May 23, 2023 

Karlie Samuelson just wants an opportunity

The veteran sharpshooter is confident she belongs in the WNBA

The start of a new season is usually a difficult time for WNBA teams as it means making tough roster decisions. If there’s anybody out there right now who knows how tough it is to make a WNBA roster, it’s Karlie Samuelson.

Samuelson technically has five+ years of WNBA experience, but she’s only once stuck on a single team throughout the regular season. That was in 2018 when she suited up in 20 games for the Los Angeles Sparks.

Since she went undrafted in 2017, she’s had a few stints with multiple teams, including several go-rounds with the Sparks, the Dallas Wings, Seattle Storm and Phoenix Mercury.

This season, she’s back with the Sparks; she once again faced a familiar situation in trying to win a coveted roster spot. She beat the odds before, in 2017, when she made the Sparks’ final roster only to see it slip away after a preseason injury. She also earned a roster spot out of camp in 2018.

The Sparks cut Samuelson right before the start of the season but brought her back on a hardship contract for the time being. Despite the ups and downs, this is an opportunity that she doesn’t take lightly.

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“I feel very fortunate to get this training camp spot and I just want to make the most of it,” Samuelson told The Next. “Every action and practice matters. The WNBA is such a hard place to make, so every moment I’m taking in and I’m not taking it for granted.”

In the past couple of seasons, one of the things the Sparks lacked was consistent 3-point shooting. When the new regime lead by general manager Karen Bryant and head coach Curt Miller took over, they immediately looked to shore up that weakness.

They signed one of the top shooters on the free agent market in Stephanie Talbot, but Talbot suffered an injury while playing overseas and has been ruled out for the 2023 season.

Enter Samuelson. The Sparks signed Samuelson to a training camp contract almost immediately after the Talbot news was announced. With the team suddenly in the market for a shooter, along with Samuelson’s familiarity with the franchise, being from the Southern California area and her younger sister Katie Lou Samuelson already on the roster, LA seemed a logical place for her to try and continue her WNBA career.

Although Samuelson has worked to expand her game while playing overseas, it’s her shooting that can really help the Sparks this season.

“I think people know I can shoot the three; that’s what I do at my position,” Samuelson said. “I like to believe I can play really well on a team, play my role really well, space the floor, elevate those around me because obviously I’d be playing with an MVP and All-Stars, so you don’t have to do too much, they don’t need too much help. But to space the floor for them.”

This past offseason, Samuelson spent her time playing in the WNBL in Australia for the Townsville Fire. She averaged 13.6 points per game and shot 47.3% from the 3-point line. Throughout her WNBA career, she has a shooting mark of 34.2% from 3-point range.

The highest efficiency Samuelson has had from beyond the arc in the WNBA was during the first half of the 2021 season with the Sparks. Over the course of 11 games, including three starts, she shot 47.8% from distance. She really stood out as a shooter during that stretch, but unfortunately for her, she was a placeholder until the Sparks roster got healthy.

While the Sparks do need consistent shooting on this roster, one of the things that Samuelson has worked on to make herself more marketable for a WNBA team is her on ball scoring and shot creation. Her season in the WNBL was one of the first times where she took on an active role in being a primary ball-handler and being able to generate her own offense.

“It’s helped me with my confidence; I feel like I’ve grown in my game tremendously since the first season I played with the Sparks,” Samuelson said. “This past season in Australia, I touched the ball a lot more than I did in my seasons in Europe and had a more active role in scoring. I think it helped me with pick and rolls and reads. I feel in good shape, just using that experience and fitness to bring into this camp.”

But it’s not just the offensive end of the court where Samuelson believes she can help this team. In today’s game, where scoring and high-octane offensives are becoming the norm, defense is sometimes a forgotten art.

At each level, from pro to college to high school, social media is filled with offensive highlights and video reels, while defense often falls to the wayside. Even with the disappointments of the last couple of seasons, the Sparks had been a solid defensive team, with former assistant coach Latricia Trammell spearheading that effort.

Trammell has since moved on as the new head coach of the Dallas Wings, but the Sparks still figure to be a team that competes on the defensive end. Samuelson knows she can help in that regard and she credits her high school coach Kevin Kiernan from Mater Dei for instilling that defensive mindset in her at an early age.

“I feel very fortunate to have had the coaches that I’ve had growing up, my AAU coach Russ Davis was incredible as well, but Kevin Kiernan, he keeps you to a high standard when you’re at that young of a level,” Samuelson said. “I feel like most high schoolers aren’t being taught defense like that. I think I learned to hold myself to a high standard from the get-go and Kiernan definitely does that at Mater Dei.”

During the Sparks season-opening win against the Phoenix Mercury last week, Samuelson played 26 minutes off the bench and contributed 13 points and three rebounds while knocking down both of her 3-point attempts and shooting 7-7 from the free-throw line.

She gave the team a major boost in the second quarter when the Sparks found themselves trailing against the Mercury. Her play was a big reason for them being able to turn the game around. Her production was exactly what Sparks head coach Curt Miller was hoping for.

“Her shooting, her toughness, she is fundamentally where she’s supposed to be on both ends of the floor,” Miller said. “One of the reasons why we waived her was the opportunity to get her back in time as a hardship player knowing that Azurá [Stevens] and Jasmine Thomas were not going to start the year in uniform.”

Although Samuelson is with the Sparks for now, once either Stevens or Thomas are ready to play, she will need to be cut. Teams are allowed to sign a player to a hardship contract if they fall below ten available players.

For now, though, Samuelson will continue to give it her all for as long as she’s a part of the team. She knows she can play in this league. It’s all a matter of where she can get that opportunity.

“The W is the hardest professional league to make. It’s truly an honor to play with Nneka [Ogwumike], the MVP of the league, out there guarding Diana [Taurasi], BG’s first game, I never dreamt of myself playing, but I’ve known over the past couple of years I do belong in the league and I can play,” Samuelson said. “I think it’s a lot about opportunity, timing, health of your body, a little bit of luck, I think just taking advantage of those moments however they come. . .it’s hard to get a roster spot in this league and it’s important to take advantage of it.”

David has been with The Next team since the High Post Hoops days when he joined the staff in 2018. He is based in Los Angeles and covers the LA Sparks, Pac-12 Conference, Big West Conference and some high school as well.

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