Sparks onto new beginnings with defense and chemistry in mind

New beginnings for the Los Angeles Sparks are officially ready to commence this season with good chemistry and defensive staples.

Sparks star forward Nneka Ogwumike and teammates have consistently praised Sparks Assistant Coach Latricia Trammel for her defensive philosophy that has become a vital part of the team’s identity. (Photo courtesy of the Los Angeles Sparks)

After some big changes within player personnel during the offseason, the Los Angeles Sparks were left to re-evaluate and start anew with WNBA champion and multiple time WNBA All-Star, Nneka Ogwumike fully in the driver’s seat of the franchise on the floor.

Even from when Ogwumike re-signed with the team, she had a sentiment on having the opportunity to lead in that seat at times with the Sparks along with other stars on the team at the time. Ogwumike welcomes the challenge and task of taking the reigns of the franchise but knows that she is not running the Sparks’ show on her own.

“I know that I’m not doing it, not only alone but also with a support group and also leaders in their own right,” Ogwumike said back in March.

As a team overall, the Sparks are embracing the opportunity to start anew and build a competitive and ambitious championship culture. There is pressure on Los Angeles to perform and show good results post the Candace Parker era, however, they are focused on showing who they are as a team as presently constructed.

“We are really excited about the pressure and expectations that come from being in a market where people expect you to win,” Sparks Head Coach & General Manager Derek Fisher said. “That’s not new to many of us and we’re going to embrace that.”

The last and final cuts ahead of today’s home opener against Dallas saw another shift within personnel for Los Angeles on Thursday. The Sparks dealt fourth-year guard Sydney Wiese to the Washington Mystics in exchange for a 2022 second-round pick and waived forward-center Kristine Anigwe.

Four-time WNBA Champion Seimone Augustus is changing her seat on the Los Angeles Sparks bench this season. Augustus has retired from the WNBA and will be joining the Sparks coaching staff as an assistant coach. The LSU alumna signed with the Sparks ahead of the 2020 season after a long and decorated tenure in Minnesota. She retires from the WNBA being one of the league’s top scorers in history with 6,005 points in her career.

Maria Vadeeva was noted on the team’s final roster as suspended due to not being with Los Angeles for part of the season as she fulfills her overseas commitments. Recently acquired wing Gabby Williams via trade with the Chicago Sky signed her contract extension with the Sparks and will remain on the suspended list for the 2021 season to honor her French national team commitments.

The final roster for the Sparks consists of an abundance of new faces from free-agent acquisitions to rookies to the returnees that sat out the 2020 season. The players that Fisher brought into the fold made training camp a memorable one that could translate throughout the 2021 season.

During camp, Augustus spoke to the budding chemistry with the team as players were just open with communication whether it was on the floor or just in off-the-court interactions. Respect between the veterans and younger players went both ways with rookies wanting some guidance in how to navigate and veterans trying to understand how the younger players adapt.

“Sometimes that kind of helps with the process of getting this together as well because you don’t just want to have respect going one way,” Augustus said.

Many players had mentioned how within a short time period, they have been able to garner meaningful connections and camaraderie in being on the same page with one another. Surely as the season progresses, the chemistry and communication will strengthen from the foundational points that they started from in training camp.

“I think specifically when you’re unselfish and communicate, you can pick up things at a rapid pace,” said two-time WNBA champion and Sparks veteran Kristi Toliver.

What’s to expect this season

In this latest version of the Sparks, they fully intend on expanding on Fisher’s fast-paced style of play along with a defense that has been one of the league’s best in recent years. Los Angeles has energy players who will commit to defense as a committee and take individual assignments seriously.

Sparks guard Brittney Sykes, who notched a 2020 WNBA All-Defensive Second Team honor, spoke on how scary the team’s defense will be this upcoming season and how they would like to stay within the top-tier defensive teams in the league. With defense being their calling card, the Sparks hold themselves to a high standard on that end of the floor and that is not changing soon.

“We want to be top two and not two,” said Sykes who believes that the Sparks have the personnel to be one of the best defensive teams in the league.

With defense spearheading them, the Sparks look forward to keeping up their pace and having some patience when it comes to initiating the offense. It may take a bit of a while for the offense to fully be in sync for Los Angeles but Fisher intends for the style to be a free-flowing one that allows players to create space and make the right plays.

To start off the season, the schedule for Los Angeles is light, playing just one game a week in the first few weeks so the Sparks will have some time to iron out some of the offensive wrinkles, strengthen the defensive strategy, and continue building off the chemistry and energy they had in camp.

“It’s starting to come to fruition,” said Ogwumike on the energy from camp translating to the start of the season. “I think it’ll be fun to watch. It’s definitely fun to play.”

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