Prior to the Minnesota-Los Angeles Western Conference final game two this afternoon, Sparks forward Nnekmadi Ogwumike was named 2012 WNBA Rookie of the Year, and Sparks Coach Carol Ross was named Coach of the Year. Below is a transcript of the press conference:
WNBA Director of Player Personnel Renee Brown: Nneka is the fifth consecutive number one draft pick to win this award. How did she win it? Her game speaks for itself. She averaged 14 points, seven and a half rebounds, and that was tops in the rookie class. Not only is Nneka is a great player, she is a terrific person. She represents herself, her family, her team, and the league with so much class. So Nneka, on behalf of the WNBA, congratuations on winning the Rookie of the Year Award.
Nneka Ogwumike: Good morning, everybody. I want to say I’m extremely honored to be named Rookie of the Year. I’m very honored to be put into that class of number one picks that have showcased their talents in their rookie season. I’m very grateful to have been picked by the LA Sparks. There’s no other program that I’d rather be with.
Starting from when we were brought in at rookie orientation, Renee Brown welcomed us. I’m very grateful for all the help that everyone has bestowed upon me and which has helped me grow as a rookie. The transition from college to the pros can be a little bit intimidating, but for the most part I’ve had a wonderful time. And I just want to do whatever I can to contribute to my team. I’m thankful for my coach – a lot of what she does people dont see, and she’s a big reason why I’ve been able to see so much success my first year. My teammates, my family, my university…..everybody has supported me throughout this journey, and I’m very grateful to be honored as Rookie of the Year.
Renee Brown: So it’s Christmas here in LA. I’m also here to present the Coach of the Year Award to Carol Ross.
I remember when the (Sparks) General Manager Penny Toler called me and said hey, we want to go with Carol – we really believe that Carol can turn this team around. And turn it around – that’s exactly what she’s done. They’re resurging: the Sparks are 24-10, and I think the key reason they’ve done so well is something that Nneka said about Carol as a coach. She brings out the best in each and every one of her players, from player one to player 11. I believe they’ve bought into her system because she cares about them and she respects them. So on behalf of the WNBA, Coach Ross, congratulations on winning the 2012 Coach of the Year Award.
Carol Ross: Like Nneka (said), there’s always many people and many opportunities to stand up here and be the recipient of the Coach of the Year Award. So first I’d like to start with Penny Toler, who gave me the opportunity, along with the Madisons and the Sparks organization to lead a tremendous franchise like the LA Sparks. It’s been a tremendous responsibility, but one that has been made so much easier because I’ve got two tremendous assistant coaches in Jim Lewis and Sandy Brondello, who put in so many hours and do so much. And very rarely do assistant coaches get recognition.
But most important are the players. And this group of women have been extremely fun to work with every day. They come with such great enthusiasm for their jobs. I’m an old head coach but I’m still a rookie head coach in the league, and they’ve been great assets, not only in how they play but in providing wisdom about things they see, things they do. So I couldn’t ask for a better situation and a better group of people to go to work with every day. It’s been a tremendous honor, and certainly I’m standing here because of all the people around me.
Michelle Smith (ESPN): Nneka, what surprised you about this season?
Ogwumike: What surprised me was how soon the transition from the University level to pro level was. I expected a lot of things, and the program I was welcomed into, it was a blessing. From Penny to the Madisons to my coaches and teammates…..they’ve helped me develop this season. The program is not just a program – it’s a family, and I’m all about that type of situation.
Sue Favor (basketballways.com): What are the main improvements you see in yourself from the beginning of the season to where you are now?
Ogwumike: The main improvement I see in myself is my basketball IQ. I’m starting to understand the game a little bit better, and understand the small things I can do to really contribute to my team. There’s a lot of statistics that go unseen that people just take for granted, and I want to be the type of teammate that does the little things, and gives 110 percent on every play. I want my teammates to count on me and trust me to do whatever they need. I’m learning about having different responsibilities. At Stanford I had a lot of big responsibilities that people saw all the time. There’s a lot of small things (now) that I try to capitalize on.
Sparks intern: You’ve had so much individual success, what does it mean to have team success?
Ogwumike: That’s the whole goal….to be playing with people like Candace, Dee and Alana, that’s almost like you’re on an all-star team. We work together to win as a team. At the end it’s about winning and not about who has the most points. Coach always emphasizes that we go out and play the game, because there’s so many people that want to play.
Sparks intern: Coach, you’ve had a good one-two punch this season with Candace and Nneka. Can you talk about what it means to have those two players on the floor?
Ross: Well, any coach would be fortunate to coach either one of them, much less both of them. They both bring different things…..Candace has already experienced so much in her basketball career. For Nneka to be able to play in that tandem while she’s already growing as a pro player has been beneficial. We’ve got the enthusiasm and energy of Nneka and we’ve got the experience and wisdom of one of the most talented players in the world, Candace Parker. It’s been great for them to work together and be teammates together.
Sparks intern: Can you talk about the role players on the team?
Ross: For us, it all starts with Delisha Milton-Jones. She’s the only one who’s touched the trophy in our locker room, and she brings so much passion for the game, and she loves people. She loves mentoring younger players. She’s got an awful lot to bring and to give with experiences. There’s no way to put the value on her ability to help lead and guide. Then there’s Alana Beard with injuries….her perspective is very different. She knows what it’s like to have the game taken away from her and have to fight and restart your career….