University of Tennessee West is Los Angeles Sparks

You don’t have to be a Los Angeles resident to be acquainted with sportscaster Larry Burnett. Since every WNBA game is now at least given an online audio feed, the longtime voice of the Sparks can be heard all over the country, providing his unique brand of straightforward commentary, laced with humor. And with the addition of a certain players to the Sparks’ roster this year, Burnett has found that fans comment back to him.

Burnett graciously agreed to an interview this week, which I appreciated on several levels. For one thing, he’s got a great perspective on the Sparks, their players and the game itself. Secondly, he’s an interesting person. I’ll get to that later, as I’m going to divide my discussion with him into a few different blogs, per subject area.

University of Tennessee fans have joked on message boards that LA has become “Tennessee West” – especially after UCLA hired former Lady Vols Assistant Coach Nikki Caldwell as its head coach. This may not be far from the truth, considering the sharp spike Burnett has seen in his email inbox this summer.

“I’ve gotten a lot of emails from Tennessee fans,” Burnett has been known to say on the radio, or prior to player interviews. Out of every 5 emails he’s received this year, Burnett said 3 of them are from fans of the Lady Vols asking about Candace Parker, Shannon Bobbitt, Sidney Spencer, or all three.

“They’re just really, really avid fans,” Burnett said, with emphasis. “They are not at all shy about sharing their point of view, and in many cases, they make good points.”

Sometimes, though, such passion can miss the mark slightly.

“When (Sparks owners) Kathy (Goodman) and Carla (Christofferson) asked fans this year to stand until the team scored, some Vol fans were trying to tell me that Pat Summitt started that tradition,” Burnett said. “Actually, Coach Summitt borrowed that.”

At the beginning of the season, the most-often asked question from Lady Vol fans was why 3-point shooter Spencer wasn’t getting playing time. As the season progressed, point guard Bobbitt began showing up to the bench in street clothes more often than not. Not surprisingly, the bulk of questions from UT fans then became, “why isn’t Shannon playing?”, according to Burnett. On July 3, Bobbitt made her first WNBA start, and has started every game for the Sparks since then. Burnett said Vol fans have gone back to asking him why Spencer isn’t playing more. He can only guess at the answer to that question.

“Sidney’s not the best on defense, and she doesn’t match up well there as much as we’d like,” Burnett said. “But there are a lot of great NBA shooters who aren’t great defensive players, and their coaches use them to the best of their abilities. I’m not sure why that’s not happening here.”

Fans also ask about Parker – mainly, if she’s as tired as she sometimes looks. Burnett doesn’t mince words when talking about the Sparks’ number-one pick.

“She’s the most talented female player I’ve seen come into the league,” he said. “Parker can play all five positions – she can dribble, she crosses over, she passes – and she plays them all exceptionally well.

“Lisa (Leslie) will tell you, ‘she’s better than me when I first started.’ She’s doing things no one else is doing.”

Burnett said Parker had no problem adjusting to professional basketball, and fans adopted her immediately, too.

“People got used to the dunk after she’d done it one time,” he said.

Burnett said Parker told him that a focus of hers is learning to dunk on the half-court, rather than the full-court. Burnett sees her biggest challenges as working on her free throws, and “deciding where she wants to play.”

“(Head Coach Michael) Cooper wants her at PG, but I’m not sure Candace wants to be there,” he said.

Burnett acknowledged that Parker’s presence has boosted ticket sales at every arena the Sparks have been to, and that the University of Tennesse contingent is particularly strong.

“We haven’t been in one arena where there hasn’t been an orange section,” he said.

Since Bobbitt got the nod to start, she has become a crowd favorite at Staples Center, eliciting frequent cheers and support from fans. Burnett has had her sit for the post-game player interview twice.

“There’s a bit of the underdog mentality there,” Burnett said of the Spark fan support for Bobbitt. “When you’re 5’2″, people like to see a player like that succeed.”

One of Bobbitt’s most glaring errors earlier in the season was not managing the clock well, as there were possessions in a few games where the rookie unknowingly let the shot clock run down. Burnett said Cooper has worked with Bobbitt on that.

“Leadership is the yardstick for the PG,” Burnett said. “The PG makes sure everyone is where they’re supposed to be, and the veterans (Kiesha Brown and Temeka Johnson, who started at PG earlier in the season) weren’t getting it done.

“Bobbitt makes things happen out there. She just need to keep working; she’s a rookie and will make mistakes.”

To be continued……

– Sue F