The Los Angeles Sparks put their coaching hats on to give the youth some keys for success.
Bright-eyed and excited, youth from ages 5-17 were able to “Learn from the Pros” in a clinic dedicated to teaching fundamental basketball skills on Saturday afternoon at Washington Preparatory High School in Los Angeles.
“Have fun and enjoy playing the game,” said Chelsea Gray about what kids could take away from the clinic.
Ahead of their game against the Connecticut Sun, the Sparks traveled under a mile north to the high school from Los Angeles Southwest College to put their coaching hats on after their practice. Being a part of events like this are highlighted moments for teams throughout the season and spending a Saturday afternoon was just that for the Sparks.
“To be able to see the kids having a good time, playing a small part, and putting a smile on their face for an hour or two, I think that’s a pretty special thing,” said Sparks head coach Derek Fisher, whose team was at the tail end of their three-game homestand. “I’m glad that we can do this and have an opportunity to be a part of the community. That’s important.”
Participants had to register in advance and pay a fee to receive instruction from the Los Angeles Sparks players and training development staff, a Sparks basketball camp tee, and two tickets to the Sparks game against the Connecticut Sun. Participants also took part in an autograph session with the players at the end of the clinic.
Not many children can get this opportunity to be around professional players and take heed to the many tips and encouragement that they gained. Being around these players, especially for the young girls in attendance, made a lot of their goals of making it big or pursuing a passion an attainable one.
“Because of this, my daughter feels like she can actually make it to the WNBA,” said Sabrina Faatiliga, whose 12-year-old daughter participated in the clinic.
This experience for her daughter really opened her eyes to endless possibilities. Being able to have either one on one attention or instruction from the players during the clinic brought them to the kids’ level that made it real for Faatiliga’s daughter and the other kids.
“I think it just opens up that opportunities can be real,” Faatiliga said.
Faatiliga’s daughter struggles with her defensive pressure and she was able to address this weakness at the station dedicated to defense. With the six different stations, her daughter was able to grasp some basic defensive principles to get better at.
The clinic focused on defense, conditioning, rebounding, shooting, dribbling, and passing at designated stations in the gym. The children were split up into six different groups based on age and rotated to each station.
“It was these drills that we’re doing now that helped me get my foundation and footwork together,” said Kalani Brown.
Along with Brown, Maria Vadeeva, Nneka Ogwumike and assistant coach Fred Williams took care of the rebounding station that opened the eyes of the youngest group. They taught each group some foundational keys to rebounding, which were to be aggressive, get up and snatch it, and chin it so no one could take the ball away.
“They were like, What’s a rebound,” Brown said when talking about the group of five-year-olds who were ready and willing to learn.
Beginning in the warm-up, Sydney Wiese was all in with the kids demonstrating some of the exercises. At one point it looked like Wiese was working up a sweat during the warm-up and the stations for the kids rather than it be the reverse.
“It’s really tough to tell. They have so much energy and this is what it’s all about,” Wiese said about whether the kids were putting her through a workout or vice versa.
Wiese and Marina Mabrey handled the shooting station where they stressed consistency and practicing how to maintain composure in games so that they would not go crazy and do something out of the norm in a game.
“We want to keep it consistent, keep it really simple, make sure that you’re balanced, and then you reach for the cookies in the cookie jar,” Wiese said about what they instilled within the kids at the shooting station.
Who better to take over the passing station than none other Gray and Candace Parker. Between the two, there have been so many mind-boggling passes that they have had this season and the kids were able to be monitored by the two.
As Gray and Parker looked on, the kids worked on different passing methods from chest passes to bounce passes. There were moments in which both gave some hands-on instruction to a few of the kids.
“It’s been fun going back to the basics a little bit,” said Gray.
At the other stations, the defensive specialists in Alana Beard, Tierra Ruffin-Pratt held it down while Alexis Jones led the dribbling station with Riquna Williams. Chiney Ogwumike and the Sparks’ player development coach Jamal Lovell dealt with the conditioning station with the kids.
Not only was this clinic important for the youth as a whole, but it also for the young girls in the community like Faatiliga’s daughter. At one point in their early years in the game, each of the players participated in camps like this when they were younger.
Growing up in Phoenix, Wiese participated in some clinics that the Phoenix Mercury had held and went to many of her father’s clinics as well. Wiese was grateful to be back in this setting and it reminded her of where it all began for her. Brown went to some of the Tennessee Lady Vols camps that Pat Summit would have. Brown even kept many of her camp balls from Tennessee and Baylor.
“I thought that I was just having fun, but really all of those great coaches were there,” said Brown as she reminisced about her time at those camps and clinics when she was younger.
Fisher also had some fond memories of being able to soak in as much he could get at these events. In his time at camps and clinics, he learned the power of repetition in doing things over and over until the principles were ingrained within him.
“Hopefully, they can take that away a little bit,” Fisher said, “and of course, just smile because they’re having a really good time.”