With a new regime, the Sparks are building for now and beyond

This new look Los Angeles Sparks team is ready to start anew

With Nneka Ogwumike at the helm, this Sparks team is turning over a new leaf. (Photo by Meg Oliphant/Getty Images)

With the arrival of a new coach and retooling of the roster in the offseason, the Los Angeles Sparks are looking to build a solid foundation that lasts past this season. Through the first week of training camp, players have noted thus far that the environment has been a mix of a breath of fresh air and very highly competitive with new Los Angeles Sparks head coach Curt Miller challenging them every day.

The 2022 season was not the brightest for the Sparks as they finished the season with a 13-23 record, ending on a three-game losing streak, and missing the playoffs. The dismissal of former head coach Derek Fisher was just the tip of the iceberg.

Many acknowledged that it had been a challenging few seasons with accountability being a bit lackluster. Heading into this season, the Sparks are turning over a new leaf with Miller’s arrival and seasoned knowledge.

“Curt is bringing so much knowledge and he’s really challenging us to understand and integrate the things he’s saying into just hooping,” 12-year veteran Nneka Ogwumike, who re-signed with the Sparks during the offseason, told reporters earlier this week.

Ogwumike is the longest-tenured Sparks player on the roster who has grown into a leader and team captain for the team in recent years. There’s been an abundance of changes and challenges that the team has faced in the last few seasons but Ogwumike remains a constant.

The team’s identity revolves around Ogwumike and their post-game with new additions in offseason acquisitions Dearica Hamby and Azurá Stevens. Second-year player Rae Burrell, who missed the majority of her rookie season due to injury, is back healthy and gives the Sparks another boost in the post and on the wings.

“I think early on our identity will be on the defensive end but our identity is going to be surrounded by Nneka,” Miller told reporters, “I believe we have a collection of post players that are some of the best rim running, slipping, rolling, and separating post players in the league,”

The depth and versatility of their bigs will play a huge part in their offense and defensive schemes, especially with spacing. Creating spacing is key for their success this season.

Even with the influx of new faces on the Sparks, they were able to bring in an abundance of seasoned veterans who fit into the culture that the team is building. A good portion of these veterans have also been under Miller’s tutelage either from his stint as an assistant in Los Angeles back in 2015 or during his seven-year tenure in Connecticut.

The elder Ogwumike and Crystal Bradford were on that 2015 Sparks team with Miller. Chiney Ogwumike and new additions Layshia Clarendon, Jasmine Thomas, and Joyner Holmes played under Miller during his time in Connecticut.

All of these players have carved their own lanes within the league and have grown exponentially throughout their careers. On those players’ growth that he’s seen from early on to now, Miller expressed that they have grown in not only their confidence but knowledge of the game.

“These guys really become students of the game at this level through film preparation through the schemes that the program uses,” Miller said, “The professionals really understand the game at this level and it’s off the charts.”

These veterans have been leading by example on and off the court for their young players no matter the position. From communicating to establishing a trust to having empathy, their presence has been vital for the younger players.

“As a post player, it’s kind of difficult to be the leader or captain because you’re not dictating what happens on the floor a lot so there’s a lot of different managing,” Nneka Ogwumike told reporters earlier this week. “It’s nice to have multiple veterans in the backcourt. It’s nice to have that holistic leadership.”

In this year’s draft, the Sparks selected South Carolina’s Zia Cooke with the 10th pick. Cooke’s ability to play both ends of the ball efficiently really piqued the Sparks’ interest and saw her as a fit for what they are building at the moment.

Cooke has been a sponge taking in everything from many of the veterans. Six-year veteran guard Jordin Canada has taken Cooke under her wing in fellowshipping with her and answering any questions that she has.

“I’ve been wanting to guard her and be with her as much as I can because I know she knows the game at a very high IQ,” Cooke told reporters.

Both Cooke and former Iowa forward Monika Czinano went from playing one another in the NCAA Final Four to being teammates adjusting to the pace of Miller’s offense and defense. Every day for these two has been a learning lesson every single day.

Cooke called this opportunity to be in the league a dream while Czinano said that she was grateful.

As camp goes on, the decision on who will make the roster will be a difficult one for Miller but he put all of the players on notice that no promises were made about their positions on the team.

“What we did promise was that we’d fill the locker room with great people and I feel like we’ve done that,” Miller said.

Everyone is vying for a spot bringing their best selves and aggression every day in camp. Once spots are solidified, being aggressive and competitive will be their point of attack during the season. What the team is building at the moment is not just for this year but something that will last for years to come.

“We’re trying to put something together that is sustainable. It’s really important that we’re building something that can win but really sustain winning,” Miller said.

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