a position to compete,” Katie Lou said of what she can learn from her sister. “Especially with as much freedom as I’m going to have, I know I’m going to have to be on top of what I eat, how much sleep I get — everything I need to put into actually being a professional.”

Longtime WNBA reporter Michelle Smith writes a weekly column on throughout the season. The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the WNBA or its clubs.