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Wednesday, March 27, 2024

Recently retired Patriots player hired as coach for old Super Bowl foe

 























Former Patriots offensive lineman James Ferentz. (AP Photo/Michael Dwyer) AP


By Nick O'Malley | nomalley@masslive.com

Updated: Mar. 26, 2024, 1:56 p.m.Published: Mar. 26, 2024, 1:55 p.m.


Recently retired New England Patriots offensive lineman James Ferentz is joining the family business of coaching -- with the New York Giants.


On Tuesday, the Giants announced that they had hired Ferentz as an assistant offensive line coach. In New York, Ferentz will work under head coach Brian Daboll, who spent time in New England as an assistant coach.


James Ferentz was a longtime versatile backup for the Patriots, bouncing on and off the roster over the years. He played from 2017-2023 in New England before announcing his retirement back in February.


Ferentz is the son of longtime Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz. He’s also the brother of Brian Ferentz, who was the offensive coordinator at Iowa until his departure this past season.


James Ferentz was undersized for an NFL offensive lineman, but was praised for his work as a mentor in the locker room. He played in 40 games during his time in New England, including 10 starts. His last NFL appearance came in 2023 when he started a game at left guard.


After playing for his father at Iowa, Ferentz landed in the NFL as an undrafted free agent in 2014. He started out as an undrafted free agent with the Houston Texans before winning a Super Bowl with the Denver Broncos. He earned a second ring in 2018 when the Patriots won Super Bowl LIII.




Tuesday, March 05, 2024

South Carolina Football: Newest assistant gets ringing endorsement from former NFL QB, ESPN personality

 




South Carolina football wide receiver coach Mike Furrey just got the job this week, but he has gotten a ringing endorsement from Dan Orlovsky.

By Kevin Miller | Mar 3, 2024











South Carolina football wide receivers coach Mike Furrey when he coached with the Chicago Bears / Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

South Carolina football coach Shane Beamer hired Mike Furrey this week to be the Gamecocks' wide receivers coach. It was the second time this offseason that Beamer hired a receivers coach as he moved Justin Stepp to tight ends (then, Stepp left to coach receivers at Illinois), brought in James Coley to replace Stepp, and then Coley left for the same job with the Georgia Bulldogs.

Furrey has an impressive resume that includes an NFL playing career as a wide receiver (including leading the NFC in catches in 2006 with the Detroit Lions), coaching NFL receivers with the Chicago Bears, coaching receivers at the Division-I level at Marshall, and being a head coach at two smaller programs, Kentucky Christian and Limestone.

As a coach, Furrey is considered a good motivator and relationship-builder, and his pedigree as both a professional player and coach should prove that he knows what he's doing technique-wise and that development will be real under his coaching.

However, on Friday, Furrey got a ringing endorsement of a different kind.

Dan Orlovsky, Furrey's former quarterback with the Detroit Lions and current ESPN analyst, said of Furrey, "Great coach...great man." Orlovsky played with Furrey for three seasons in Detroit, and he is considered one of the brightest minds in the football analyst world today. His endorsement of the newest South Carolina football assistant is a big deal.
























Gamecock fans are hopeful that Orlovsky's seal of approval translates to better production on the field for Furrey's wide receiver unit than what has been seen the last two seasons. A breakout from Juice Wells in 2022 and Xavier Legette in 2023 were obvious positives, but the rest of the receiver room struggled some in both seasons, especially in 2023.

Recruiting and development of young players are two areas Coach Beamer hopes Furrey can upgrade for the Gamecocks, but if Dan Orlovsky is correct, Carolina fans have much to look forward to from their newest assistant coach.

 


Monday, March 04, 2024

10 NFL Players Who Actually Never Played College Football

 





When it comes to the NFL, only the best of the best, truly can compete in this league.  Most of the NFL’s talent comes from your typical Division One college, while other rare talent arrives from Division Two, Division Three, or NAIA colleges.  However, every so often there comes along a rare player who does not follow the typical path into the NFL.  It is the rare few who impact the sport without playing a single snap of college football. 

