Playing in Europe provides a special stage for women’s basketball, with players drawn across the Atlantic for different reasons. For some, finances are a driving force in the decision to play overseas; for others still, the chance to get more playing time, to bolster and enhance their skill sets before returning to the WNBA, is also very enticing. Katie Lou Samuelson, who was picked fourth overall by the Chicago Sky in 2019, has been doing just that— taking advantage of the increased playing time during her tenure in Europe.
The University of Connecticut graduate had a meaningful college career, with one NCAA championship in 2016 and two ACC Player of the Year awards in 2017 and 2018. However, her short professional history in the United States has not followed her exceptional collegiate track.
In her first year in the WNBA, Katie Lou wasn’t given much of a chance by Sky head coach James Wade, perhaps due to the injury she sustained at the beginning of the season, which sidelining her for a whole month. Still, other factors contributed to her lack of playing time, most notably by her 2.4 ppg while playing 7.6 mpg. That was also one of the lowest play time averages for a Chicago player in 2019.
In addition, with a well-rounded roster—comprised of names such as Courtney Vandersloot, Allie Quigley, Diamond DeShields, Jantel Lavender, and Stefanie Dolson, who led the team in scoring—Wade didn’t see Samuelson as a priority in his rotation, especially having to adjust after her injury.
In February 2020, Samuelson was traded to the Dallas Wings (along with Chicago’s 2021 first-round draft pick), in exchange for fellow Husky Azurá Stevens. Though this should have been a chance for Katie Lou to step into the spotlight, she found herself overshadowed by Arike Ogunbowale and Satou Sabally, whose clutch performances and superstar play garnered all the attention.
Despite not having the strongest numbers, the forward still landed a spot on Spain’s best team: Perfumerías Avenida. The club has won six national championships, nine Copas de la Reina, nine Supercopas de España, plus one EuroLeague and one European SuperCup. It is a powerhouse, and every year it builds a team meant to dominate tournaments.
For the 2020-2021 season, the roster has some well-known names: The older Samuelson sister, Karlie, Tiffany Hayes from the Atlanta Dream, the legendary Silvia Domínguez, the young and promising Maite Cazorla, the Serbian Nikolina Milić and, most recently, Bella Alarie, who played her rookie year with Katie Lou in Dallas.
Though Perfumerías Avenida is one of the main contenders in EuroLeague Women, they are challenged by other strong teams, such as UMMC Ekaterinburg (RUS), Galatasaray (TUR), Sopron Basket (HUN) and Fenerbahçe (TUR). These rosters have WNBA, EuroCup, Olympics, and World Cup Champions, along with All-Stars and first-round picks—Brittney Griner, Breanna Stewart, Briann January, and Kayla McBride, among others.
Alongside these WNBA superstars there is Katie Lou Samuelson, the second biggest scorer in EuroLeague. She leads her team with 18.8 ppg. In the Spanish League—one of the most competitive in Europe—she is fifth overall in points, averaging 15.4 ppg.
Why does Katie Lou succeed in Europe in ways she has yet to in the WNBA?
For starters, the amount of opportunities that an American has in a European league are much broader than in the WNBA. Samuelson was signed by Perfumerías Avenida to be a leader and their primary scorer. Alongside Tiffany Hayes, she brings the fast pace and explosiveness that’s usually lacking in the teams abroad.
As seen in the videos above, Katie Lou has been a 3-pointer machine for Perfumerías, always making herself available to shoot from long distance. Even when inside the area, she prefers to take a step back and go from there. Also, when in transition, she is quick to find a spot free from the defenders either for her or a teammate to finish. She has been shooting very efficiently from the floor, converting on 56.5 percent of her two-pointers and 40.3 percent of her threes. An expanded role has also led to a changed shot profile—in her WNBA career, 66.4 percent of Katie Lou’s shot attempts have come from beyond the three-point line. In Spain that number has dropped to 44.6, showcasing a development of Samuelson’s game. She has taken over twice as many shots for Perfumerías as in the two years in the W combined!
That kind of spotlight while overseas opens a realm of possibilities to new and bigger roles back in the US. This offseason, the forward was part of a trade that sent her to the Seattle Storm in exchange for the first pick in the 2021 draft, which may have Charli Collier as an eligible option.
Different from the Dallas Wings in 2020, the Storm will start the 2021 season with the big challenge of defending its championship. Samuelson is not guaranteed, but could be a starter in Dan Hughes’ rotation. That means she will be required to score more and take up space on the court, to make up for the absence of Alysha Clark and Sami Whitcomb.
Clark finished last season with 9.6 ppg, fourth in points for the champion. Whitcomb came in sixth, with 7.2 ppg. One left and the other was traded, thus causing huge gaps in the strategy that led Seattle to the championship. Right now, in the Euroleague—the most competitive women’s basketball tournament outside of the US—Katie Lou is shooting 60.9% from the field, more than Alysha’s 59% in the same competition with ASVEL (FRA). That number is also above the forward’s 48.1% in the WNBA in 2020.
Watching the clip below, one special movement should be observed: Samuelson and Silvia Domínguez—a pillar of Spaniard basketball—having the kind of synchrony that usually takes years to be built between two players. That kind of action could easily happen in Seattle, but with Sue Bird relying on her fellow UConn graduate. On top of that, there’s not one thing that the young woman hasn’t done in that game, from stealing, to assisting, shooting and coming clean out of pick and rolls.
It is fair to argue that Katie Lou’s accomplishments in Spain have drawn attention from the current WNBA champion, especially in a year when roster spots will be highly competitive, as some of the stars that missed the 2020 season due to the COVID-19 pandemic (among other reasons) will be returning. It goes to show the importance of the European stage for any athlete seeking more visibility.