It was already nighttime in Spain when Karlie Samuelson got the text from her mom: ‘Lou got traded to Dallas.’
“I thought she was kidding,” Karlie recalled from that Friday night in February. She was in Europe playing during the WNBA offseason.
Katie Lou, Karlie’s younger sister by two years who had spent her first WNBA season with the Chicago Sky, was also thrown by the news.
“It took me awhile to even process where I was going and the fact that Karlie would be there because it was shocking,” Katie Lou said.
Though Katie Lou’s professional path took an unexpected turn, it also brought about a reunion that will serve her well as she embarks on this new chapter in Dallas. The former UConn star and Karlie — her No. 1 supporter and inspiration — are now teammates for the first time since 2013.
Katie Lou may have forged her own path when she chose to play at UConn instead of Stanford, where Karlie and their older sister, Bonnie, went, but she was still able to absorb as much as she could from watching her sisters go through what she would one day experience.
At first that was the recruiting process and balancing the demands of being a student-athlete in an elite college basketball program. Eventually that entailed pursuing professional opportunities in the WNBA and overseas.
In Karlie, Katie Lou doesn’t just have someone she can go to for advice. Karlie says she has watched every one of Katie Lou’s games, no matter the competition level, time difference or how busy her own schedule is. And as an aspiring coach (she’s served on the staff at Vanguard while earning her master’s in coaching and athletic administration from Concordia University-Irvine), Karlie gives Katie Lou in-depth feedback on her game.
“Karlie really has been a help throughout college and pros of telling me things that I need to do better,” Katie Lou said. “And the best thing about her, she focuses on all the little things, all the small details of ‘if you get in your stance earlier, if you move over here in help defense, you can do stuff like that,’ which is why I know she is going to be a great coach. It was really helpful throughout everything, and still is.”
“I just love to watch (her games) and I love to see how she’s grown as a player,” Karlie added.
As Katie Lou was finishing out her All-America career at UConn, with four Final Four berths and a national title to her name, Karlie carved out a role for herself in the WNBA. She played 20 games with the Los Angeles Sparks in 2018 before signing with the Wings toward the end of the 2019 season — an impressive feat given that she went undrafted and that the WNBA has so few teams and roster spots. In the offseason, Karlie has also played overseas for teams in Italy, Belgium and Spain.
As she navigates the challenges of her own career, Katie Lou has taken note of Karlie’s grind.
“She has had to work so hard for everything,” Katie Lou said. “People don’t see the behind the scenes of how hard she’s had to work, how much time she’s put into staying ready even when she’s gotten cut and picked up by teams. It’s so hard to do that and be ready to play in a game if you don’t know where you’re going to be in the next week.
“For me, seeing that has just been so inspiring and kind of puts a lot of things into perspective sometimes of how hard it actually is to play professional basketball and how much work you have to put in. You can’t be satisfied or be complacent with how things are because there’s people that are right outside the door that deserve to be in the league and can play at any given moment.”
Katie Lou’s first year in the league may not have transpired as she envisioned (less than 10 minutes per game in 20 appearances with the Sky). In Dallas her three-point shooting fills a need and offers a good opportunity for a fresh start. And however daunting it may be to start over with new teammates and coaches, Karlie will still be there to guide her ? this time, as her teammate.
“It’ll be nice to have someone there during training camp, that you know is rooting for you, to tell you what you need to do better at all times, so it’ll be good,” Katie Lou said.
“I’m so excited for what she’s about to do at Dallas,” Karlie said. “I hope that we have a season, and whether we do or not, I’m very excited about it because I know how good she is. And I know that she’s going to kill it in the WNBA.”
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