Here are 10 players who made it in the NFL but skipped the college route:

Ray Seals

Seals is a former defensive end for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, from 1989 until 1993.  Seals managed to find his way onto an NFL roster with never playing college football.  Before joining the Bucs, in 1988, Seals played for the Syracuse Express, in the Empire Football League.  Seals brought his talent to Tampa the following year.  In 1994 Seals joined the Pittsburgh Steelers, where he got to play in Super Bowl 30.  Seals finished his NFL career in 1997 with the Carolina Panthers.  Overall, Seals made the best of his time in the NFL and proved anything is possible.

Stephen Neal



















Eagles in Super Bowl XXXIX between the Philadelphia Eagles and the New England Patriots at Alltel Stadium in Jacksonville, Florida on February 6, 2005. (Photo by Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images)

Neal is a former offensive guard who played 10 seasons for the New England Patriots.  He was on the rosters that won Super Bowls 36, 38, and 39, respectively.  Before all of that, Neal was actually on the wrestling team at California State University Bakersfield, a college that does not even have football.  Neal had an outstanding wrestling career in college, winning two gold medals at the NCAA Division One championships and gold medals at the World Wrestling Championships and Pan American Games.  Neal originally signed with the Patriots in July 2001 until he was released in August 2001.  He then had a brief stop with the Philadelphia Eagles before rejoining the Patriots in December 2001 where the rest is history.  He helped protect the GOAT of all quarterbacks, Tom Brady during his time in the NFL.

Antonio Gates

Gates is a soon-to-be Hall of Fame tight end who spent his entire football career playing for the San Diego/ Los Angeles Chargers.  Before embarking on his, Hall of Fame caliber, football career, Gates was on the hardwood, playing college basketball, at Kent State University.  During his junior year at Kent State, Gates helped the Golden Flashes appear in the 2002 NCAA Tournament, where the team made a run to the Elite Eight before getting knocked out by the three-seeded Pitt Panthers.  After college, Gates was told was too short for the NBA and then decided to give the NFL a try.  He tried out for the Chargers, where he became part of history.  Gates became an eight-time Pro Bowler with the Bolts and was inducted into the Chargers Hall of Fame.  Talk about one heck of a career.

Brandon Aubrey

Aubrey is the placekicker for the Dallas Cowboys.  But before Aubrey took his talent to the football field, he was a soccer player, who played college soccer at Notre Dame.  Aubrey then signed with Toronto FC of Major League Soccer in 2017.  He then was on the MLS Next Pro League, for two seasons with Toronto FC II and Bethlehem Steel FC.  After his soccer career ended, his wife encouraged him to give field goal kicking in football a try, after watching a game where the kicker missed making a field goal.  After years of coaching, Aubrey was drafted in the USFL Draft by the Birmingham Stallions, where he played for two seasons until he joined the Dallas Cowboys in 2023.  During the 2023 season, Aubrey made 36 of 38 field goals and 49 of 52 extra points.  Not bad, for a guy who started out as a soccer player.

Sav Rocca

Rocca is a former Australian rules footballer, who spent 15 years in the Australian Football League, before taking his talents to the NFL, as a punter.  Rocca played for the Collingwood Football Club and the North Melbourne Football Club Kangaroos and was a seven-time leading goal kicker with Collingwood, and a three-time leading goal kicker in North Melbourne.  Rocca joined the Philadelphia Eagles in 2007 and earned the honor of, the Oldest Rookie of the Year, at the time.   Rocca later joined Washington, from 2011 until 2013 and finished his brief NFL career with 517 punts.  Rocca rejoined the AFL in 2015 with the Carlton Football Club, as a mentor for new athletes, and became a coach with the team from 2016 until 2020.  What a career for this Australian footballer!

Michael Lewis

Lewis is a former wide receiver and kick returner for the New Orleans Saints, from 2000 until 2006.  Lewis never played college football. In fact, he only played one year of high school football, as he had to help support his family, during this time period.  Lewis’ football career began while working as a truck driver, when a friend of his introduced him to flag football.  From there, Lewis then pursued playing semi-professional football and played with some arena league teams, until the Philadelphia Eagles gave him a call. 

