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Mystics sign Katie Smith

In one of the biggest moves in Washington Mystics history, the team announced the signing of two-time WNBA champion and the league's third all-time leading scorer, Katie Smith.

The 11-year WNBA veteran became an unrestricted free agent after the 2009 season and was approached by every team in the league before opting for Washington because she believes she has an opportunity to win another WNBA title.

"With the coaching staff, the organization I feel comfortable with all of it and I know I can win here," Smith said. "The changes they've made over the last few years, they've been going in the right direction and they're just so close to reaching the top. It's something you want to be a part of and you want to keep it going."

In the words of Alana Beard, this may be "the biggest day in the history of this team, other than when Dr. (Sheila) Johnson took over."

Smith was immediately at the top of the Mystics' wish list for this off-season according to GM Angela Taylor, who called Smith: "the LeBron James of this free agency process." It may not be much of an exaggeration, because as one of the WNBA's top all-time scorers and her reputation for reliable, physical play both offensively and defensively Smith is one of the biggest names to ever come to Washington.

Smith's accolades are well documented. She has two American Basketball League titles with Columbus, two WNBA titles with the Detroit Shock and three gold medals with Team USA. She's recorded 5,446 points in her WNBA career, averaging 15.7 points per game, and is the all-time leading scorer in American women's professional basketball history with 6,879.

Perhaps equally important as the addition of Smith, whom Taylor also called "the Wilt Chamberlain or Michael Jordan of women's basketball", is the knowledge that Smith decided to play in Washington.

"For free agents to be attracted to this market is almost unheard of, said Beard, who has long been the face of the Mystics. "Nobody wanted to come to D.C. and it was tough, when you're working to accomplish something and no one wanted to be a part of it. But just having her here, there's this feeling that things will keep rolling and it will only help us move forward as an organization."

In addition to the belief that she can help the Mystics win, Smith said her relationship with Coach Julie Plank also helped her choose Washington out of a list of three final contenders that also included Seattle and Minnesota.

Plank tried to recruit the young guard to Stanford, back when Smith was still playing basketball at Logan High School in Logan, Ohio. She instead chose Ohio State, which was also Plank's alma mater, but the pair's paths crossed again in the 2000 Olympics.

"She was an assistant coach for that team and we spent a year working together," Smith said. "That time really solidified our friendship, not really player to coach but that's when we established a friendship. Ever since then we've always kept tabs on each other, and then there's the Buckeye thing. ... I'm looking forward to it, I trust Julie and I have faith in her as a coach."

Now for those playing the home game, it may have come to your attention that the Mystics now have several guards and wing players. Smith, while traditionally listed as a guard, can play anywhere from the point guard or shooting guard spot to the small or power forward. It's probably safe to guess that you'll see several combinations and rotations of players coming out of training camp and as the season progresses.

One thing that's for certain though is Smith's presence will allow point guard Lindsey Harding some time to rest. Harding averaged over 35 minutes per game last year, which Plank believes may have taken its toll on her by the post-season. That switch also allows them to keep Beard in her natural position of shooting guard.

"Last year, I'd take Lindsey out she'd be out a minute and then I'd tell her to go back in. I'm not sure if she ever sat down," Plank said. "I think that really wore on her by the end of the season and this way she can play with energy and not pace herself. Katie's very comfortable playing the point and it adds different dimensions. Katie's a big guard, she's physical but she'll do whatever we'll ask her to do."

By Katie Carrera  |  March 16, 2010; 4:16 PM ET
 
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