Korean-American Kianna Smith likely to lead WKBL draft
The Women's Korean Basketball League (WKBL) rookie draft will be held on Friday, with Korean-American point and shooting guard Kianna Smith looking likely to become the top pick.
The WKBL rookie draft comes a month and a half before the league’s 2022-23 season begins on Oct. 30 and ends March of 2023.
All eyes will be on Smith, who heads to the WKBL after playing in the WNBA pre-season and two games with the Los Angeles Sparks. The JoongAng Ilbo sat down with Smith on Wednesday in Yongin, Gyeonggi to talk about her move to Korea.
According to WKBL rules, non-Korean players can join the WKBL rookie draft if at least one of their parents is Korean. Smith was born in California in 1999 to a Korean mother and an American father.
“I’ve always wanted to learn more about my mother’s home country,” Smith said on Wednesday.
Despite topping the 3x3 basketball qualifiers for the United States national team and also being named MVP, Smith chose to move her career to Korea. The decision came because if she played for the United States, that would mean she was never able to appear for Korea.
“I learned to play basketball in my dad’s country but I want to represent my mother’s one day,” said Smith.
But Smith is taking things one step at a time before she decided to apply for citizenship and try out for the Korean national team.
“It’s important that I play well in the Korean league and become a leading player for my club first,” said Smith. “But if I can represent Korea, that would be a dream come true.”
In addition to her affection for Korea, Smith may just have basketball in her blood. Her father is a former basketball player and coach of a university team, and her grandfather is former Milwaukee Bucks player Fred "Lucky" Smith. Her brother Jamal plays in the Armenian basketball league, her uncle is a former WNBA coach and her mother also played in high school.
Smith is one of three non-Korean players in the WKBL draft this season, alongside Ashley Jeong and Choi Jasmine, both from the United States. Both of Jeong’s parents are Korean, while Choi was born to a Korean father and a Laotian mother.
This is the first time ever that the WKBL has three non-Korean players in the rookie draft. The first time that non-Korean players were able to apply to the rookie draft was in 2020, when the WKBL rules changed. Before that, non-Korean players were unable to join the draft and had to sign a separate contract directly with the club to play in the WKBL.
In 2020, Korean-American Anna Kim was drafted by the Shinhan Bank S-Birds and Korean-American Kara Choi was drafted by the Yongin Samsung Life Blueminx. There were no non-Korean players in last year’s draft.
The Blueminx has the first pick this year, making it highly likely that Smith will be headed to Yongin.
A total of 25 players including 14 prospective high school graduates and eight University graduates or prospective graduates will be joining the draft.
The draft will start at 3 p.m. on Friday at Dowon Gymnasium in Incheon after a tryout session scheduled to start at noon.
BY PARK RIN, YUN SO-HYANG [email@example.com]