Unfortunately, Lewis’ time with the Eagles was short as he was cut before the regular season began, but the Saints signed Lewis at the end of the 2000 season.  In 2002, Lewis had his best season in the Big Easy, as a kick returner with 1,807 yards, scored two touchdowns, as a punt returner with 625 yards and scored a touchdown, and earned himself a trip to the Pro Bowl.   Lewis later played with the San Francisco 49ers in 2007 and became a team ambassador to the Saints in 2009 (which he still holds today).  The Saints presented Lewis with a Super Bowl 44 ring for his contributions to the team.  An amazing story!

Efe Obada

Obada is currently a defensive end for the Washington Commanders, and he also never played a snap of college football, in his life.  Obada was born in Nigeria and raised in the Netherlands and England, where at one point Obada and his sister found themselves experiencing homelessness.  Obada was able to turn that around and support his family, by working as a security guard.  Obada’s football career began when he played for the London Warriors of the BAFA National League in 2014. 

After his year with the Warriors, defensive football coach Aden Durde helped Obada land a workout with the Dallas Cowboys.  Obada eventually joined the Cowboys’ practice squad.  He bounced around the league in 2016 until finding a home with the Carolina Panthers from 2017 until 2020.  Obada later joined the Buffalo Bills in 2021 and then signed with the Washington Commanders in 2022.  Obada’s story is one of triumph over adversity, which should be made into a movie!

Rico Gathers

Unlike a lot of people on this list, Gathers was drafted into the NFL Draft.  Gathers started his athletic career playing college basketball for the Baylor Bears.  He averaged 11.6 points per game, 11.6 rebounds per game, 1.2 steals, and one block per game as a junior power forward on the team.  Gathers informed then-Baylor football coach Art Briles of his interest in joining the football team, but changed his mind and declared for the NFL Draft after the Bears lost in the first round of the 2016 NCAA Tournament to the Yale Bulldogs.  Gathers got drafted in 217th overall, in the sixth round of the NFL Draft- to the Dallas Cowboys.  Gathers played for the Dallas Cowboys from 2016 until 2018 and had a brief stop with the Cleveland Browns in 2019.  Unfortunately, injuries and off-the-field trouble kept Gathers’ action limited in the NFL.

Vince Papale

Papale was the subject of the Disney biopic “Invincible” starring Mark Wahlberg and has an amazing back story.  Papale attended college at Saint Joseph University in Philadelphia and was on a track scholarship.  The Hawks haven’t had a football team since 1939.  Papale won a United States Track and Field Federation college pole vault, as a junior, at Madison Square Garden, with a vault of 14 feet and six inches.  Papale changed direction and his professional football journey began with stops in minor league football teams, like the Aston Green Knights of the Seaboard Football League, and then the Philadelphia Bell of the World Football League for two seasons. 

After his stint with the Bell, Papale joined the Philadelphia Eagles in 1976 and became the oldest rookie, at the time, at 30 years old.  Papale played for the Eagles for three seasons before a shoulder injury derailed his career and he became a broadcaster for eight years before transitioning to a commercial mortgage banker.  Talk about one of the most incredible sports stories out there.

Eric Swann

Swann was drafted in the first round of the NFL draft, but there was a catch, like the rest of the list, Swann never college football.  Swann was supposed to play college ball at North Carolina State University but was ruled academically ineligible at the time.  Instead, Swann chose to go the semi-professional route by joining a team called the Bay State Titans in Lynn, MA.  After his time with the Bay State Titans, Swann was drafted sixth overall in the first round of the 1991 NFL Draft by the Phoenix Cardinals.  Swann became a two-time Pro Bowler during his time in the desert and his brief season with the Carolina Panthers.  He racked up 46.5 sacks, three safeties, eight fumble recoveries, two interceptions, and one defensive touchdown.  Not bad for a guy that never played collegiate football.

