Olympic Spotlight: Basketball's Suzie McConnell (Serio) and Katie Smith
July 9, 2008
by Jeff Smith
With the 2008 Beijing Summer Olympic Games quickly approaching, BigTen.org takes a look at both former and current Olympians who have made their mark in their respective sports. In today's "Olympic Spotlight" feature, we take a look at the Olympic careers of Penn State's Suzie McConnell (Serio) and Ohio State basketball legend Katie Smith.
SUZIE MCCONNELL (SERIO), BASKETBALL, PENN STATE, 1984-88
Penn State's Suzie McConnell did not need size to earn a spot on the 1988 Olympic women's basketball team. She played with heart, and that was all that interested North Carolina State's Kay Yow, her coach for the gold-medal winning team. After a promising career at Penn State, McConnell was among 100 players invited to the tryouts for the 1988 team. Despite being the shortest player (5'4") there, McConnell won Yow over with her heart and desire for the game, and was selected for the team. Yow looked like a genius as McConnell went to Seoul, South Korea and left with a gold medal and as a team leader in three-point field goals, three-point field goal percentage, assists, free throw percentage and points.
Making the 1992 Olympic team was not that easy for McConnell. Having just given birth to her first child, Peter, McConnell worked to get back into playing shape at the Pan American Games. In the eyes of Rutgers head coach and former Iowa mentor C. Vivian Stringer, McConnell's size was an issue. She exited the Pan-Am Games as an alternate for the Olympic team. However, former Illinois head coach Teresa Grentz, who was serving as the Olympic coach of the 1992 squad, selected her for the team. The U.S. went on to earn a bronze medal in the Barcelona Games.
Following her playing career, McConnell was a member of the 10-person USA Basketball Executive Committee from 2001-04. Just last month, she was inducted into the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame.
McConnell completed her collegiate career at Penn State four years before the school was admitted into the Big Ten Conference, but is widely regarded as one of the all-time Nittany Lion student-athletes. Having led the nation in assists in 1986 and 1987, McConnell concluded her career with an NCAA Division I record 1,307 dishes. She averaged 10.2 dimes per game throughout her career and also holds NCAA marks for assists in a season (355 in 1987) and season average per game (11.8 in 1987). The four-time All-Atlantic 10 selection averaged 14.9 points and 10.2 assists per game in 128 career contests. She established a school single-season record of 682 points (20.7 ppg) her senior year, and also set the Penn State all-time record for steals (507) and the single-game record for assists (21). In 1988, McConnell became the program's first All-America first-team honoree and was named the Frances Pomeroy Naismith Award winner as the outstanding female senior collegian 5-8 and under. In addition, McConnell earned recognition as a member of the USA Today All-Time Women's Basketball Team and was named one of Sports Illustrated's Top 50 Pennsylvania Athletes of the Century in 1999. McConnell also made an impact in the WNBA as both a player and a coach. During her three years as a WNBA point guard with the Cleveland Rockers (1998-2000), she earned WNBA Newcomer of the Year and All-WNBA First Team honors in 1998, was a two-time winner of the Kim Perrot Sportsmanship Award (1998 and 2000), and finished her professional career with averages of 6.4 points and 4.6 assists per game in 81 contests. She also spent four years as head coach of the Minnesota Lynx and was named the WNBA Coach of the Year in 2004.
KATIE SMITH, BASKETBALL, OHIO STATE, 1992-96
Ohio State's Katie Smith is one of the most decorated women's basketball players in U.S. Olympic history. Prepared to compete in her third Olympic Games this summer, Smith is one of only seven men's or women's players to compete in at least three Olympiads. This August in Beijing, Smith will be poised to contribute a great deal to the team in what she admits is likely her final Olympics.
In 2000, Smith used her sharp-shooting skills to lead Team USA to Olympic gold in Sydney, Australia. She shot 60 percent from beyond the three-point line during the Games, which she calls the most memorable moment in her basketball career.
Despite winning gold in Athens, Greece, the 2004 Olympics was one that Smith likely wanted to forget. Injuries plagued the former Buckeye as she tore cartilage in her right knee during the final preliminary game, in which the U.S. defeated China, 100-62. A month prior to the 2004 Games, Smith had bruised the same knee in a WNBA game, an injury that forced her to miss the team's first game in Athens. Smith sat out the medal round competition, but cheered on her team from the sidelines en route to its gold-medal winning performance.
Since donning her first USA Basketball uniform in 1993 - the summer after she led Ohio State to the national championship game as a freshman - Smith has competed in USA Basketball competition in 12 of the past 15 years. In addition to being a two-time Olympic gold medalist, Smith has helped Team USA capture the 1998 and 2002 FIBA World Championship, the 1999 U.S. Olympic Cup, the 1996 R. William Jones Cup, and the 1994 Goodwill Games. In fact, she has played an integral role in keeping the U.S. women's team undefeated in its last 25 Olympic contests - a streak that dates back to the bronze-medal game in 1992.
While at Ohio State, Smith left her mark on the Buckeyes and the Big Ten. As a freshman, she was awarded Kodak All-America first team honors, tabbed the Sports Illustrated National Freshman of the Year and the Big Ten Freshman of the Year, selected All-Big Ten second team, and named to the 1993 NCAA Final Four and East Regional All-Tournament Team. She finished her career as the 1996 Big Ten Player of the Year and with 2,578 points, which at that time was the most points scored by a male or female in conference history. She is now second all-time among female scorers. A two-time first-team All-American and three-time All-Conference first-team selection, Smith started a school record 124 consecutive games during her Buckeye career and in 2001, became the first female OSU athlete to have her number retired.
Following graduation, Smith led the American Basketball League's Columbus Quest to championships in the 1997 and 1998 seasons. In the 1999 WNBA Player Allocation Draft, Smith was taken by the Minnesota Lynx, a team for which she played until 2005, including the last three seasons under the direction of McConnell-Serio. She led the WNBA in scoring in 2001 with 23.1 points per game and helped the team to its first playoff spot in 2003. During the 2003 campaign, Smith also became the first woman in professional basketball to score 4,000 points. The six-time WNBA All-Star was named to the league's All-Decade Team in 2006, the same year she helped lead her current team, the Detroit Shock, to the WNBA Championship.