by doug feinberg ap basketball writer
Katie Smith has always been a gritty player throughout her illustrious basketball career.
With the New York Liberty on the brink of elimination from the playoff chase, Smith wasn't about to let the team go down quietly — even with star Cappie Pondexter out. The league's second all-time leading scorer put forth a vintage effort against Phoenix, scoring a season-high 17 points Tuesday night. It just wasn't enough as New York fell 80-76 and dropped out of the postseason race.
Smith quietly announced early this summer that she would be retiring at the end of the season. The Liberty honored the 15-year veteran, who was playing her first season with the team, before New York's final home game.
"I think what we will miss most about Katie is her drive to win and the fact she's a fierce competitor," WNBA President Laurel Richie said.
The Liberty put together a video tribute showing highlights of Smith's career from her playing days in high school to her college days at Ohio State. It finished up with some of her best moments from the now-defunct ABL and WNBA.
Smith said before the game she wasn't going to cry watching the video. She came close, but held her ground, instead joking afterward to the crowd that the biggest thing she learned watching it was that she "had a lot of different hair styles over the years."
The team also presented her with a framed USA basketball jersey and a photo collage of her playing career.
"She's an all-time professional," New York Liberty coach Bill Laimbeer said. "She's just been that hard-nosed player that takes care of her body. She's played so many years because of that. She's gone from prolific scorer to outstanding defender and team leader. I can't say enough about her."
Smith was brought to New York this season by Laimbeer to provide some veteran leadership. He coached her for five seasons with the Detroit Shock, where she won WNBA titles in 2006 and 2008.
"She's been a pillar of this league like Lisa Leslie," said teammate Delisha Milton-Jones, who will now be the longest tenured player in the league. "The work she put in is unparalleled. She hasn't gotten the credit she deserves for what she's done for this league on and off the court. She's the consummate pro and you couldn't have asked for a better role model."
Laimbeer ran the first play for Smith against Phoenix, getting her a jumper from the wing. It got the 39-year-old star going as she had nine points in the first quarter. She also drew the assignment of guarding Diana Taurasi on defense. She held her longtime USA basketball teammate to just 4-of-13 shooting.
"She will be missed," Taurasi said. "She was my mentor on USA basketball when I first started playing on the national team and has been a winner at every level."
Smith isn't sure what she's going to do next season. She's hoping to get into coaching either at the college or WNBA level.
"I've had some conversations with Bill and we'll see what happens," Smith said.
For now Smith says she plans to enjoy the final two games of her professional career when the Liberty hit the road to play Indiana and Washington.
"There's always time to figure out what's next," Smith said. "I'm a little nervous about the unknown, but I'm sure it will all work out."
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