 


Tuesday, February 20, 2024

Current, former Patriots players salute Super Bowl champ after retiring

 















Retired New England Patriots offensive lineman James Ferentz. (AP Photo/Doug Murray)AP

 

Updated: Feb. 19, 2024, 5:31 p.m.

Lauren Campbell | LCampbell@masslive.com

James Ferentz announced his retirement Monday after spending the last seven seasons with the New England Patriots. An under-the-radar center was part of the Super Bowl LIII winning team and played a big role for the Patriots in 2019 when David Andrews missed the season due to blood clots.

The 34-year-old leaves the NFL after 10 seasons, two Super Bowls and leaves behind an impact that was clearly felt by current and former Patriots.

After Ferentz announced his retirement on Instagram, several teammates, past and present, saluted the offensive lineman.

Quarterback Mac Jones: “Appreciate you bro!!! I remember you were the First dude I ever met in the locker room and one of the best!!! Goodluck in your next chapter!”

Guard Mike Onwenu: “Thank you for the example you set James. Congrats!”

Former Patriots quarterback Jarrett Sitdham: “Thousands of snaps together. Congrats on the career dude!!!”

Former Patriots safety Devin McCourty: “Little lineman!!!!! Congrats man. Always enjoyed turning around and talking about the greatness of (Rutgers University)...enjoy the family.”

Former Patriots running back Rex Burkhead: “Congrats brother!! Great career!”

Ferentz spent the 2023 season on the Patriots practice squad, but still found ways to provide a veteran presence for the rookies. He often traveled with the team to help the offensive line throughout the year. What’s next for the veteran is unknown, but he leaves the NFL having played 61 total games and winning two Super Bowl rings.


Patriots OL James Ferentz retires

 















By Charean Williams

Published February 19, 2024 03:59 PM

Patriots offensive lineman James Ferentz announced his retirement on Instagram on Monday afternoon.

“After taking the time to collect my thoughts and speaking with my wife, Skylar, I’ve decided to retire from playing football,” Ferentz wrote.

He did not indicate whether coaching is next for him. His father, Kirk, has been the head coach at the University of Iowa since 1999 and his brother, Brian, has been an assistant coach at Iowa since 2012 after four seasons coaching for the Patriots.

James Ferentz, 34, played only one game in 2023 as he spent time on both the active roster and the practice squad. The Patriots, though, valued his knowledge in the offensive line room and on the sideline on game day.

He played eight seasons, winning two Super Bowl rings.

Ferentz spent time with the Texans and Broncos before landing in New England in 2018. The interior offensive lineman appeared in 61 games with 10 starts in his NFL career.

 


Tuesday, February 13, 2024

Thorburn: Jay Sawvel has quickly found his stride as Wyoming Cowboys head coach

 




Feb 9, 2024 Updated 16 hrs ago



















Wyoming quarterback Evan Svoboda scores a touchdown in the Cowboys' 42-9 victory over Hawaii on Nov. 18 at War Memorial Stadium in Laramie.

LARAMIE – Jay Sawvel didn’t feel quite right about asking someone to pick up his dry cleaning during a busy week.

“I’ve never done that in my career,” Wyoming’s new head coach said. “I feel terrible.”

Pokes fans should be feeling great about how Sawvel’s hectic first two months on the job have gone.

UW added 11 more players, including two impact transfers from the Power 5 level, during Wednesday’s signing day after landing 27 prospects in December as part of a recruiting class that remained intact despite Craig Bohl’s retirement and changes to the coaching staff.

Sawvel conducted Wednesday’s press conference via Zoom, but the excitement and momentum inside the High Altitude Performance Center was palpable coming through the computer screen.

“It’s really easy to come work in this building right now with the way our players are and the coaches that we work with and the people that we’re adding to the program right now,” Sawvel said.

Two years ago, Bohl posted a help wanted ad on social media seeking quarterbacks. The old-school coach had to recalibrate his approach to relating to today’s players and roster management following a mass exodus of talent to the portal.

