The drive out to Corona is a long but pretty one. I love looking at desert mountains. But just when I thought I wasn’t ever going to get there last night, I found my exit.
The gym at Centennial High School was packed with people at 4:45 – 15 minutes before the practice was to begin. The Spark players and staff had arrived earlier than they’d planned, so they were already on the court warming up when I walked in. Not long after that my girl “Rhapsody,” aka youtube, arrived and found me.
So, Margo Dydek. The Sparks picked her up almost two weeks ago, but visa issues had kept her from arriving in the US until this past weekend. Spark players finally met their new teammate Sunday, after they arrived back in LA from the Texas road trip. This was literally our first look at the 7’2″ Polish center, who has played professional ball for 10 years, as a Spark.
She’s just so damned tall. You can see it on TV, but you it’s hard to appreciate the largeness of her every dimension until you see her in person. When they were all stretching with one leg up, Dydek’s upper leg was almost as long as 5’2″ Shannon Bobbitt’s entire leg. Sitting down, her knees ride way above everyone else’s because her lower leg is so long. Dydek makes our forwards look like runts; she is a head taller than Candace Parker and Lisa Leslie. It’s really something to behold.
Of course, Rhapsody and I were waiting for Bobbitt and Dydek to stand together. It finally came when they circled around Coach Michael Cooper after warmups. Though they were a few feet apart, Bobbitt stood in front of Dydek with her arms crossed. The top of Bobbitt’s head reaches Dydek’s stomach, just below her breasts. Rhapsody and I giggled. We have both the shortest and tallest players in the league. Gotta love it.
After stretching, players worked on a three-team shooting drill and then a three-woman weave. Typical stuff. As they finished up from that, Bobbitt started some sort of hopping dancing thing, showing why her teammates called her the silliest one on the team a few weeks ago. Delisha Milton-Jones, who needs barely anything to be egged on, joined her.
Some players flipped their jerseys, and the starters took the floor to run the offense alone, while the rest of the players and the coaches stood at the half-court line. They ran it allright a few times. Shannon made a great shot and CP picked her up from behind, bringing her friend all the way up to her chest. Shannon tucked up her legs a little and smiled real big. The effect was funny. CP also was clowning with Milton-Jones, calling “ball ball ball!” exaggeratedly when M-J was trying to pass it.
The second team then got on, which included Dydek. So yes, she will be used as a key reserve. Just making sure.
This is when the “arguing” started. One of the teams would run through the play and then stop and come back and seem to argue with the other players and/or Cooper. CP even pretended to push him at one point. It was all a joking vibe, like a lighter-hearted version of street ball. I finally turned to Rhapsody and said, “what’s going on?” She didn’t know. And I guess no one else did either, because when CP was at the edge of the court, someone in the front row asked her a question.
“We’re messin up,” she said to the girl, shrugging.
I guess they finally worked it out, because pretty soon both teams were actually running a play or two, with all the possible options. And there was an option for all five players on the floor, which I liked.
Some guy with a microphone periodically interrupted to tell people to quiet down “so the players can hear instructions from their coaches,” because “this is a real practice for them.”
With all due respect to the Centennial Huskies, no way. The Sparks practice from 9-noon daily, and this jokefest was in no way a real practice. If this was Cooper’s idea of an actual practice, he would have been fired a long time ago. But it was cute that school officials tried to pretend it was legit.
They worked on shots some more, and since I’ve already seen the other Sparks do that ad nauseum, I watched our new Spark. Dydek had a nice mid-range jumper that always went in, but technically it wasn’t a jumper because her feet hardly left the floor. When two balls became stuck in the basket net, Dydek didn’t come forward to help; CP jumped up and got them out. I know Dydek just had a baby. Maybe she’s just going to put her arms up and block.
After this, the “practice” further degenerated into silliness, to the audience’s delight. Players made a circle and put Dydek in it, shouting, “Go Margo! Go Margo!” She did bust a little dance move for a second, and then giggled; they laughed with her. This was good to see, because I was wondering how she’d fit into such a close-knit team.
There was more silliness. Leslie was in the middle for a moment, and shook her shoulders. Coop laid down in the middle, and Bobbitt sat on top of him for a second, drawing lots of laughter. She and M-J danced some more, from their sides of the circle. The Centennial High basketball coaches were put in the middle. Then Sparks players started taking half-court shots. CP kept trying to throw it backwards.
I’ve also noticed that Bobbitt and CP seem to have a standing joke from college, where CP goes to take a shot and Bobbitt boxes her out in an exaggerated way. They do it over and over, exactly the same every time. You’d have to see it to understand how funny it is to watch them do it, and they did it again last night.
The Mayor of Corona then presented Cooper with a proclamation from the city in honor of that day, that the Sparks were there. I was surprised. These people were serious!
I had met the Centennial Booster Club President, Gretchen Beard, before the practice. and she told me the story of how this event came together. She knows Sparks Account Executive Pati Freund, and they were talking earlier in the summer about how to increase interest in the team in the Inland Empire, and the idea for the open practice was hatched.
Booster Club members sold almost 1000 tickets to the event, which included a ticket to Sunday’s Sparks game against the Seattle Storm. They were also selling T-shirts at the door and raffling off items, so they could make some money themselves.
Anyway, the Corona Mayor also gave proclamations to the three Olympians on the team. M-J and Leslie were more subdued about theirs; after all, they’ve had their share of such awards over the years. But CP took hers and went back to her seat with Shannon, and they giggled while they looked at it. So funny.
The Q and A session began, which can largely be seen on Rhapsody’s home video:
After this, a young lady asked the tall players where they got their jeans. Lisa Leslie named a few places, but said buckle.com was the best. I didn’t know that, probably because I’m not 6’5″. A younger girl asked what she could do to be as good as them, and CP said “grow the baby hair” before answering more seriously.
Cooper got tired of all the questions being directed towards CP and Leslie, so he started asking questions and going down the line of players. Education came up, of course. Everyone extolled the virtues of staying in school, but Bobbitt might have been funniest when she said that in high school she “tried to stay out of the lunch room where people were playing cards and go to class.”
They were asked to each give one word that keeps them going. When they got to Sidney Spencer, she said “Jesus.” Bobbitt, sitting next to her, said “believe,” and next CP said “character.” Leslie, next, also said Jesus, then pray and then Jesus again.
Her little girl Lauren was toddling around this entire time, and good lord is she cute. She doesn’t seem to be shy, either. And she’s going to be ridiculously tall.
The players were then excused by their coach. Bobbitt walked off in her socks, carrying her shoes. Later, when they came back out for a half-court throwing encore, Dydek stood in the hallway and shadowed the doorway…….literally. Her body framed the side of the doorway, and she had to bend her head to see inside the top of it. The woman can never hide.
I’m glad I had a preview before Thursday’s game against the Atlanta Dream. No surprises for me.