SA native NaLyssa Smith talks ‘changing the game,’ teammate Caitlin Clark, WNBA growth in exclusive KSAT interview

East Central HS alum NaLyssa Smith talks the WNBA’s growth, Caitlin Clark and Victor Wembanyama comparisons in exclusive interview with KSAT 12 Sports

Indiana Fever forward NaLyssa Smith (1) dribbles down the court during the first half of an WNBA basketball game against the Minnesota Lynx. (AP Photo/Abbie Parr) (Abbie Parr, Copyright 2023 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

During the offseason, the Indiana Fever proclaimed their commitment to the WNBA’s 2022 No. 2 overall pick, NaLyssa Smith, by picking up the San Antonio native’s fourth-year option.

“It’s exciting,” said Smith, who will wear Fever threads for at least two more seasons. “Just to know a team wants me here like Indiana, it’s an exciting time to grow my game, become more confident and grow around this team. It’s going to be fun.”

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Fun indeed. The starting power forward is coming off of a strong sophomore season where she nearly averaged a double-double with 15.5 points and 9.2 rebounds.

Perhaps the most telling point of the 23-year-old’s 2023 campaign was when she wasn’t on the court. Smith missed nine games with a stress fracture in her left foot in July and August. Indiana went 2-7 in her absence.

Smith’s efficiency on both sides of the ball was missed, but looking back, Smith managed to turn her time away from basketball into a growing experience.

“It was a time for me to grow. Just being away from basketball, you get to learn a lot. I got to keep some stats during the game — it just put basketball in a different perspective. It was hard being away from my team, but [I] got to learn things and the process of it,” said Smith.

‘Changing the game’

Simultaneously, as Smith enters a pivotal year three where she is in a position to emerge as a star in the league, there are exciting changes happening around the WNBA.

The league just welcomed a star-studded rookie class capable of forever changing the trajectory of women’s basketball.

Indiana is at the center of that conversation after drafting one of the biggest names in all of sports, Iowa’s Caitlin Clark, with the No. 1 overall selection.

Smith’s first experience seeing a player garner record amounts of hype was with her hometown team, the San Antonio Spurs, when they drafted Victor Wembanyama No. 1 overall in 2023.

“You could just see that people are invested in these young players,” said Smith of players like Clark and Wembanyama. “It’s an exciting time for them because they’re a part of changing the game.”

‘It’s growing tremendously’

Due to the league’s growing popularity, the WNBA is finally investing in charter flights for all teams after previously relying on commercial planes for travel.

“To be able to go home right after a game and not have to wait in airports when you have back-to-back games, I think it will be huge for us,” said Smith. “Our job is to play basketball regardless of what we’re getting out of it, but it’s an exciting feeling to know that to come is more money, charter flights, and just bigger and better things for us.”

The East Central product is excited to be a part of the growth and evolution of professional women’s basketball. You could call the timing: lightning in a bottle.

“It’s growing tremendously. I’m just excited to be a part of it. We’re heading in the right direction and you could see by the fans, jersey sales, and just everybody acknowledging women’s basketball at this point. It’s an exciting feeling to be a part of,” expressed Smith.

Anticipation is at an all-time high for the Fever’s regular-season opener against the Connecticut Sun on Tuesday, especially after fans got an early preview of the franchise’s new era in Indiana’s two preseason games.

The hope is that Smith and the reigning WNBA Rookie of the Year Aliyah Boston will become, in the words of Boston, the “best post-duo” in the league.

Also, the addition of guard Clark, who became a proven sharp shooter in college with unlimited range, is expected to increase the Fever’s efficiency across the board.

“When you come from a winning culture and you just know how to win, it doesn’t just fade off,” said Smith about Clark. “She’s coming in with such a great college career and it is hard to get away from that. I think she’s showing small glimpses of what she’s going to do.”

‘Bring this dynasty back’

After Indiana’s first preseason game against the Dallas Wings, Smith was very optimistic about the Fever’s young core’s potential.

“Seeing all three of us in action together, it just shows how powerful of a group we are and that was just a glimpse,” said Smith. “I could just imagine when we start playing a little bit more. We’ve only practiced max eight times together. So we’ll have a whole season to figure each other out. It’ll be good for us.”

Smith is hoping this new era can help revive the franchise’s postseason success.

The last time the Fever made the postseason predates Smith. In 2016, Indiana’s 12-year consecutive playoff stretch ended, and they have yet to make the postseason since.

“Just knowing that the Fever haven’t made the playoffs in the last couple of years — and we could be the team to bring this dynasty back — I think it would be good for us,” said Smith who has yet to appear in the WNBA playoffs. “I can’t wait. I’m excited like everybody else.”

As Smith’s career continues to rise, she always remembers where she came from.

“It’s huge for me. Not a lot of people, big names come out of San Antonio,” added Smith. “To be one of those people and just have my city surrounded me and loving me it’s a great feeling.”

Rapid fire question round with NaLyssa Smith:

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About the Author

Mary Rominger is KSAT 12 Sports' first full-time female sports anchor and reporter. She came to San Antonio from Mankato, Minn., where she worked as a weekend sports anchor at KEYC News Now. She has a journalism degree from Iowa State University and grew up in Southern California. Mary enjoys golfing, sports and finding new spots around town.

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