Since the Cowboys capped Bohl’s four-decade career with a 9-4 campaign and a dramatic victory in the Arizona Bowl, no players that were expected to have a major role on the 2024 team have transferred.

UW added seven transfers, headlined by North Carolina running back DJ Jones and Texas Tech wide receiver TK King, to give brawny quarterback Evan Svoboda more explosive weapons to work with.

I asked Gordie Haug, the program’s executive director of recruiting, how the Pokes avoided attrition and accrued several high-end players during a coaching transition.

“It kind of just speaks volumes of the university,” Haug explained. “Our culture, our program, the athletic department, the fans, the support that we get … people are starting to understand it’s not always greener on the other side. This is a good place to develop and turn into hopefully the best player they can become.”

Three players that could have garnered significant interest in the portal – defensive tackle Jordan Bertagnole, wide receiver Alex Brown and linebacker Shae Suiaunoa – decided to return to UW as super seniors.

“It’s three really good recruits,” Sawvel said. “That’s probably the best work we could have done in the transfer portal.”

Bertagnole, an all-Mountain West player from Casper, was injured late in the season and wants to improve his NFL stock. Suiaunoa, arguably the most improved player on the team last season, will slide over to middle linebacker to continue the tradition of excellence at the position established by predecessors Logan Wilson, Chad Muma and Easton Gibbs.

Sawvel, who promoted Aaron Bohl to defensive coordinator, returns nine starters on that side of the ball.

There’s also a lot of potential on offense based on the small but tantalizing sample size the 6-foot-5, 245-pound Svoboda displayed in relief of Andrew Peasley.

Starting running back Harrison Waylee returns and will be pushed by Jones, Dawaiian McNeely, Jamari Ferrell and Sam Scott.

Svoboda already has great chemistry with his roommate, John Michael Gyllenborg, who has NFL tight end traits.

King adds Olympic speed to a promising, albeit unproven, receiver room that includes Devin Boddie, Caleb Merritt, Will Pelissier, Jaylen Sargent and Justin Stevenson.

Sawvel’s ability to connect and retain players has been as impressive as those three-piece suits he had dry cleaned.

What really stood out to me was what Sawvel said about Brown, who has really only had one shining moment – the game-winning touchdown catch at Colorado State in 2022 – during a quiet career.

“He just feels like he’s got unfinished business in the fact that he really wants to put together a really good last year. I like Alex a lot and I talked to him about that,” Sawvel said. “As a head coach, he’s a guy I want to put time in myself. I want to be a big cheerleader behind him because he’s a really good kid. He’s got a lot of talent, and I want to see him have a really good year and elevate himself.”

At his introductory press conference on Dec. 6, Sawvel made the analogy that the Cowboys’ pursuit of the program’s first MW championship was like a 4x100 relay.

Bohl ran the first three legs and handed the baton to his protégé with a lot of momentum for the final lap.

So far, Sawvel has quickly found his stride and the Pokes have not stumbled.

 


Thursday, February 08, 2024

Plano football legend Rex Burkhead announces retirement from NFL

 




Feb 6, 2024




























Plano Senior alum Rex Burkhead, a 10-year NFL veteran, was a star on both the football field and basketball court for the Wildcats.


After 10 seasons in the NFL, Plano alum Rex Burkhead announced his retirement from the league on Monday.

Burkhead's decade-long career included stints with the Cincinnati Bengals, New England Patriots and Houston Texans. He was a sixth-round draft pick by the Bengals in 2013.

"To all my coaches, strength coaches, trainers, doctors, ownership and other staff, thank you for the opportunities to live out my childhood dream and making sure I was performing to the best of my abilities," Burkhead said in a statement on social media. "It was a privilege to go to work every day with you all."

Burkhead totaled 1,908 rushing yards and 17 rushing touchdowns, as well as 1,534 receiving yards and nine receiving scores.

The running back appeared in two consecutive Super Bowls during his four-year run with the Patriots, including in a 13-3 win over the Los Angeles Rams in 2019.

