Monday, September 30, 2013
THE AWARD SECTION
Offensive Players of the Week
Philip Rivers, QB, San Diego. Maybe its Rivers’ turn. Maybe in his 10th year he’s seen his fellow 2004 draftees, Ben Roethlisberger and Eli Manning, with their shiny Super Bowl rings, and now he’s saying enough. The Chargers beat NFC East frontrunner Dallas to go 2-2 Sunday (and they’re still two games behind two teams in the AFC West), and Rivers completed 35 of 42 passes for 401 yards and three touchdowns.
Reggie Bush, RB, Detroit. There is no doubt about it: The difference between this year’s Lions and every other year of the Stafford Era is Reggie Bush. In the first 28 minutes of Sunday’s division match against Chicago, the Lions roared to a 30-13 lead—and Bush jetted around the field for 136 yards on 14 touches. Great signing by GM Martin Mayhew.
Frank Gore, RB, San Francisco. After slumping through the season’s first three games, Gore, 30, played like Gore, 23. “A-plus-plus,’’ is how coach Jim Harbaugh graded Gore’s 20-carry, 153-yard performance in the surprising rout of the Rams Thursday night. “Very Frank Gore-like. Pure attitude.”
Defensive Players of the Week
Kiko Alonso, MLB, Buffalo. The second-round rookie is proving his worth as a rangy sideline-to-sideline playmaker in his first month on the job. He picked off two Joe Flacco passes and knocked two more away from their targets Sunday as the Bills stunned Baltimore.
Aqib Talib, CB, New England. He didn’t win every battle with Falcons wideouts Sunday night. He actually lost one. He gave up one completion, for one yard, and was huge in the Patriots’ fourth win of the young season. Talib, invaluable, is tied for the league lead with four interceptions.
Alterraun Verner, CB, Tennessee. Co-leads the league with four picks (with Talib and Alonso), and he had two of them against Geno Smith of the Jets on Sunday, along with recovering a fumble. Verner has become one of the most instinctive corners in football, and no player has accounted for as many takeaways this early in the season as Verner’s six (four picks, two fumble recoveries).
NaVorro Bowman, ILB, San Francisco. Memo to Niners defensive coordinator Vic Fangio: Blitz Bowman more. Bowman had two sacks, two quarterback hits and three quarterback pressures in the 35-11 rout of the Rams. He deflected a pass and forced a fumble too, and had six tackles. I’ve always thought Bowman to be the equal of Patrick Willis, which is not an insult to either man if you’ve watched the 49ers much. Two great, great players.
Special Teams Player of the Week
Dexter McCluster, KR/RB, Kansas City. The Giants trailed 10-7 late in the third quarter and were making a great game of it until punter Steve Weatherford booted it to McCluster, standing at his 11-yard line. McCluster never was touched, and he juked two Giants so badly that they fell to the turf at Arrowhead. McCluster’s return was the vital play of the game.
Steven Hauschka, K, Seattle. His 48- and 39-yard field goals in regulation helped push the game to overtime on a day Seattle’s offense moved in fits and starts. And with 3:19 left in overtime, he nailed a 45-yard game-winner that would have been good from 65 to win it, 23-20.
Coach of the Week
Rob Chudzinski, head coach, Cleveland. “You’re 2-0 since you gave up on the season,’’ I told Chudzinski Sunday night. He said: “Good thing nobody told that to our players.” Chudzinski may have some guys on his team looking at the brass cross-eyed for trading Trent Richardson after two weeks, but it’s a tribute to Chudzinski that the players are playing as hard as any group in the league. The defense held Cincinnati to 266 yards Sunday in a 17-6 win. “Winning reinforces the good things,’’ he said, “and these guys have worked hard. They don’t care about what the perception is on the outside.’’ Speaking of hard work, the Browns have the Thursday night game this weekend, and Chudzinski was in tape-studying mode by 6:45 Sunday night.
Goat of the Week
Joe Flacco, QB, Baltimore. He threw five interceptions at Buffalo, leading to 13 Buffalo points, and the Ravens lost by three. Not good.
