NEW YORK (AP) – Katie Smith couldn’t think of a better place to get her first chance to become a head coach than New York.
Smith will take over the Liberty, the team announced Monday. She’s been an assistant with New York since retiring from the WNBA in 2013 and was promoted to associated head coach in 2016. She takes over for Bill Laimbeer, who served as the Liberty’s coach from 2013-17.
“I’m really, really excited about having an opportunity,” Smith said in a phone interview. “Having the opportunity in New York, that’s only place I’ve coached. All of us understood for the last few years, we’d be heading this way at some point. When it was, was always the question. Bill has earned every right to choose where and when deservedly so.”
A person with knowledge of the move told The Associated Press that Laimbeer left to become head coach and general manager with the San Antonio Stars after they are sold and relocated. The person spoke to the AP on condition of anonymity because no official announcement has been made.
“Bill’s always said, ‘I think you’re ready.’ It doesn’t mean it was my time. It was always up to him, whether I’d be under him again or him leave,” Smith said. Team president “Isiah (Thomas) and I have had conversations over the year. This is how we like to go forward. We’d like to build our pieces from the inside.”
Thomas has hired a few former players over the years in coaching and front-office positions.
“It is a privilege to have the opportunity to promote Katie Smith – unquestionably one of the best to ever play the game of basketball – to head coach of the New York Liberty,” Thomas said. “Katie has transitioned from an all-time great player to phenomenal coach during her time with the Liberty, which has included the most successful stretch of basketball in franchise history. Katie’s leadership, dedication and acumen make her the ideal coach to lead our team as we continue to strive towards the ultimate goal of bringing our fans and the city of New York a WNBA championship.”
Smith inherits a solid team that has finished with the league’s third best record the past two seasons but lost in its opening playoff game each year. It is led by Tina Charles, Epiphanny Prince and Sugar Rodgers.
“It’s a team you already know, know your pieces, know your people,” Smith said.
The 43-year-old Smith is among a handful of former players to make the jump to head coach. She’s also the third coaching hire in the league this offseason, joining Laimbeer and Dan Hughes, who was hired by Seattle. The Atlanta Dream still have an opening.
Smith had a stellar 17-year playing career in the WNBA and ABL. She is fifth on the WNBA scoring list and won two titles with the Detroit Shock, earning finals MVP honors in 2008. Smith also helped the U.S. win three Olympic gold medals.