Karlie Samuelson’s professional career started with a Los Angeles Sparks training camp contract in 2017.
It evolved into playing overseas, while signing several WNBA hardship contracts from 2018-2022. Samuelson made the most of each opportunity.
But 2023 was different.
She exploded becoming a consistent starter, sharpshooter and tough defender— a testament to her consistent dedication to earning a roster spot in the most competitive professional league in sports.
At the halfway point of the season, Sameulson was leading the league in true shooting percentage, and top two in the league in 3-point percentage. By season’s end, she ranked sixth in the league in 3-point percentage. She also shot a blistering 94.1 percent from the free throw line and 46.6% from the field.
Now, none of this happened by accident. It’s a result of a lifetime dedication to the sport. K. Samuelson spent four years excelling on the Stanford women’s basketball team where she played alongside her big sister Bonnie Samuelson for two years. K. Samuelson played under the NCAA’s all-time winningest head coach, Tara Vandaveer, from 2013-17. She made two Final Four appearances, shot 45.4 percent from the field and 44.3 percent behind the arc.
She made her first Final Four appearance in 2014 alongside her older sister Bonnie. In 2017, her senior year ended on a Final Four collision course to play against her little sister and current Spark forward Katie Lou Samuelson, who played for UConn and at the time.
At the 2017 Final Four in Dallas, reporter Michelle Smith wrote an article on Karlie’s entire family and their wild basketball journey to watch their two daughters playing on opposite coasts.
“They will support and cheer for each other until the moment they might… take the court against one another in the NCAA title game,” Smith wrote in her profile.
They didn’t play against each other in that National Title game, but it foreshadowed what was to come.
Katie Lou Samuelson sat out the 2023 season due to pregnancy and maternity leave, but Katie Lou and her husband Devin Cannady frequented Sparks games. When any other family members attended games, most wore black and yellow ‘Karl’ shirts in support.
The Sparks organization runs deep with both sibling and Stanford women’s basketball ties. Along with the Samuelson’s, the Ogwumike sisters are also Stanford alumni.
“The sisterhood is really strong at Stanford, Bonnie and Karlie played so hard for each other,” Stanford Women’s Basketball Head Coach Tara Vandaveer said. “That’s not lost on Karlie, and to play with Nneka and Chiney, what could be better for a guard than to play with those two?”
Those ties and her strong play left no doubt in her college coach’s mind that it was only a matter of when, and not if, Karlie would succeed in the WNBA.
“It didn’t surprise me,” Vanderveer said. “She is a competitor, she can score, she can play defense. She loves the game of basketball and is the consummate quintessential teammate. She’s so special and I am very happy for her.”
On August 23, the Sparks dominated against the Phoenix Mercury and Samuelson exploded for a career-high 15 points. Los Angeles won their fifth straight game and placed themselves back in playoff contention.
In the heat of their late season push, Samuelson showed up big.
She became a fan favorite, with many calling her ‘Auntie’ or ‘Aunt Karl’, in reference to her little sister and brother-in-law’s daughter born in August. At home games, crowds would stare in awe of her quick release from behind-the-arc, as if the ball was on a string attached to her hand.
Karlie averaged career-high’s in almost every major statistical category, started more games and played more minutes than any other season in the league.
“Karlie made a big impression on me during training camp. I value her basketball IQ, her work ethic, her versatility, and her ability to make big shots from behind-the-arc,” Sparks Head Coach Curt Miller said. “So, it wasn’t a huge surprise to me as she started to thrive within our system, she is the type of player I love going to battle with each day.”
At season’s end, Samuelson barely had time to reflect. Within one week of the Spark’s final game, Samuelson switched jerseys and continents to play for the London Lions in EuroCup.
But, that didn’t stop other family members from reminding her how much she’s accomplished:
“This is the longest I have ever played on one team. I was chatting with my brother in law (Cannady) who asked, ‘Have you thought about what you accomplished?’” said Samuelson. “In moments during the season, I thought ‘Wow, I am starting, I am playing big minutes on a team I had been trying to make, especially playing near my home in LA.”