Los Angeles Sparks players discussed various topics at media day this week, including first-year coach Derek Fisher, the acquisition of Chiney Ogwumike and Alexis Jones, and the arrival of rookie Kalani Brown.
For star forward Nneka Ogwumike, Fisher is the fourth coach she’s played for in Los Angeles in her eight-year career. She said the former NBA pro’s style differs from that of Brian Agler, who left the Sparks last fall after four seasons.
“(Fisher is) very much a player’s coach, and that’s something that I have really not experienced in my career,” Ogwumike said. “He approaches a lot of what we learn in practice from a more humane perspective – not just a basketball player’s perspective. He incorporates a lot of life lessons and general ideas of life in basketball. I think that is what really is going to set us apart.”
“What I really like that he does is that he allows us as teammates and players to hold ourselves accountable. He steps in when he needs to, but he kind of gives us the reign as far as coaching each other through certain situations. I appreciate that, and I think that has always been a weakness of our team. It’s really great to see a coach that trusts in the veterans in that way. I think we do a lot of learning from each other and of each other.”
Fifteen-year veteran Alana Beard said the experience of the team, which includes longtime Sparks Candace Parker and Jantel Lavender, has made the transition to a new coach easier.
“The fortunate thing about this group is that we have a group with very high IQ individuals who come in and do their job,” Beard said. “It’s not about the expectations people have on us it’s about the expectations we have on ourselves. We hold each other and ourselves to a higher standard, so I am looking forward to this season and the new additions that we have. I am ready to see all of that come together.”
Chiney Ogwumike, drafted by the Connecticut Sun in 2014 and traded to Los Angeles earlier this month, looks forward to playing with her older sibling for the first time since both were at Stanford.
“I’m just really excited for this opportunity to reconnect with my sister and learn from my sister,” Chiney Ogwumike said. “As long as she’s been on the team I have been involved with what she does. To play with veterans that have that have talent and know what it takes to win, that’s an opportunity that I have here, which I am excited for.”
“Every day I just try to bring positivity, energy and just life and fun because it’s always been one of those things where if Nneka can’t win a championship, I hope I win a championship, and if I can’t win a championship, I hope she wins a championship. Finally, it’s like let’s just do this thing and do it together. As long as I can bring my best for every play and possession and help this team win that’s all I care about. Whoever is on the floor has a job to do, and as long as we do our jobs, I feel like we are putting ourselves in a great position to win a championship.”
Baylor center Kalani Brown, whom the Sparks took with the No. 7 pick, said the team’s veterans have been helpful to her.
“In college, I’m used to a lot of structure,” Brown said. “And the vets have taken it upon themselves to make a great example for me and show me what’s to be expected, how to practice. It’s just the little things. They’re just teaching me how to be a pro one day at a time and make sure I’m educated on the do’s and dont’s.”
Sydney Wiese, who enters her third season in the WNBA, missed the last part of the 2018 with an injury. She said she has grown from the experience.
“Part of the game you deal with injuries here and there, so I’ve been fortunate throughout my career to not have to deal with too many,” she said. “But injuries can also be blessings, and I’ve learned a lot.”
“I think the next step as a professional, because you have the basketball down, you sort of understand what you need in that regard to be successful and to set yourself up. But I personally struggled with how to take care of my body and to also make sure that I got rest and I stretched. So that really forced me to advance in that regard. So I learned a lot and I’ve had a lot of really good people working with me and making sure I was fully healed and recovered.”
The Sparks lost their first preseason game against the Phoenix Mercury, won their second over the Seattle Storm, and open the regular season May 26 in Las Vegas, where they will face the Aces.