Sunday, September 29, 2013
Caledonia's Karl Klug stripping the ball from Jets QB Geno Smith for his first NFL TD
By Dave Polzin
September 29, 2013
Tennessee Titans Linebacker and Caledonia High School alum Karl Klug scored his first NFL touchdown in Sunday's 38-13 win over the New York Jets.
Early in the 4th Quarter, Klug sacked Jets Quarterback Geno Smith and stripped him of the ball for a TD as the Titans turned Smith's four turnovers into 28 points.
It's was Klug's 11.5 sack since joining Tennessee, the most on the team during that time period.
Thursday, September 26, 2013
By Joe Platania
September 26, 2013
OWINGS MILLS -- Marshal Yanda comes from Iowa, a long way from Baltimore's more urban setting and busier lifestyle.
But Yanda, a bearded, seventh-year right guard, has a no-nonsense-oriented work ethic, which has fit in well with a town and a team that doesn't believe in doing things pretty, only in doing them well.
Yanda has managed to shrug off and overcome obstacles placed in his way, including being drafted in relative third-round obscurity (86th overall) in 2007 and fighting through knee, ankle, chest, leg and shoulder injuries. His shoulder injury required offseason surgery and kept him off the field for most of this year's preseason period.
Despite those ailments, Yanda -- one of a league-high three rookies to start along the Ravens' offensive line in 2007 -- has put together consecutive-game streaks of 21 and 45 games during his career, the latter ending in December 2012, when he didn't take the field against Denver (ankle).
The second of those streaks could have ended earlier thanks to the chest and leg injuries, but Yanda fought through those to help the team clinch the 2011 AFC North Division title with a season-ending win at Cincinnati.
But it's no big deal to Yanda, for no matter how the Ravens may look during any given game, it's a given that Yanda -- who switched to right tackle in a pinch in 2010 because of Jared Gaither's training camp back injury -- won't have much of an extreme reaction either way. Check out these postgame quotes:
Following his 2013 preseason debut against Carolina Aug. 22: "I just try to go out there and do my part and help the team."
After the Ravens' sputtering win against Cleveland Sept. 15: "We said, just take it one play at a time."
Following the team's 30-9 victory against previously unbeaten Houston Sept. 22: "We did what we needed to do to win the game."
But it must be said that Yanda's blunt characterization of the team's offensive line play through three games is spot-on: rough.
Despite the 6-foot-3, 315-pound Yanda's presence, the Ravens are averaging 2.6 yards per carry, and only winless Jacksonville's 2.4-yard rate is worse. To be fair, the team has gone up against top 10 rush defense teams in top-ranked Denver, seventh-ranked Cleveland and ninth-ranked Houston.
But a reprieve may be in the offing Sept. 29, for the same can't be said for Buffalo, a squad tied for third worst in the league by virtue of allowing more than 150 rush yards per game.
"We're going to be able to run the ball here," head coach John Harbaugh said. "It is a part of our DNA. We have the people to do it. We've got some big, strong, tough offensive linemen, and we have really good backs. Our fullback, Vonta Leach, is the best blocking fullback in the league. The run game is something that has to happen for us."
Even though second-year left guard Kelechi Osemele has impressed leaguewide observers to the point that some consider the Osemele-Yanda tandem one of the NFL's best, the integration of Osemele and new center Gino Gradkowski could be part of the reason things have yet to mesh so far this year.
"He's still a young player," Yanda said of Osemele. "But he's a tough, nasty guy. … All five of us have to improve as a group. We want to excel together."
That's where Yanda's leadership, experience and effectiveness come in.
Yanda has not been charged with a penalty in 215 offensive snaps this year. Also, during six previous campaigns, he has been hit with seven total accepted holding calls and 14 false-start violations.
On top of that, in the world of the trenches, where post-whistle altercations can lead to even more penalties, Yanda has been tagged with just one 15-yard penalty during his career.
Such controlled effectiveness led to Yanda being one of the first Ravens guards to ever make the Pro Bowl in 2011. He repeated the feat last year, but naturally had to decline the invitation because he and his teammates were busy preparing for the Super Bowl.
