Two rookie head coaches celebrated for playing days
SPRINGFIELD — Three months after entering the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame, Katie Smith and Tina Thompson took their place among the best to ever play, coach, or contribute to the global game of basketball.
On Friday, the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame welcomed 13 inductees, including Smith and Thompson and Ora Washington (posthumously).
Smith and Thompson played numerous years with and against each other as professionals and members of USA Basketball. Among them, they own six WNBA Championship rings, have made 16 WNBA All-Star appearances, and won five Olympic gold medals.
And both became head coaches in 2018, Smith for the New York Liberty and Thompson for the University of Virginia.
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In June, Smith was fresh into her rookie head coach campaign while preparing to enter the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame. This weekend, the tables have turned, and Thompson is pulling double-duty as HOFer and head coach.
On Thursday, High Post Hoops caught up with the basketball legends to ask about the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame Enshrinement Weekend, reflections on their playing career, and of course the upcoming 2018 WNBA Finals.
Below is a Q&A style recap of our conversation with coaches Katie Smith and Tina Thompson.
On entering the Basketball Hall of Fame
“The consideration is humbling itself. I’ve said it over and over, but it’s really just not something that you think about. Even now, being here in Springfield, having the jacket, it’s still just like, ‘I cannot believe this!’ You know, and everyone who knows you and supports you is like, ‘Why can’t you?’
“Of all the things you think about doing in your career: I wanted to be an Olympian and hopefully and All-Star … I wanted to win championships. Those are the goals that I felt like I could possibly reach. To be inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame is never something I thought about. So, when it happens, you’re amazed and I am every day, amazed. I literally try not to think about it too much because it is overwhelming. Just thinking about all the players that I absolutely loved watching and admired throughout my career. To be mentioned in the same breath as them is just, unfathomable.”
“It’s just unbelievable, honestly. And you do almost immediately start to reflect on all people that actually made this happen, your family and just honestly that you never thought about [being a Hall of Famer]. This was not something I thought about doing or happening. It just seems like you want to pinch yourself because it just doesn’t seem real. You literally did it because you love the game. It’s really just an appreciation for all those that have basically created this [opportunity] and been on this journey with me.”
On where the Naismith honor ranks among their (many) honors
“The Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame is special because it’s your game. I mean, but this is, this is it. This is the Mecca when it comes to basketball. And to be a part of it is not something you really ever thought about and you really do need to pinch yourself because when people say Naismith Hall of Fame I don’t think it automatically registers.
“So it’s funny. It really is a byproduct of just going about your career not even knowing it was going to be a career and just playing a game that you loved, and trying to do it at a high level. And then things like this happen and your just like, ‘This is unreal.'”
“Rank? There is nothing comparable to this (laughs)! There is one number and that’s where it is. It’s literally a culmination of everything, so there is nothing comparable to this. I mean, the birth of my son, but he has his own little place too! Other than that, there is nothing. Nothing comparable.”
On the rest of the 2018 Enshrinement Class
“It’s funny because everybody was saying [earlier], we’re somewhat interconnected, right. It’s just such a small world. That’s why this game is crazy because it connects us all. You’re inseparable for life because you have those experiences. So, yeah it’s wild. It’s a very unique class. A very talented crew in so many areas.”
“First and foremost it’s not just the things that these people accomplished. I mean if you go from person to person, the inductees in my class [are] amazing. Like there is nothing anyone has had to say about these guys. So to be a part of that is amazing. So I think that you know, the accolades are second and third degree to that. Because they’re just good guys, you know.
“Katie is great. Katie and I have shared a career together. Although very competitive and you know we had some battles. The person that she is, that is the true foundation of the relationship that we have.”
2018 WNBA Finals Predictions
“Seattle’s probably going to take it. It’s gonna be a good series. They match up well. I just think [Breanna] Stewart, [Sue] Bird, [Jewell] Loyd, and everyone is just …. doing whatever they need to do. So right now I’m thinking Seattle is taking it … but I may be wrong.
“The amazing thing is that Dan [Hughes] and Mike [Thibault], neither has won [a championship as a WNBA head coach]. They’ve been pillars to our game and really been a part of it for a long time. So, I hope they enjoy it and soak it up.”
“It’s gonna be competitive. I mean I’ve watched both teams like all year and they deserve to be in this moment. They have worked for it. I have not a prediction at all. I have no people that I love with all my heart on both sides.
I would jump out to say that I just want to see Ariel Atkins do extremely well. She’s my baby girl* and I’m so proud of what she’s done in her rookie year. So I want to see her continue in her season for her rookie season in a great way.”
*Thompson coached Atkins while an assistant at the University of Texas