Tall people, talking to me

The Los Angeles Sparks are having a youth basketball camp this weekend at Pasadena Community College. It’s an extended version of the one-day affair they used to have before the new owners came. The kids come in the morning and practice their drills (this time they arrived in teams rather than as individuals). After lunch, the Sparks show up to run things. And today, Coach Michael Cooper came with them.

Two years ago I took my basketball girls, and I watched most of the camp. Today I went back as an observer, because I’m always trying to learn things to be a better teacher and coach.

I didn’t learn much because there wasn’t much instruction before teams were pit against each other in games. I did get a lot of other interesting information, which I’ll go over later. However, one unexpected thing happened that deserves a discussion of its own: Cooper came up and started talking to me.

I had walked into the gym before all the kids were back from lunch, and Cooper was on the other side, seated and talking to someone. He looked over and saw me. In the meantime, I put on lotion and got some on my shorts, so I went downstairs to the locker room to clean it off. Then I decided to just sit there on one of the benches in the entry hallway and read my paper until things started back up again. I was at the end of the hallway, kind of tucked against the wall and not too obvious. Next thing I know, Cooper’s tall, thin self is walking up to me asking me where I sit at Staples. When I told him, he said he was looking for someone that sits in another section, but then he said: “so tell me what you think about our team. And be honest.”

Talk about being put on the spot. But I’m a direct person, so I told him that I think the team is loaded with talent that isn’t showing right now. That I think they lack fundamentals at times, and though they are the closest WNBA team I’ve ever seen, this doesn’t seem to translate into chemistry on the court lately. I told him about how everyone on the message boards has theories on what is wrong, from the guards to the coaches to the posts, but that I didn’t feel qualified to address that question because I wasn’t on the team. Yet I think they have amazing potential.

I said this all in an animated and polite way, and Cooper understood. He gave a couple examples of other teams and said that sometimes it takes a team a while to figure out how to work together and how to gel, and that this was the problem the Sparks are having. That sometimes with teams, it’ll take a couple years for this process to happen, but that he sees this starting to happen now. He said he’s been watching Lisa Leslie play in China, and that he sees her finally starting to play like the old Lisa. Cooper said he thinks it’s helping Candace Parker to be surrounded by other great players and be able to appreciate them. He has also been seeing great things happen in practice the last week and a half with the non-Olympian Sparks. He’s confident that they’ll still be able to make a good playoff run and even take the championship when the season resumes Aug. 28.

On that last point, I gotta give it to him. It takes a lot of courage to believe, and believe in yourself – especially when the odds aren’t in your favor (Sparks finished fourth in the west, barely, before the Olympic break). I told Cooper that. He had also said that when the season started, everyone was afraid of the Sparks. Now they aren’t, but no one wants them to be in the playoffs. The way he told me this, though, made me think that this fuels his fire more than anything else. Cooper also said his plan was to shut up the naysayers and haters that are saying the Sparks aren’t going to do anything this year. Sounds good to me, as July was pretty painful to be a Sparks attendee.

Cooper probably asked my opinion because I’m at every game and have been to every single player event this season. Because when I mentioned that in passing, he said, “I know – I see you.”

The funniest part of this entire encounter came at the end. Cooper stood up to leave, and I told him that he’d been outstanding at the Trader Joe’s event back in July. (Go to youtube.com and punch in ‘LA Sparks at Trader Joe’s’ and watch the 10 videos that are on there. I am, unfortunately, partially in 4 of them).

Cooper said, “what?” And I told him that he was fantastic, the way he approached people and hustled them to the salad bar for samples. “You were amazing!” I said. He busted out a smile and asked me my name, shaking my hand, and then gave me a hug. I told him to hang in there and don’t listen to people. That got me a thumbs up as he walked away.

I sure do hope Cooper is right and they come back blazin’, because I’m worried about jet lag catching up to our Olympians as they play two days after they get back.

– Sue F