'Best thing I've ever done': As a new mom, Fever's Katie Lou Samuelson returns to the WNBA

INDIANAPOLIS — Katie Lou Samuelson had a lot to adjust to when she came to Indiana.

She had taken a year off from the WNBA after having a baby in August 2023. She had to get used to new facilities, a new coaching staff, a new playing scheme and new teammates.

For one teammate, specifically, Samuelson kept doing double takes when she heard her name called in practice. Second-year Fever center Aliyah Boston shares the same name as Samuelson’s baby girl, Aliya — almost down to the letter.

“Definitely the first couple days, it took me a second,” Samuelson said with a laugh. “But I’ve figured it out.”

Indiana Fever Katie Lou Samuelson (33) poses for a photo Wednesday, May 1, 2024, during the Indiana Fever media day at Gainbridge Fieldhouse in Indianapolis.
Indiana Fever Katie Lou Samuelson (33) poses for a photo Wednesday, May 1, 2024, during the Indiana Fever media day at Gainbridge Fieldhouse in Indianapolis.

Samuelson and her husband, Devin Cannady, always knew that they wanted to have kids. But with both of them being professional basketball players — Cannady played for the G-League Birmingham Squadron in the 2023-24 season — they also knew there was never going to be a perfect time for it to happen.

So, they left the timing up to chance. Samuelson had to miss the entire 2023 WNBA season, which ended up being her final one with her hometown Los Angeles Sparks, but she doesn’t have any regrets.

“Becoming a mom is the best thing I've ever done in my life,” Samuelson said. “Seeing (Aliya) grow, and being responsible for taking care of her every single day, and helping her mold her into the human she's going to be has been just such a blessing in my life. And it really puts things in perspective — things that might have bothered me before, might have been worried about, seem so small now.”

After she had Aliya last August, she knew she wanted to get back on the court for the 2024 season. But working back to game-ready shape was much more difficult this time around than when she was injured.

“Your body changes,” Samuelson said. “I've gotten injured before, and I've always been able to train and all that, but coming back from this, I was starting from ground zero, you know, a couple months after having her. It was just really, really a lot of hard work, a lot of dedication to make sure my body felt good.”

Over the WNBA offseason, Samuelson had a lot to balance: She had a newborn, she was working as the director of player development for Vanderbilt women’s basketball and she needed to get back into WNBA shape.

Still, eight months later, she was going through two-a-day practices with her Fever teammates and working into the potential starting lineup. The only difference this time around is instead of going home to take a nap, she goes home to hang out with her baby.

“Before it was like practice, OK, go home, sleep and then get ready again,” Samuelson said. “Now, I'm going home to hang out with my baby girl and like — when we had two-a-days, I'd go home for a couple hours, hang out with her and then get back. My time is very valuable now, so I've got to make sure I get everything I need to get done here. I gotta be really professional, really get everything taken care of — my body, my mind, basketball, and then I gotta get home and I gotta be mom.”

Katie Lou Samuelson poses for a photo with her daughter, Aliya, at Indiana Fever Media Day on May 1, 2024.
Katie Lou Samuelson poses for a photo with her daughter, Aliya, at Indiana Fever Media Day on May 1, 2024.

Even though she felt ready in the first week of training camp, Samuelson had a rocky road getting back to play — she tweaked her ankle in pregame warmups when the Fever were visiting the Wings in Dallas on May 3, keeping her out of her highly-anticipated debut.

"I didn't know what we were gonna have to do with her when she hurt herself in warmups the other day and she didn't get to play, because she was so ready," Fever coach Christie Sides said. "She was so excited. She's just trying to get back to where she was a couple years ago. She was feeling good. She was hurt, but she's done everything she needed to do."

Samuelson finally got those first minutes on the court in Indiana's second preseason game against Atlanta on Thursday night, putting in 11 points with three rebounds and two steals.

Samuelson has a lot of support around her — her husband is in his offseason right now, and his family is about 2.5 hours away in Mishawaka, Indiana.  Along with that, baby Aliya has become a valued member of the Indiana Fever franchise.

“I'm grateful that I have that family aspect of it,” Samuelson said in February. “... It’s also having my daughter Aliya, and knowing that it's such a family environment and that (the Fever are) so excited to not only have me but have her be a part of the process.”

Samuelson wanted to both have a family and play basketball at a high level, and she knew she could do it. And she hopes that mindset, along with seeing other women doing the same thing, will have an impact on baby Aliya.

“I just want her to see me doing amazing things, playing the game I love,” Samuelson said. “For her to be in this atmosphere, I know she's only eight months old, but like to be around all these strong women and just continuously see different people, different types of people like it's just — you can't ask for more as a mom.”

This article originally appeared on Indianapolis Star: Katie Lou Samuelson returns to the WNBA 8 months after giving birth