Among the rusher's career highlights was a two-touchdown performance that same season in New England's 37-31 overtime win over the Kansas City Chiefs in the AFC championship game.

Prior to suiting up in the NFL, Burkhead authored a prolific high school career at Plano. Burkhead was an all-state rusher during his junior and senior campaigns, helping lead the Wildcats' football team to a Class 5A Division I state semifinals in 2007.

During the 2007-08 seasons, Burkhead totaled 3,530 rushing yards and 57 touchdowns.

Burkhead was a two-sport athlete during his Plano days, also playing for the Wildcats' boys basketball team. He was part of Plano's 5A state title team in 2006 and earned all-district honors as a junior and senior.

The Plano alum has also been instrumental in raising awareness for pediatric brain cancer through his work with the Team Jack Foundation, of which he is a board member. In 2012, while still in college at Nebraska, Burkhead was named the Uplifting Athletes Rare Disease Champion.

"I'd like to thank all my friends, fans and other family who cheered me on throughout my career," Burkhead said. "From the days as a Plano Wildcat, Husker, Bengal, Patriot and Texan, you all have encouraged me every single day and I appreciate it from the bottom of my heart."

For continued news and coverage on the local sports scene, follow Matt Welch on Twitter. Email him with sports story suggestions at mwelch@starlocalmedia.com.


Katie Smith helping Upper Arlington girls basketball as volunteer assistant coach

 





The former Ohio State and WNBA star has shared her wisdom and experience with the Golden Bears

AARON BLANKENSHIP

20 HOURS AGO (fEBRUARY 7, 2024)

 

Katie Smith is not only one of the greatest professional women’s basketball players to lace up a pair of sneakers, she’s also a well-respected basketball coach, who currently is the associate head coach for the Minnesota Lynx of the Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA).

So when John Wanke was hired to coach the Upper Arlington girls basketball team in 2021, and heard from a mutual friend that Smith owns a home in the community, he decided to reach out to her to ask if you she would be willing to help out.

It took just a three-minute phone conversation for Wanke to convince Smith to join his coaching staff as a volunteer assistant coach, and the Golden Bears’ entire program has benefited greatly from her contributions over the past three seasons.

“That’s not an exaggeration to say that was the most productive three-minute conversation I’ve had on the phone,” Wanke said, with a chuckle. “Katie’s name by itself carries a lot of weight and she’s a huge presence, and I believe that great leaders surround themselves with people who are smarter than they are, so I wasn’t intimidated to bring her in.

“Katie’s arguably the greatest player of all time, and our girls are getting coached by someone who is likely going to be the greatest coach who they will ever learn from. I can’t imagine there are many high school coaches anywhere in the nation, who have earned three Olympic gold medals as a player and who also have her coaching experience.”

Smith said it’s been a pleasure coaching high school athletes for the first time in her illustrious career.

While playing basketball at Logan High School in southeastern Ohio, Smith first gained national attention when she was recognized as the Gatorade National Player of the Year as a senior. She capped her senior season by leading the Chieftains to the 1992 Division I state final, where they lost to Pickerington 53-46 in front of a record crowd of 12,385 fans at St. John Arena, despite Smith scoring a game-high 24 points.

“I’m having a lot of fun and getting just as much pleasure out of the experience as they are,” Smith said. “This is the first time I’ve been around high school basketball players this much since I was in high school, and it brings back a lot of great memories. There’s a certain innocence and excitement, because high school basketball is not a business, and they are doing it only because they love it.”

Smith helps out in a wide variety of ways, most notably working with athletes to help improve their individual skill sets.

Some of Upper Arlington’s players were a little intimidated by Smith when she first joined their program, but she quickly put them at ease and began making them better.

“Much like polish on a shoe, Katie helps refine things for our players to help them take their games to the next level,” Wanke said. “Katie could have an arrogance to her, because of what she’s accomplished, but she doesn’t. She has an amazing grace, empathy and humility that helps her blend in as one of the members of our team, and makes people comfortable around her.”