For Yanda, preparation merely means reinforcing those qualities that have made him one of the league's best.
"It's a combination of speed and power, quickness, the ability to stop bull rushes," Yanda said of his technique.
Given the laid-back way he acts off the field -- not to mention his no-frills way on it -- stopping bull is something at which Yanda excels.
And fans in Baltimore can't help but love him for it.
Carolina Panthers' Ted Ginn, Jr. (19) crosses into the endzone for a 47-yard touchdown against the New York Giants in the fourth quarter at Bank of America Stadium on September 22, 2013 The Panthers won 38-0.
By Scott Fowler
September 25, 2013
As Panthers quarterback Cam Newton fired the ball deep to receiver Ted Ginn Jr. on Sunday, the fans in Bank of America Stadium hushed expectantly.
Ginn was on a full-out sprint, and that is always a sight to behold. But Newton had really flung it – the ball went 54 yards in the air.
“I thought I overthrew him,” Newton said.
Watching the ball descend, Ginn had the opposite reaction.
“Oh yeah, I had it,” he said Wednesday. “But I had to slow down two or three steps.”
Ginn caught the ball, scoring on a 47-yard touchdown to match the 40-yard TD he had grabbed from Newton the week before against Buffalo. Ginn is now the only NFL offensive player with two touchdowns of at least 40 yards so far this season.
Playing on a one-year contract he signed in March that pays him $1.1 million – a lot by normal standards, but not much by the NFL’s – Ginn has already become a serious short-term bargain for Carolina.
Long-term? Ginn, 28, said he’s not thinking about it (“That’s what agents are for”), although he would like to stay in Charlotte. The Panthers undoubtedly will want him back for 2014, too, if he keeps producing like this.
At one point, Ginn was just part of the cast competing for the No.3 wideout role behind Steve Smith and Brandon LaFell, including Armanti Edwards and Domenik Hixon. But for now, Ginn has run away with that job.
Said coach Ron Rivera: “Quite honestly, to Domenik and Armanti’s detriment, when they both got hurt the one guy who stood out and took advantage of it was Ted. He started the next few games as our third receiver and really established himself.”
The upside of Ginn on the field is that he can “blow the top off the coverage,” to use Rivera’s term. Defensive backs are so worried about him going deep that the rest of the field opens up.
Newton threw five deep balls to Ginn against Buffalo – a couple of them were overthrown, and Ginn short-armed another – before finally connecting on a fifth. He is getting very used to taking chances with Ginn. After the Panthers barely threw the ball downfield in their first game, a loss to Seattle, they have changed that dramatically.
In the 38-0 win against the Giants, Newton targeted receivers 20 or more yards downfield on 30 percent of his throws, according to Pro Football Focus – the highest downfield attempt percentage of any NFL quarterback for Week 3.
“A guy like Cam, he’s got a big arm and he’s not scared of the speed,” Ginn said. “You get a guy who doesn’t have a big arm sometimes and after you get two steps on a guy, he is scared he might underthrow you and the defensive back might pick it off.”
Ginn isn’t just a receiver, of course. He has been one of the best kickoff and punt returners in the NFL since entering the league in 2007. He once returned a punt and a kickoff for a touchdown in the same game, and in another game he took two kickoffs back for TDs. The first time he touched a return for the Panthers, in the preseason, he went 74 yards for a touchdown.
San Francisco kept Ginn around primarily as a returner the past three years. He averaged only 11 catches per season from 2010-12. He ached to be a receiver again, though. He had averaged a respectable 42.7 catches per season with the Miami Dolphins from 2007-09, although he never turned into the No.1 receiver the Dolphins envisioned when they drafted him No.9 overall in 2007.
“I’ve been labeled a specialist, but my whole goal is to be a receiver,” Ginn said. “I’m getting my opportunity now and showing what people missed out on.”
Although the temptation with Ginn’s speed is to say, as Rivera put it, “Line him up wide, tell him to run as fast as you can and then we’ll throw it once in a while,” the Panthers are not using him purely to stretch the field.
