MINNEAPOLIS (AP) – Katie Smith doesn’t have Diana Taurasi’s endorsement deals. She doesn’t have Lisa Leslie’s modeling gigs or Sue Bird’s flair in the open court. Her name doesn’t roll off the tongue like Sheryl Swoopes.

Instead, Smith has worked in the shadows, methodically piling up points and quietly knocking down jumpers.

“If you asked who would be the first to score 5,000 points in women’s basketball, nobody would say Katie Smith,” she acknowledges.

Smith is poised to become the first American woman to score 5,000 points in her professional basketball career, which spans three years with Columbus in the old ABL and six-plus seasons with the Minnesota Lynx in the WNBA.

She enters Wednesday night’s home game against Detroit needing just 11 points to achieve the milestone.

“It’s a tremendous accomplishment,” said Lynx coach Suzie McConnell Serio. “To be able to score that many points, and she’s been through two knee injuries. She’s been able to maintain that level of play.”

So why is it this woman can walk down the street without being hounded by screaming little girls in No. 30 Lynx jerseys?

“I think her being in the ABL first, she’s not one of those Rebecca Lobos, Lisa Leslies, Sheryl Swoopes, the three starters of the (WNBA),” Bird said.

“She’s a blue-collar player. She drops 25 points on you and you don’t even realize it, but trust me, I know. I’m glad I don’t have to guard her.”

Even when Smith is brilliant – she led the West with 16 points on 4-of-6 shooting from 3-point range in last weekend’s All-Star victory – it still isn’t enough.

This time, it was Leslie’s dunk, Swoopes’ MVP award and Taj McWilliams-Franklin’s tearful reunion with her soldier husband that pushed Smith to the background.

“I’m definitely aware of it,” she says of the lack of publicity. “Part of it is when I came out, women’s basketball was just starting to get some exposure. … It’s somewhat my personality, you just do your job and it doesn’t matter.”

Throughout her career, Smith has played with an understated excellence. It makes her a perfect fit in laid-back Minnesota, where even keel isn’t just a state of mind, it’s a way of life.

Need proof? Here’s Smith on what she thinks of being the first to score 5,000:

“Not much,” she said. “It’s kind of vague, just like a number. It just kind of comes as your career goes. It doesn’t really have this, Man, I made it’ feel to it. It’s kind of setting a precedent for others to follow.”

It certainly is.

The women’s game never has been more popular, with the fiery Taurasi, stunning Leslie and silky smooth Bird leading the charge. Ask any of her peers or coaches around the league why Smith’s name doesn’t join the others on the WNBA’s marquee, and they look puzzled.

“She’s one of the great players in the league and very rarely gets credit for that,” Seattle coach Anne Donovan said. “She gets the All-Star recognition but she’s not one of the featured All-Stars, so she continually flies under the radar screen. It’s not a true testament to what kind of player she is, how great a player she is.”

Smith has been content to put up numbers for the small-market Lynx and watch the league grow, all the while holding a certain satisfaction that she helped blaze a trail for the younger generation.

The 5-11 guard led Ohio State to the NCAA championship game her freshman year in 1993, losing to Swoopes and Texas Tech. She finished her career with the Buckeyes as the Big Ten’s leading scorer with 2,598 points, averaging 20.8 per game.

The two-time Olympian is the sixth-leading scorer in the WNBA this season (16.2).

“I just love watching her play,” Connecticut coach Mike Thibault said. “I just think she’s one of the most underappreciated players in the history of the game – men or women’s.”

Such comments make anonymity easier to take for the engaging and thoughtful 31-year-old Smith, who plans to be a dentist after her career ends.

“I’ll never get voted in (to the All-Star game) as a starter,” Smith says with a chuckle. “But you want to be respected in what you do and that happens with peers and coaches.”

Who knows? Maybe getting No. 5,000 – a nice, round number that looks good on a T-shirt – will be what she needs to finally turn the spotlight her way. Then again, she thinks, maybe things aren’t so bad just the way they are.

“Sometimes you think maybe (some publicity) would be nice,” Smith said. “But on the other hand I’ve been able to do exactly what I wanted to do and that’s play the game. I’m satisfied with how I do my job and what I’ve been able to do. You think about fame, but it doesn’t really last very long.”



AP Sports Writer Donna Tommelleo in Hartford, Conn., contributed to this story.

AP-ES-07-12-05 1508EDT


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