Alanna Smith on the road to recovery and the WKBL

There is a growing list of names that come to mind when asked who’s leading the way for the next generation of budding Australian female basketball stars. Alanna Smith, who has made waves in her collegiate, professional and international career, is just one of those players rising to the occasion.

The former Stanford alumni played in her maiden WNBA season with the Phoenix Mercury and would also be drafted at pick number 2 for the Incheon Shinhan Bank S-Birds in the upcoming WKBL in South Korea.

Despite an ankle injury cutting short her first WNBA season, Smith is adamant that it has been a timely step for her individual development and career progression. The 23-year-old explained that she was privileged to have trained and played alongside world class talent, and she has no doubts that she has fully grasped the incredible opportunity the WNBA represents.

“It’s been such a huge experience, it really is a dream turned into reality, said Smith in speaking with The Pick and Roll. “I was lucky to have been drafted into a team with a great bunch of women, I learned so much and when you become part of that kind of setup you want to make an impact.

“I got injured about three-quarters of the way through the season, but I’m very excited to play with the team again. I’m still growing and learning but I’m always hungry for more.”

While the leap from collegiate level to professional basketball may be a challenge for some, it was exactly what Smith craved for in her personal journey. Having played under Mercury coach Sandy Brondello during her time in winning a World Cup silver medal in 2018 with the Opals, Smith heaped praise on her mentor for a smooth transition into the professional life.

“After I finished my time in college, I was ready for a change and a big challenge, and I embraced every part of it. Having Sandy worked to my advantage as she knows my game very well and does similar things with the Mercury to the Opals, and having her and Leilani [Mitchell] around was like a little slice of home.”

This past season has provided Smith with insights as to what it takes to be a force in the top echelon of basketball, highlighted by her time off the court with Diana Taurasi. Initially star struck by the 3-time WNBA champion, Smith described Taurasi’s focus, determination and attitude as a class above, and thoroughly admired drawing from her experience.

“She’s a winner! She’s got a non-stop, killer mentality that’s always pushing forward, and that is absolutely necessary to make it in a league like this. I think I might’ve annoyed her a little with all my questions, but I loved picking apart her brain on plays, drills and learning everything she has to offer.

“Once I got over being star struck, I came to realise she’s super easy to talk to, she’s absolutely hilarious and she had me laughing all season.”

Although she’s extraordinarily grateful for her time in the United States, she fully appreciates the extended time she is spending with family while she nurses her ankle back to full health.

“Around the same time last year, I was able to spend some time back home, but it wasn’t very long. This is the longest time we’ve spent together in years. My younger sister is 10 and it’s been really good to see her and be around my family so much more this time.”

While she is spending extended time in Australia, Smith’s journey in the basketball world will take her to South Korea for the 2019/20 season. The lure of exploring the basketball landscape proved to be more than enough to tempt her away from the Australian WNBL for the immediate future.

“Personally, being away has been the most challenging but most rewarding experience of my life and I want to make the most of playing overseas while I can.

“Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely love Australia, it’ll always be home and I’d love to play WNBL one day. But Korea has a great reputation as a tough league and I’m really excited to see what the season holds.”

Following her successful surgery five weeks ago, Smith started walking within the past week and is sticking to her strict rehab regime as she looks to return to top shape ahead of the WKBL season opener on November 24.

“Rehab is a strict process. I’m taking things slowly and training lightly on things like stationary shooting, one footed shooting and upper body work, but I’m definitely happy to be moving again.”

Undeterred by her draft pick status in the US and Korea, Smith insisted her own expectations of herself are high, yet crucial for developing her own game. Having fought hard for the opportunities she has enjoyed to date, Smith doesn’t take things lightly as she continues to grind hard, play hard and be a shining example for younger basketballers.

“I’ll always be hungry for success. I’m a bit of a perfectionist, and my expectations can be a blessing and a curse. Falling short can be heartbreaking, but it’s important to have those expectations and both the positive and negative experiences that come with it. I’m going to continue fighting because it’s got me to where I am today.”

You don’t have to look far to see that Australian basketball is on an upward trajectory. With athletes like Alanna Smith leading the way, the future success of Australian women’s basketball on the world stage is set to continue.