One of Ginn’s most significant plays of the season came with two minutes left in the second quarter Sunday. With Steve Smith briefly out due to a hip injury, the Panthers faced third-and-11 at the Carolina 46.
Ginn ran a slant route, caught the ball in traffic and gained exactly 11 yards, extending a drive that ended with a Newton pass to Brandon LaFell for a touchdown.
This is not to say Ginn is perfect. In the past, he has been criticized for dropped passes, his relatively small stature and his lack of physicality. The 49ers basically gave up on him as a receiver.
But for the 1-2 Panthers, Ginn has been awfully good so far – a big-play weapon in a sport where you simply can’t have enough of those.
Katie Smith hugs her father, John, during a ceremony honoring her before her final home game with the New York Liberty. She retired as the career scoring leader in women’s pro basketball.
By Michael Arace
September 25, 2013
The New York Liberty paid tribute to Katie Smith on the occasion of the final home game of her WNBA career. This was two weeks ago, at the Prudential Center in Newark, N.J.
A team official stood before the crowd and said, “It is absolutely my honor to be center court with Katie. I’m going to recite a couple of the hallmarks of her career…”
Then she turned to Smith and said, “I’m sorry to have to publicly do this, but it’s my job.”
Odd choice of words? Or, perfect?
“I’m sorry to have to publicly do this, but it’s my job.” That is how Smith played her whole career, and became one of the most highly decorated athletes of her generation, male or female. That is how she barely caused a ripple in the national media when she tiptoed away earlier this month. Excuse me, thank you and have a nice day.
“Nike threw a nice party for my family and friends,” Smith said yesterday. “It was enough. I don’t like to be, I don’t need to be, constantly acknowledged. I’ve done the job — hopefully, I did a good job — but it didn’t put my name in lights.”
Smith did a good job in the way Oscar Robertson did a good job. She was the national high-school player of the year at Logan and the Big Ten player of the year at Ohio State. She won a WNBA scoring title (2001) at a time when Sheryl Swoopes, Tina Thompson and Lisa Leslie were the recognized stars. Ultimately, she retired as the career scoring leader in women’s professional basketball.
She made more three-pointers than any other woman. She could guard all five positions and was the most feared defender of her time. And she won. She won two American Basketball League titles in two years with the Columbus Quest before the league folded and two titles in 15 years in the WNBA. She won three Olympic gold medals in a two-decade-long association with the U.S. national team.
This was the farewell tour: Smith played her last two WNBA games on the road, at Indiana and Washington, and was acknowledged by the PA announcers and patted on the back by some fans. She smiled and waved and headed back to Columbus. Perfect.
“Olympic gold, championships; yeah, all that stuff was great,” Smith said. “But it was really about the people I met along the way, all the experiences I had travelling all over the world. I step back now and say, ‘Really? I did all this playing basketball?’ It has been pretty cool. I’ve pretty much lived the dream. Now, I’ve just got to find the next dream.”
Smith marvels at how, when she was a child, she never even thought about playing professional basketball — mostly because the WNBA did not exist. She helped establish the league. She is proud of that. Next dream?
Smith is doing some in-studio work for NBA TV during the WNBA playoffs. She is in her third and final year of graduate school at Ohio State, on course for a master’s in dietary science. Although details have yet to be completed, the plan is for her to join Bill Laimbeer’s coaching staff with the Liberty next year.
Sooner or later, the Hall of Fame in Springfield, Mass., will call.
“People talk about that — Dawn Staley just went in this year — and of course, it would be cool,” Smith said. “Looking back, though, I didn’t play for the Hall or any of that other stuff. The journey has just been surreal, you know? I started playing the game, and I continued to play the game — and it felt like a game. It was fun.
“I didn’t set out to do all this, I just tried to do my job well, and do it with some consistency. I wound up playing a long time at a high level.”
Nobody longer, nobody higher, and excuse me for publicly doing this.
Monday, September 23, 2013
Two games into the regular season, the revamped offensive line has done an outstanding job protecting Stafford.
