When asked about LA Sparks assistant coach Latricia Trammell, the reaction from her players is always the same.
“Woo, that lady,” guard Kristi Toliver said, and then paused. “She is really good at what she does.”
Trammell, who signed a contact extension prior to entering her third season with the Sparks this year, does a lot. Her emphasis on defense propelled the team to the third-best defensive rating in the league in 2020, in a season that also saw former LA forward Candace Parker earn the Defensive Player of the Year Award.
The veteran coach also supports athletes on and off the court, including during last year’s unprecedented season that saw them live for almost three months in a pandemic-proof “bubble.” But for those around Trammell, it starts with her passion and optimistic outlook.
“Her energy is infectious,” guard Brittney Sykes said. “Her passion – you can’t meet somebody like that and be in their presence and not want to reciprocate it.”
Whether in person, on the phone or on social media, Trammell is a light that lifts others. And she turns what might seem impossible into something palatable.
“You ask the average kid what they like to do on the court and they’ll say they like to shoot threes – they never say play defense,” Sykes said. “But LT gets upset in practice if we go on offense for too long. She yells ‘defense’ in practice, and she makes it fun.”
Toliver said Trammell’s love for the game inspires those around her.
“(With) her spirit and her enthusiasm, she can trick anybody into playing defense hard,” Toliver said with a laugh.
After playing basketball at Seminole State and graduating from East Central University, Trammell began her coaching career at the high school level, and eventually moved up to the college ranks. She guided Oklahoma City University to back-to-back NAIA Division I titles in 2014 and 2015. But though defense is her calling card now, she had to grow into it over her 27-year career.
“As a player I was so offensive-minded that I don’t know if I even know how to play defense,” Trammell said. “When I started growing into that coaching philosophy is when things changed. In both of our national championships, it always came down to defense. It’s that old saying…..we had to get stops.”
Trammell said that ultimately, defense is one of the few things a player can control.
“That shot’s not always going to fall, but you can get stops on the defensive end to get the win,” she said. “I can teach anyone to play defense. I can make you a great defender because of passion, grit, energy, communication, being there for one another on the defensive end – that’s a team concept. When you can sell that and get a team to buy into that, you’re going to have a shot to win.”
Sykes purchased her ticket by declaring earlier this season that she was going for the defensive player of the year award. She credits Trammell for the inspiration.
“I love that we have LT for that defensive juggernaut,” Sykes said. “That’s what she is – she’s the best in the league.”
Trammell made the leap from college coaching to the WNBA in 2017, when a call from another coach lead to a meeting with San Antonio Stars coach Vickie Johnson. Trammell was hired as an assistant, and she helped coach then-rookie Nia Coffey, who plays for the Sparks now.
“It was a young team and it was good for me to come in at that point under Vickie Johnson and (general manager) Ruth Riley,” Trammell said. “It was a growth experience and a great opportunity.”
She quickly fell in love with the pro game.
“I remember sitting on the sideline for my first game thinking, ‘I have the best seat in the house, this is incredible,’” Trammell said. “Just the physicality, the speed of the game. In college when you’re doing scouting reports, you’re really focusing on the top two players, maybe the top three special players. Here you’ve got to prepare for everyone, because they’re the best players in the world.”
When the Stars moved to Las Vegas, Trammell briefly found herself out of a job, but she soon landed with LA. She said she has enjoyed working with head coach Derek Fisher.
“With the culture that coach Fisher is growing here, there actually is a lot of teaching going on, and I’ve enjoyed that with this group,” Trammell said. “We teach each time what we want defensively and offensively. Every moment of practice we’re either in film sessions or getting on the court trying to teach a skill set, and enhance it as much as we can.”
The fact that players are still students of the game has been a pleasant surprise for Trammell.
“When you think about pro athletes you think they know it all, that they are fine in their skill set and know who they are,” she said. “But even on the team of players we have, they still want to grow, they still want to be coached, they still want to be held accountable. That’s one thing that surprised me.”
“Coming in I thought we’d just build on what they already have, but it’s not like that. They want to get better.”
Trammell said this, in turn, makes her want to improve as a coach. And Fisher gives all players and coaches a voice.
“We learn from them,” she said. “Some of them have been in the league longer than we have, and we listen to them and they give their opinions and advice. Sometimes we take it and sometimes we don’t, but we respect each other’s opinion and go forth in what’s best for the betterment of the team.”
Injuries to veterans Toliver, Nneka Ogwumike and Chiney Ogwumike have made it a challenging season for the Sparks, who went into the Olympic break on a six-game losing streak. But Fisher said Trammell has helped keep the team going.
“She’s a powerful woman, and she has a passion for basketball that comes across in everything that she says and everything that she does,” he said. “Our players respond to it very well.”
Fisher said Trammell’s approach is the perfect balance between being tough and flexible.
“She’s positive and loving, but she’s also constructively critical and demanding, and holds our players accountable to the things she expects from them on the defensive end, and what we expect from them as a team,” he said.
Fisher is aware that with Trammell’s talent, she could easily find a coaching job anywhere.
“She’s been a phenomenal asset to our team. We’re lucky to have her,” he said. “People like her, you don’t come across often. We have to hang on to her as long as we can. There’s no ceiling for her. There’s only so much time that will go by before an opportunity will arise for her to have her own team, for now she’s doing a great job for us.”
LA resumes their season Sunday with Nneka Ogwumike, and possibly her sister and Toliver to follow. And as they aim to regain their winning ways, Trammell said her approach won’t change.
“Under these unique circumstances we’re in, I just try to bring the energy, the positivity, because I don’t think there’s enough of that in the world,” she said. “I think of the environment I would want to be in, and I try to shape that. I send them motivation, or anything I can think of, to help them get through anything they might be experiencing. I think that’s important.”