With about two weeks out from the season opener, the Los Angeles Sparks are ready for action and a productive season.
The Los Angeles Sparks held their Media Day for the 2019 WNBA season on Tuesday morning with players and staff letting loose and being candid about what’s to come from the team this upcoming year.
The mix of new players, returning players, and the new coaching staff is a recipe for an optimistic bunch who is ready to compete and succeed this season.
It has been a productive start to camp and the preseason as everyone is trying to gain as much insight from Coach Derek Fisher while also meshing with one another. This is a fairly new situation for many, but with some quality veterans on the team, it has made it a bit easier for players to buy in.
Here are five things to note from the Los Angeles Sparks Media Day.
1. Candace Parker injury update
Candace Parker was not present for the media day festivities as she was ill. In the aftermath of her hamstring injury that she suffered in this past Saturday’s preseason game against the Phoenix Mercury, Parker was evaluated and is projected to be out for a few weeks.
Parker logged about four minutes of play prior to sustaining the injury.
Though it is looking like the Sparks will be without Parker to start the season, Los Angeles is equipped with players who can fill the void of her production in the first slate of games of the season.
2. More noise around Derek Fisher’s hiring
General Manager Penny Toler addressed the questions about the hire of Derek Fisher as head coach. Toler was very consistent in saying that Fisher was different and a fresh pair of eyes that she deemed fit for the role.
There was a flurry of displeasure voiced by many when the hire happened and Toler was sticking to her guns on the decision process of bringing Fisher into the fold.
“So I think when I thought about who could coach this team, I’ve been here for the Sparks’ whole existence. I don’t like to guess or waste people’s time. He was the guy for the job. He is different,” Toler said.
Toler mentioned that she liked that Fisher has only had experience within the men’s basketball realm which leads to him having fresh eyes coming into this situation. His style of coaching is different and gives her the flexibility she needs to put together a team that is competitive and able to fit in Fisher’s vision moving forward.
Fisher’s experience during his time with the New York Knicks, both positive and negative, will help him in this new coaching phase with the Los Angeles Sparks.
“So having this opportunity out here with the Sparks, I’m better off having been in New York, regardless of length, because the experience has helped me to step into this role more prepared and more ready to handle anything that comes up,” Fisher said.
Time will tell on how Fisher will put this group of players in positions to win this season, but so far the players are all ears on him during training camp.
3. Ashley Walker’s return to the WNBA
Ashley Walker is a player who bounced around the league early in her career then took her talents overseas in 2013. Being away from the league for about six years, Walker was ready to come back to the states.
The opportunity to play in Los Angeles came up and Walker could not resist the offer as she wanted to come back to California and be near family while also being able to play with a championship level team in the Sparks. So far, she has enjoyed her experience being with the team while just playing her game and being competitive.
Walker had a strong performance in the Sparks’ preseason game against the Phoenix Mercury. She not only led Los Angeles in scoring posting 16 points, but she also put in good defensive pressure on Dewanna Bonner.
Walker’s role isn’t quite defined, but she said that she has been working on solidifying herself between the three and four positions throughout camp. She is also readying herself to fulfill any position that Fisher has in mind for her.
“I just want to be able to do whatever he asks me to do and do it well,” Walker said.
Walker’s energy and willingness to contribute will be something to take into consideration when the team decides their final roster cuts. If her performance this past weekend was any indication of what is to come, Walker is a player that Los Angeles is able to use at any given moment.
4. Kalani Brown’s leap into the league
Kalani Brown was the Sparks’ seventh pick in this year’s draft and is somewhat making history in the franchise.
When talking about the many new additions to the team, Toler spoke about Brown still being on the board and how amazed she was that Brown would be on the team. It was also shocking that with Brown’s stature and position, she was one of a kind.
“I was telling Kalani the other day, she’s our own true five that we’ve ever had,” Toler said. Parker and Lisa Leslie have done great jobs in their careers playing at that position, but that was never their true positions.
Brown is the first true five that the Sparks have had in their arsenal. Fisher has been implementing Brown into the fold slowly but she is ready for whatever Fisher and the team need from her on the court.
“I’ll do whatever they need me to do, whether that’s rebounding or setting good screens. One screen can make a difference in a game or getting a teammate open,” Brown said.
Brown has had an illustrious collegiate career that was completed this season with a national championship with Baylor. She will be officially closing the collegiate chapter of her life this weekend when she walks the stage at her graduation.
“I’ve done all of the accolades, won a national championship, and won several divisional championships. I’ve done everything a player would want to do on that level,” Brown said.
Brown is poised to be a great player in the league just from her personality off the court to her play on the court. No matter how she’ll be used on the floor for the Sparks, she will be ready for the opportunity.
5. The Ogwumike sisters are reunited
The Ogwumike sisters are back together thanks to the Connecticut Sun trading Chiney to Los Angeles for a draft pick.
“We got her for a couple of coins and a bag of chips,” Nneka Ogwumike said of her sister being traded to Los Angeles.
The aftermath of the trade has been an interesting thing to see from the Connecticut side, but Ogwumike has been also smiles and positive during her time in Los Angeles so far.
The sisters last played with one another in college at Stanford so this opportunity to compete together on the same team will be easy on their family as in past year’s they have had to choose between the two whenever they faced one another.
They spoke highly of one another’s career as both have done some great things on and off the court.
“She’s the one who’s broken barriers and done things not only for the game but also for our family. I feel like I’m not just trying to keep up, but I’m also trying to be the best version of myself which I’m looking for,” [Chiney] Ogwumike said about her older sister who she called her role model.
The elder Ogwumike has had a great career thus far winning a championship, notching league MVP honors, and much more. She has been a selfless player and it thoroughly pays off.
The younger Ogwumike has had a rough time on the court with two injuries that have kept her from playing, but her sister said that allowed for her to grow.
“One thing I’ve seen her growth in that way is how she’s handled those injuries,” [Nneka] Ogwumike said. “I think that her being on the Sparks now is kind of a culmination of all those times that she gave up.”
There is no denying that the younger Ogwumike has talent. Her ability to grab rebounds and score when needed is imperative to the Sparks’ efforts to be a better rebounding team this season.
Los Angeles has plenty of things to figure out regarding their roster with the deadline for roster cuts is vastly approaching. Other than that, this team could have a good year with this group.
Following the end of media day, the Sparks claimed this year’s 20th pick in the draft, Cierra Dillard off waivers. Dillard was waived by Minnesota who had a plethora of guards.
It will be interesting to see who will make the final roster this season with everyone on their A game in camp and preseason.
Los Angeles will play their final preseason game against the defending champion, Seattle Storm on Friday, May 17th at Pasadena City College. The game will tip off at 7:30 p.m. PT. The Sparks will also open the regular season in Las Vegas against the Aces.