By PAULA PASCHE
September 20, 2013
ALLEN PARK — Hear all that angst about the Lions’ revamped offensive line?
Throughout the spring, throughout training camp, the line with three new starters was one of the big question marks on this team that was coming off a 4-12 season.
Now Riley Reiff, Larry Warford, Jason Fox and Corey Hilliard have answered all questions with the departures of Jeff Backus, Stephen Peterman and Gosder Cherilus.
So far, so good.
Through the first two games, Matthew Stafford has been sacked exactly once. That statistic carries more weight considering in week one they were playing defensive end Jared Allen and the Vikings who feast on quarterbacks for lunch.
This offensive line faces another huge test on Sunday at Washington. The Redskins have accumulated seven sacks in their first two losses — three of them from outside linebacker Ryan Kerrigan.
Even so, the Redskins are rated dead last in the NFL in overall defense.
“I’m not buying into this is the worst defense in the NFL because they’re not,’’ Lions center Dominic Raiola said.
Guess general manager Martin Mayhew knew what he was doing when he went with Reiff at left tackle — the plan since he was drafted in 2012 — and didn’t move up in the draft to nab Eric Fisher, Luke Joeckel or Lane Johnson, all attractive tackles.
Mayhew knew what he had in Corey Hilliard and hoped to see what he has seen from Jason Fox who was a fourth-round pick in 2010. Fox earned the start out of camp, but was injured in the first half against the Vikings and Hilliard has filled in. Fox isn’t expected to play on Sunday.
“Well, (Reiff and Hilliard) have played very well and they have played against good guys. Every week, it’s the NFL, you’re going against premier pass rushes,’’ offensive coordinator Scott Linehan said. “It’s not just the left tackles any more. The right tackle has got as big — like (Ryan) Kerrigan has three sacks — of a challenge as the left guy. They have played well so far. If they just stay playing as confident as they have been, we have all the confidence in the world in them.”
Perhaps the surprise has been rookie Larry Warford, a fourth-round pick, who has stepped in at right guard.
“He is starting as a rookie, that is hard to do in this league,’’ Linehan said. “He went through the rookie pains, but quickly progressed. I think he has played very well.’’
Warford has been no surprise to the coaching staff or anyone who saw him at OTAs, training camp or even rookie minicamp. He got more time in preseason games than anyone on offense.
“He is a pretty good ball player, No. 1. We had him for Senior Bowl and felt really comfortable with his ability to play early for us, but we didn’t put a time table on it,’’ Linehan said. “His improvement in OTAs through preseason was rock solid. We were able to put him in there and so far he has played pretty darn good.”
Not only is this revamped line protecting Stafford but they’re opening up lanes for the running backs.
The new guys have leaders in Raiola and left guard Rob Sims.
Even when others were questioning the stability of the line before the season, Raiola was steadfast that they would be fine.
“Corey, Jason, Reilly, they’ve been in the room so they kind of know what’s expected,’’ Raiola said on Friday. “So they know where their level of play their play needs to be at. We have a rookie (Warford) with tremendous upside who’s playing good — big strong, athletic and smart.’’
So far the offensive line has come through.
Raiola knew it all along.
By Darren Urban
September 20, 2013
Back when the Cardinals brought in punter Dave Zastudil at the tail end of 2011 training camp, it raised some eyebrows. And there was definitely some fan backlash when favorite Ben Graham was released, and a little more when Zastudil’s past leg injuries crept back here and there that season. The Cardinals — and then-special teams coach Kevin Spencer — believed Zastudil had a lot left though. They were right.
Finally healthy last season, Zastudil was put to the test much too often because of a faulty offense and he was very good. He averaged 46.5 yards a punt, netted 41.4 and set an NFL record with 46 punts (out of 112, easily a career-high) inside the 20-yard line. His 46.5 average was second all-time in franchise history, behind Graham’s 2009 year of 47.0. Zastudil also had a career-best 70-yard punt last season, and both his gross and net averages were career-bests.
