Sparks basketball camp

The Sparks camp was pretty well-attended this weekend. There were maybe 10 teams present for about 150 girls, ranging from 8 years old to high school age. I knew the girls from a couple of the high school teams, and one of the coaches, because they’re in the league of the school where I teach and I’ve coached against them before.

The Sparks staff and players arrived on both days for the afternoon session, after lunch. On Saturday, Coach Michael Cooper facilitated a half hour of instruction where he addressed the entire camp. He went over the three types of passes in basketball, using a different player to help him demonstrate each. He had all the girls perform a “Sparks clap,” which was hitting the floor twice and then clapping, for players as they ended their demonstration.

Campers were then divided into three groups. One stayed and played games on the three courts; the second group went to the weight room; and the third group went downstairs to the question and answer session with some of the Sparks players.

I decided to begin by watching a game that featured one of the high school teams that I knew. They had one official referee for this matchup, and the other ref was none other than Shannon Bobbitt. My team didn’t do too well, but watching Bobbitt ref cracked me up. I guess it was because she was so good at it. Here I am, having watched her play her ass off at Tennessee for two years, and suddenly she is motioning a player to the sidelines for a throw-in, holding up her arms in anticipation of a 3, and calling a foul making the “hacking” sign. Just a flawless transition for my favorite PG.

Kiesha Brown, on the court next door, was also doing a great job in the ref spot. Sidney Spencer was on the far court working with the little kids. I sneaked over there for a few to take a picture, and she was being really sweet and patient with them.

When my game ended, I started watching Brown’s game because it went into overtime. I ended up talking to a kid who plays football at a Valley high school, and was there to watch his sister play basketball. Great kid. I’m going to keep track of him during football season.

Next I went into the weight room, expecting to see players. It was just parents and coaches, though, so I went downstairs to catch the Q and A session. I literally only saw the last five minutes, just in time to hear some of them giving accounts of “bloopers” they’ve had. Forward Jessica Moore said that during a pre-game warm-up earlier this season, she had thrown the ball to Bobbitt and forgot she was short. The ball went sailing over Bobbitt’s head and hit a woman in the face sitting on the sidelines. Moore was so embarrassed she turned away and pretended she didn’t do it.

It was only five minutes before the next Q and A began, and they moved it into a smaller room, so I stood by the door. Besides Moore, Christi Thomas, Temeka Johnson, Murriel Page, Rafaella Masciardi and Marie Ferdinand-Harris were on the player panel. The girls on hand were ages 12-14, and they and two of the coaches present, plus myself, asked questions.

On the serious side, players addressed burnout, attitude on the team and strength and conditioning (that was my question, not surprisingly). But there were a lot of light-hearted and informal questions, too.

Players were asked how tall they are and what size shoe they wear. Everyone except Johnson wore size 11-13, and even Johnson’s size 8 is big for a short woman. You gotta love the ballers with their big paws and feet. The Sparks were also asked how much they make in the WNBA.

They reported that Lisa Leslie is the mom of the team, which I thought was an interesting question for the young ladies to ask of the Sparks. Johnson and Page are interested in coaching in the future, and it sounds like they want to coach high school. I’d love to see that.

One question was whether or not they are recognized in public. The players said that they aren’t noticed so much in Los Angeles, but in other cities where there is less of a “Hollywood” influence, they often get stopped by fans.

When someone asked a question about playing overseas, Page broke down the difference between the European school and athletics system and that of the US. She explained that in Europe, school and athletics don’t go hand in hand as they do here, and in Europe a person must make a choice between the two. Masciardi, who is Italian, has been playing professionally since she was 16.

One girl did ask about the Detroit game July 22 that ended in a brawl between that team and the Sparks. I thought for sure tension would engulf the room, but to her credit, Page took the question on directly. She said that as one of the players who was suspended in the incident, she was sorry the kids had to see that, but that sometimes tensions boil over, and people have to work to control those things. It was Thomas, who never left the bench during the episode, that spoke up then and said, “at least we stuck up for each other and protected each other.”

Which brings me to a point I’ve mentioned before on message boards: this is the closest WNBA team I’ve ever seen. They really are tight, and seem to support each other unilaterally. It’s the kind of thing where I walk away every time I go to a player event and think awww, wouldn’t it be great to have a second family like that?

Page acknowledged it during the session, saying this was the closet team she’d ever been on. The other players nodded. I hope this translates into a great second half of the WNBA season.

I asked how they decide how to hand slap each other during introductions, as I’ve noticed everyone has something different between them and each player. Page said that because of the title of Leslie’s book, “Don’t Let the Lipstick Fool You,” that she pretends to open a compact for Leslie, who then pretends to put on lipstick, and that’s their personal ritual. Page said that it naturally evolves between each player and the others on the team.

Someone asked about tatoos, which lead to Johnson and Thomas showing off all of their body art. They all had at least one tatoo, except Masciardi. Moore declined to show hers; she didn’t want to pull up her shirt.

One of the last questions was, who is the silliest? They said Bobbitt, followed by Moore who is “accidentally silly.” Overall, a good and interesting session.

The Sparks are to be commended for resurrecting the basketball camp. As a coach, though, I would have wanted more instruction if I had brought my kids. A half hour each day wasn’t enough.

It wasn’t enough for me, either. I had gone because, as a teacher and coach, I’m always trying to learn new things. I loved the session and observing, but I wish I had learned more there.