Sports

Kiah Stokes enjoying life in professional basketball

Former Linn-Mar in third WNBA season, playing overseas

Former Linn-Mar prep Kiah Stokes (41) of the New York Liberty reaches for the ball against the Minnesota Lynx on June 16 at Target Center in Minneapolis. (David Sherman/NBAE via Getty Images)
Former Linn-Mar prep Kiah Stokes (41) of the New York Liberty reaches for the ball against the Minnesota Lynx on June 16 at Target Center in Minneapolis. (David Sherman/NBAE via Getty Images)
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ARLINGTON, Texas — Thanks to playing in the WNBA and overseas the past three years, it’s been a while since Kiah Stokes has returned to Iowa.

But her Cedar Rapids roots remain strong.

“Obviously, that’s where I grew up, it’s home,” Stokes, 25, said. “It’s awesome (to be from Iowa). I get made fun of a little bit here and there. They think I grew up in a cornfield, some of my teammates, but it’s fun.

“I grew up in a good home, so I can’t complain.”

After a standout career at Linn-Mar High School, Stokes went to Connecticut and played on three consecutive national championship teams (2013-2015). She’s one of four ex-Huskies, two of them former teammates, with the New York Liberty.

“It’s awesome,” Stokes said. “We’ve got that connection, we have that work ethic. We know what it takes to win and we’re trying to bring that to this team.”

Now in her fourth WNBA season, Stokes is like many of her basketball brethren who play abroad the rest of the year. Her travels have taken her to South Korea for one season and to Turkey, where she will play next season, for the past two campaigns.

Regardless of the locale, Stokes feels blessed to earn a nice living playing the game she loves.

“It’s different, a lot different,” she said of venturing overseas. “I can’t complain. It’s life right now. It’s not going to last forever. I want to play until I’m physically unable to.”

In New York, she plays for Katie Smith, an accomplished player and coach who will be inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame later this year. Smith is in her first season as the Liberty head coach, but Stokes already has made quite an impression on her.

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“(I like) her size, athleticism,” Smith said. “She’s skilled and she can go get rebounds with both hands, can switch out on a guard and keep them in front.

“Her versatility of guarding a big and being able to switch out on guards is huge in this league.”

Smith, who played collegiately at Ohio State, likes players from big programs like OSU and UConn because she feels their transition to the pro game is often more seamless than players from smaller programs.

“They’ve been tested. They’ve been coached in the way of details at Connecticut, just the standard that they set,” Smith said. “They think the game, they stay in the game, so they already have a base that’s really high so when they come in. They adjust well to the speed of this game.”

One difference between this season and Stokes’ previous campaigns is the Liberty were put up for sale last fall. New York is playing just two games at Madison Square Garden and is playing mostly in Westchester at the home of the Knicks’ NBA G-League affiliate.

“My first three years, we played at MSG and it was incredible,” Stokes said. “The lights and just the atmosphere, everything was great. Hopefully next season we’ll be back there. As a rookie, having those spotlights on you at MSG is like no other feeling. To call that my home arena was incredible.”

Stokes, who has started three of 19 games and is averaging 2.8 points and 3.9 rebounds, is only several seasons into what she hopes will be a long and productive playing career, but she’s already thought a little about what she might want to do once she’s no longer playing.

“I think I still want to stay around it (the game),” she said. “I don’t know if I want to coach or not. I can’t see myself sitting at a desk and having a real job. I haven’t thought about it too much, but hopefully I won’t have to think about that for a little while.

“That’s the plan anyway.”

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