Derek Fisher — the former five-time NBA champion and coach of the Los Angeles Sparks — isn’t coy about his feelings about rookie and former Louisville guard Kianna Smith.
“As you were asking about her, her face immediately comes to mind in terms of how serious she is about her craft,” Fisher said. “Kind of reminds me of myself… Lamar Odom used to call me ‘Lil Pro’ because I always had a straight face. Not a lot of smiling and joking in practice.”
Despite being selected No. 16 overall in the 2022 WNBA Draft, her place in the league isn’t guaranteed.
‘This isn’t college anymore’: Emily Engstler joins WNBA team that cut 2 top draft picks last year
The Sparks have been active this offseason, bringing in stars Liz Cambage and Chennedy Carter to Los Angeles to compete for a title.
To make the team, Smith must carve out a role. She’s already trying to learn from her all-star caliber teammates.
“My dad just gave me some advice to be who you are,” Smith said. “Come in and be a sponge, learn from everybody and compete. So that’s what I’ve been trying to do every single day.”
Smith believes she brings a lot to the Sparks’ roster. She plans on stretching the floor and giving the Sparks a chance to work in the paint.
She played guard and a little bit of forward in college, so her length and shooting (43.6% from the field) could make her a valuable asset.
“She’s a really good basketball player,” Fisher said. “She can shoot well, a better ball handler and decision-maker than people think, so she’s had a great first couple days … we were excited to be able to draft her at 16 and she has a bright future.”
Fisher’s taken notice and admires the focus Smith’s carried in training camp.
“She always makes eye contact when the coaches are talking to her,” Fisher said. “And that’s kind of who Kianna is. Very few words, doesn’t have to say a lot but she is locked in and ready to go any time we’re getting into any type of activities.”
Smith’s intensity on the court made her a star at Louisville.
In two seasons with the Cardinals after transferring from California, proved that she was worth the wait as she averaged 11.7 points, 3.4 rebounds and 2.5 assists per game, leading Louisville to the Final Four this season.
More: Why Kianna Smith bet on herself to fight for a spot at No. 1 Louisville over staying at Cal
The move to Louisville wasn’t easy for Smith, but she dreamed of being on a team that could contend for a title. Now she’s back in her home state, looking to do the same.
“I would say playing so close to home is a dream come true,” Smith said. “Obviously I grew up watching the Sparks and my uncle coached with them a long time ago. … Playing in the purple and gold has been a dream, and Louisville’s prepared me in the way they emphasize details — and obviously in the league that’s key.”
Los Angeles lost its preseason game Saturday 81-68 to the Seattle Storm. Smith played for 15:54 and finished the game with three points, going 1-for-5 from the field.
Also: Louisville’s Kianna Smith promised her mother a Final Four. Now they’re heading to Minneapolis
The Sparks tip off their season May 6 against the defending league champion Chicago Sky.
Follow Courier Journal reporter JL Kirven on Twitter @JL_Kirven for more updates on Louisville prep sports.