Smith sometimes has to miss practices, or more rarely a game, because of scouting duties for the Minnesota Lynx. She lives in Upper Arlington with her wife, Yesenia, and two children, Yesslynn and Lenin for about half the year, and lives in an apartment in Minnesota for close to six months.

“I wasn’t looking to be a high school head coach because that would be too much on top of my (WNBA) and family duties,” Smith said. “But John’s an awesome coach who has done an exceptional job of putting things in place, and he was supportive of me coming around to help out as much as I can.

“I feel blessed that I’m able to be around the coaches, kids and staff here at Upper Arlington.”

Upper Arlington senior point guard Quinn Buttermore said Smith makes a big impact in the time she spends with the Golden Bears.

“Katie has so much knowledge and insight, and she’s such a great resource as a coach,” said Buttermore, who is averaging a team-best 3.7 assists. “Whenever she chimes in in practice, it gets very quiet, because we know what she has to say is legit, meaningful and helpful.

“When we were struggling with our shooting in practice recently, she gave us pointers and told us to slow down and make sure we were shooting with good form. We listened to her, because whenever Katie shoots in practice, it always goes in. She’s definitely an amazing, one-of-a-kind coach and person.”

Smith also helps out with tactical advice during games.

“I have a certain system and scheme that I’ve put into place, but when Katie and my other assistants offer me feedback, I always listen,” Wanke said. “She offers a lot of invaluable feedback to us as coaches, as well as to the players.”

The Golden Bears are thriving under the direction of Wanke and his staff, which includes varsity assistants Kendal Glandorff, Brianna Lowry, Smith and DuJuan White, freshman coach Jarret Hubbard and volunteer assistants Jennifer Green and Jodi Green.

After finishing 3-14 overall during the 2020-21 season, Wanke’s staff led the Golden Bears to a 15-9 record the following season and a 17-7 mark last season.

This season, Upper Arlington is 16-3 overall and 7-2 in the Ohio Capital Conference-Central Division.

Elizabeth Hunt is averaging a team-best 16.9 points per game, followed by Ava Harrigan (6.5), Buttermore (5.5), Ella Hanky (4.6), Hannah Hunt (4), Tatum Thrush (3.8) and Lucy Martin (3.6). Thrush also averages a team-leading 7.5 rebounds and 2.4 assists.

“We’re playing with tempo, offensively and defensively, because we’re eight or nine deep on this team,” Wanke said. “We’re defending at a high level, primarily playing man-to-man, and it’s translating into wins. Our first three losses were by a total of seven points, so we’ve been competitive every game.”




















Katie Smith poses on the bench with the Upper Arlington girls basketball team. Smith has been serving as a volunteer assistant coach o for the Golden Bears. Katie Smith

Many of Upper Arlington’s players didn’t fully grasp how famous Smith is in Columbus until the Golden Bears watched the Ohio State University women’s basketball team defeat Iowa 100-92 in overtime in front of a program-record crowd of 18,660 fans at the Schottenstein Center on Jan. 21.

Smith’s No. 30 uniform now hangs in the rafters at the Schottenstein Center, after Ohio State honored her on Jan. 21, 2001 as the first female Buckeye athlete to have her uniform number retired.

During her freshman season, Smith averaged 18.8 points per game to lead the Buckeyes to a Big Ten title and earn both Big Ten Freshman of the Year and All-American honors. She also helped lead Ohio State to its first NCAA Final Four appearance, where it eventually lost to Texas Tech in the championship game.

In four seasons at Ohio State, Smith averaged 20.8 points and led the Buckeyes to an 80-44 record while making 124 consecutive starts. She scored a career total of 2,578 points to become the Big Ten’s career scoring leader in both men’s and women’s basketball.

As a senior, Smith scored an Ohio State single-season-record 745 points to earn All-American honors once again and be named the 1996 Big Ten Player of the Year.

Smith, who was a three-time academic all-Big Ten selection while earning a degree in zoology, was inducted into the Ohio State Varsity O Hall of Fame in October, 2001.