His average is slightly down through two games this season (44.6) but that’s in part because Zastudil is getting a shorter fields on which to kick thanks to a much-improved offense. But his net is still stellar (42.0) and already he has had seven punts inside the 20.
Zastudil benefits from the emergence of star gunner Justin Bethel, who has been amazing in locking down most punt returns (Opponents have three yards on four punt returns in two games). But it starts with the punter, and Zastudil has been impressive.
Monday, September 16, 2013
By Nick Zaccardi
September 13, 2013
A Wall Street Journal report posed an interesting theory about the New York Giants’ David Wilson‘s trouble holding onto the ball in the season opener Sunday.
Wilson, and some other running backs, may be more likely to fumble because they grew up running track.
Some of the backs the Wall Street Journal highlighted:
Wilson lost two fumbles in the Giants’ loss to the Cowboys on Sunday. He was sixth in the triple jump (16.20 meters) at the NCAA Outdoor Championships in 2011 and could run the 100 meters in 11.01 seconds.
The Buffalo Bills’ C.J. Spiller fumbled on his second carry in a loss to the Patriots on Sunday. He was a track and field phenom in high school in Florida, wearing golden shoes in sweeping the 100 and 200 at the Class 2A state meet in 2006. He ran the 100 in 10.29 and the 200 in 20.96 at Clemson.
The Arizona Cardinals’ Alfonso Smith fumbled in a loss to the Rams on Sunday. Smith ran the 100 in 10.52 in high school, winning a Kentucky Class AAA state championship.
“If the individual comes from a track and field background, certainly it may have created a situation which needs to be addressed for football,” Peter Thompson, a longtime coach and former official for the IAAF, told the Wall Street Journal.
Thompson pointed out how running backs are taught to run tight, with the ball pressed against their bodies, while sprinters are taught to run loose. “Tightening up” is a term used in track and field to describe runners losing their form toward the end of races.
The report also looked at the obvious differences in the way running backs carry the ball and sprinters carry a baton in a relay. Also, the athletes’ eyes. In the NFL, it’s key to have as much of a vision across the field whereas in track one is focused on a single lane.
Let’s take a look at more NFL players with sprinting backgrounds, thanks to a list compiled by @tracksuperfan. Unfortunately, most of the NFL’s fastest men are or were wide receivers. Of the running backs, here’s what we’ve got thanks to pro-football-reference.com:
Curtis Dickey ran the 100 in 10.11. He fumbled 33 times over 1,075 touches in a seven-year NFL career in the 1980s. That’s an average of three fumbles per 100 touches, a little bit higher than the NFL average at that time (about 2.5).
Robert Smith ran the 400 in 45.73. He fumbled nine times over 1,609 touches in an eight-year NFL career in the 1990s. That’s an average of .6 of a fumble per 100 touches, way lower than the NFL average at that time (about 1.5).
In fact, Smith carried 232 times in the 1997 season and didn’t fumble once. The next highest back that season with zero fumbles had 136 carries.
James McAlister long jumped 8.24 meters. He fumbled 12 times over 251 touches in a three-year NFL career in the 1970s. That’s an average of almost five fumbles per 100 touches, way more than the NFL average at that time (about 2.6).
Spiller ran the 60 meters (indoor) in 6.58. He’s fumbled 11 times over 591 touches in an ongoing four-year NFL career. That’s an average of about 1.9 fumbles per 100 touches. Pro-football-reference’s blog item on fumble rates only goes through 2007, but at the time the NFL average was trending down toward one fumble per 100 touches. So, Spiller’s fumble rate is high.
There are several potential flaws in fumble stats, but among the small sample size of the most elite track athletes to play in NFL history, it appears there is a higher propensity to fumble. Except for Smith, who would be the most reliable case study since he had the most carries out of this group.
It has been 15 amazing seasons in the WNBA and 17 overall as a professional basketball player, but the incredible journey began long before that for me as a youngster in Logan, Ohio. That love and passion for the game of basketball drove my competitive spirit and is the reason I worked so hard to excel at this game.
