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Liberty names Katie Smith as its new head coach

New York Liberty associate head coach Katie Smith

New York Liberty associate head coach Katie Smith watches from the bench during the first half on June 16, 2016. Credit: AP / Jessica Hill

Katie Smith’s first head coaching job will come in New York with the Liberty, and she’ll be replacing the person who helped prepare her for this opportunity.

The Liberty named Smith as its head coach on Monday. Smith takes over for Bill Laimbeer, who reportedly will become coach and general manager of the San Antonio Stars after the franchise is sold and relocated to Las Vegas.

Smith, who played 15 seasons in the WNBA and retired following the 2013 season with the Liberty, spent the last four years as an assistant coach on Laimbeer’s staff, having been promoted to associate head coach before the 2016 season. Smith becomes the seventh head coach in franchise history.

“I’m really, really excited about the opportunity and very excited to stay with the Liberty,” Smith said on a conference call Monday afternoon.”

Smith played for Laimbeer with the Detroit Shock, winning WNBA championships in 2006 and 2008. Laimbeer spent five seasons as coach of the Liberty, including Smith’s final season as a player. Smith then joined the coaching staff in 2014 and she said Laimbeer was preparing her.

“Definitely, he was grooming me to become a head coach, whether it was in New York or if there’s another opportunity,” Smith said.

Smith was a seven-time WNBA All-Star, two-time first team All-WNBA selection, and was voted as one of the 20 best and most influential players in WNBA history in 2016.

“The WNBA’s been great to me as a player and now as a coach,” said Smith, who also won Olympic gold medals in 2000, 2004 and 2008 as a member of the U.S. national team.

Smith inherits a strong Liberty roster with All-Stars Tina Charles and Sugar Rodgers, and the backcourt of Epiphanny Prince and North Babylon’s Bria Hartley. The Liberty also was one of the league’s best defensive teams under Laimbeer.

The franchise, however, has had plenty of playoff disappointment in recent seasons. The Liberty won an Eastern Conference-best 23 games in 2015, but lost to the Indiana Fever in the conference finals in three games. The Liberty won 21 games in 2016 and 22 games in 2017, but lost single-elimination home games in the second round both times.

“We’ve had a couple of solid years, but we know and I think we’re hungry to get past that,” Smith said.

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