“We knew she was a great player, but I don’t think we realized what a big deal she is, because she’s so humble and she never puts a spotlight on herself,” Buttermore said. “When we were at the Schott, we saw her uniform number hanging up there retired because of how great she is. And then when she came to say hi to our team, people were looking at her and stopping her for photos, and I think everyone realized how fortunate we are to have her as our coach.”

The Golden Bears also got to see firsthand the impact that Smith is continuing to make at the professional basketball level, when they traveled as a team to Indianapolis, Indiana in the spring of 2022 to watch Smith’s Minnesota Lynx play at the Indiana Fever.

Smith has coached in the WNBA since the fall of 2013.

After serving as an assistant coach for New York Liberty for four years, Smith was Liberty’s head coach for two seasons.

When her contract was not renewed after Liberty went 17-51 during her tenure, Smith served as an assistant coach for the Lynx from January 2020 to December 2021, before being promoted to associate head coach in January 2022.

“Watching Katie coach in the WNBA was very cool,” Buttermore said. “We usually forget that she’s done so much stuff, because she’s so mellow and cool to talk to. She doesn’t talk about winning gold medals or her other accomplishments unless we force it out of her.”

During her playing career, Smith also enjoyed an impressive run as part of the USA national team, helping her squad win gold medals in the 2000, 2004 and 2008 Olympics, as well as in the 1998 and 2002 World Championships.

“Only a select few get to represent their country in the Olympics, so that was my dream after I started playing in the fifth grade,” Smith said. “I hoped that I could play in college, be an Olympian, and then come back home to become a dentist, because the opportunity to play professionally didn’t always exist.”




























Katie Smith goes up for a layup as a member of Team USA

Katie Smith

However, as fate would have it, Smith was drafted in the first round of the newly-formed American Basketball League in 1996, and she would go on to lead the Columbus Quest to back-to-back ABL championships in the only two full seasons that the league existed in 1997 and 1998.

Smith then embarked upon a legendary WNBA career, in which she averaged 13.9 points while playing for a total of five teams in 15 seasons, in Minnesota (1999-2005), Detroit (2005-09), Washington (2010), Seattle (2011-12) and New York (2013).

In 2006, Smith helped the Detroit Shock win the WNBA championship to become the only player to capture both ABL and WNBA titles.

Two years later, Smith was the MVP of the WNBA finals while leading the Shock to a 3-0 sweep of the San Antonio Silver Stars.

“Winning those championships in Detroit was awesome, because it meant we were the best at the highest professional level.” Smith said.

By the end of her career, Smith was the all-time leading scorer in women’s professional basketball history with a total of 7,885 points, including 6,452 points in the WNBA.

The versatile, sharp-shooting guard also was named a WNBA All-Star a total of seven times (2000-03, 05, 06 and 09), was first-team all-WNBA in 2001 and 03, and was the WNBA scoring champion in 2001.

In 2018, Smith was inducted into both the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame and the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame.

“When you think of a great basketball player at every level, she’s it,” Wanke said. “Katie has a little bit of an aura around her, and I think she’s helped spark enthusiasm for girls basketball in our community. Our youth program has doubled in size in the past three years, to where we now have 40 kids in grades three through six. And we had 211 kids in our last youth summer camp.”

Upper Arlington has three regular season games remaining, including its league finale on Friday at Dublin Coffman and the sixth-seeded Golden Bears will open the Division I district tournament on Feb. 21 by playing host to 38th-seeded Central Crossing.

“We just want to keep building for the tournament, and hopefully, we can make a run,” Smith said.

More importantly for Smith, she hopes to continue to teach valuable life lessons to Upper Arlington’s student athletes.

“I’ve coached the elite, and these kids make the same mistakes that we yell at them for,” Smith said. “I just want to do my best to teach them what I can, while also making this the best possible experience for them.

“This experience is part of what will shape them as they become young adults, and all I want for them is to be prepared to work hard and treat people well, so they will be successful wherever their life journey takes them.”

 


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