Basketball has taken me from the Bobcats, a fifth-grade all-boys team, to nations far and wide. I got to play for my home state at The Ohio State University, had the honor of representing my country in three Olympics, and won championships in the WNBA, but most important, I will always cherish the incredible people who have come into my life.
The past few days have been a whirlwind of emotions and memories. It all started with the WNBA Inspiring Women luncheon on Monday. It was a great gathering of powerful women who are working hard to make a difference in the world. Then there was the Nike reception later that night, which was a blessing. I have been a part of the Nike family ever since I graduated from OSU, and they have always been a big supporter of mine.
Finally, the New York Liberty put on an amazing ceremony before the final home game. I can't thank them enough for the love and support they showed me, especially [vice president of marketing] Kristin Bernert. The Liberty are a first-class organization, and they made my final year in the WNBA very special.
It made me so happy that people made the effort to come out and support me. My mom and dad made the trip from Ohio, there were a few friends from USA Basketball and Nike, and to have [WNBA commissioner] Laurel Richie there was great.
The presentation was incredible, and I really appreciated the love because they didn't have to do that. The old-school highlight footage was classic! I got a chance to not only see the evolution of my game from high school to now, but the '90s hair was too funny.
Everything that was done the past few days to recognize my career has reminded me of the special friendships I have made through basketball. I feel so blessed and appreciative that anyone would take the time out to do something for me. It's been a great ride!
Friday, September 06, 2013
Photo credit: AP | Liberty guard Katie Smith shoots during the fourth quarter of a WNBA basketball game against the Connecticut Sun. (June 14, 2013)
September 6, 2013
By MARCUS HENRY
Katie Smith always had a plan for her life after a stellar college basketball career at Ohio State.
Whether it was following through on her initial intention to become a dentist or her current aspiration to be a registered dietician, the 5-11 guard didn't want basketball to be the only option in life.
But her prowess on the basketball court prompted her to put off plans for dental school.
"Basketball just took off and kept going," said Smith, 39.
Smith has no regrets about her decision to stay with basketball and with good reason. She's garnered a lifetime's worth of individual and team honors.
A two-time WNBA champion with the Detroit Shock and three-time Olympic gold medalist, Smith is the all-time leading scorer in American women's professional basketball history, having scored 7,848 points in two years with the now-defunct ABL and 14-plus seasons in the WNBA.
The oldest player in the league, Smith is currently second on the WNBA's career scoring list with 6,415 points, trailing Seattle Storm forward Tina Thompson. As of Thompson's last game on Aug. 31, she has scored 7,433 points.
"It means I've been consistent for a long period of time and I've been able to do my part and compete at the highest level with anybody," Smith said. "That means a lot to me."
This will be the last run for Smith, who plans to retire at the end of the season. She'll miss playing but is ready for the second part of her life.
"I do want to coach, whether it's in the WNBA or college," Smith said. "I'm going to finish my graduate degree and become a registered dietician."
Earning that Master's degree is important to Smith, who wanted to have options when she retired.
"Over the last few years I was wondering what I wanted to do," she said. "I think I realized I wanted to coach, but I didn't want that to be the only thing that I knew."
But until the final whistle of her playing career, the only thing on Smith's mind is helping the Liberty make the playoffs.
The Liberty (11-19) enter Friday's game against the Atlanta Dream 2 1/2 games behind the Indiana Fever (13-16) for the last Eastern Conference playoff spot. The Liberty has four games left, the Fever five.
"This is our season," Smith said. "And it's going to be a dog fight between Indiana and ourselves in the East."
Smith never thought she'd be starting for a team this year. Having a key role coming off the bench was the plan for her until a season-ending injury to veteran guard Essence Carson four games in thrust her into a starting role.
Smith's influence on her Liberty teammates has been positive, especially the rookies. She's often seen speaking with them after games.
"She forces us to pay attention to the details, the little things," rookie forward Kelsey Bone said. "Coming into the league she's helping us understand the small things and how the game works."
Said Smith: "Some days it's good starting and some days it's not. You wish Essence was out there, getting up and down the court, so you can come in and give her a break. But this is where we're at now and I'm going to give it my all."