Training camp for the Los Angeles Sparks is in full go mode. The Sparks began holding their practices at the Academy USA center in Glendale, just a couple of weeks ahead of the WNBA celebrating its 25th season.
With the regular season set to start on May 14, the Sparks will open their season against the Dallas Wings at the Los Angeles Convention Center. Los Angeles will look to integrate a plethora of new young players onto the roster as three incoming rookies and several free-agent signings join the squad for their first season in purple and gold.
For general manager and head coach Derek Fisher, this integration of new players is something that he hopes can bring some competition among the athletes as training camp continues.
“You definitely can see that competition at these multiple positions where we have 3-4 players competing for that starting spot, “Fisher said. “We drafted certain players this year with that in mind, to make these players compete against one another and bring out the best in each other.”
With highly touted rookies including two first round picks, Jasmine Walker and Stephanie Watts joining the mix, alongside second round pick and steal of the draft Arella Guirantes, the Sparks will look to blend in this group of young players together with their savvy veterans in hopes of adding a fourth WNBA banner to the rafters in Staples Center.
“Arella Guirantes is a player with lottery talent who was one of the best players in college basketball this year,” Fisher said following the draft. “We’re excited to add her to our roster and know the potential she has as a two-way perimeter threat.”
Joining the rookies as newcomers to the team are a handful of players who signed with the team in the offseason. Nia Coffey, Erica Wheeler, Amanda Zahui B., and Bria Holmes will all now call Los Angeles home for the upcoming season. With nearly half of the roster joining the team for their first season under head coach Fisher, the general manager felt that this offseason was critical in making the team better.
During a pre-season press conference in March, Fisher spoke on how each player that was signed during the off-season understood the role they would be stepping into once they joined the team.
“In terms of how it ends up looking, we’re intentional in creating an environment in training camp where everybody is going to have to compete for everything,” Fisher said. “What’s great about this group and what has been great about this free agency process is every player we’ve spoken to that wants to be a part of what we’re doing understands what we’re trying to create and are coming in trying to compete.”
Nneka Ogwumike, Chiney Ogwumike, and Sydney Wiese are the only three Sparks players to have been on the team two seasons ago. When it comes down to chemistry and cohesiveness, this training camp for both Fisher and his players, is going to have an impact on the team-good or in a negative sense.
As they learn to gel as a group, Fisher has noticed the ice already being broken during practices as veterans such as Kristi Toliver have been using her approach and leadership to mentor the younger players.
“Kristi isn’t as much of a talker,” Fisher said. “But the way she approaches what she does, it speaks very loudly. She’s like a machine and she’s very intentional about every move she makes, the way she shoots it, how she comes off a screen, all of those things are communicating to her teammates how we should look.”
Toliver previously played with the Sparks from 2010-2016, before returning to the team this season after opting out of the bubble last year. Toliver herself is looking forward to her return on the court and is eager to play alongside her new teammates, even those that she did not necessarily anticipate playing with before the team’s training camp started.
“I mean obviously new faces that I wasn’t necessarily anticipating playing with, but I’m extremely thankful that I am,” Toliver said. “You know, great personalities, great work ethic. They know how to play the game and they want to continue to get better. Being in a similar position as myself, I think throughout the course of the season we will continue to elevate each other’s game and we’ll make one another better.”
Toliver isn’t the only eager veteran to return to the court. Former MVP and current WNBA President Nneka Ogwumike spoke about her return to the team during her re-signing press conference last month.
“I’ve been working out heavily this off-season. I don’t want to say intensely but I think everybody needed rest after last year not just from the bubble but just last year overall,” Ogwumike said. “I took full advantage of that and I feel really good now. I’ve been working with a strength coach that I’ve had since college and she keeps me on my toes, as well as a team of people that really cater to my physical needs.”
As the season approaches, the Sparks announced that fans will be able allowed to attend home games starting June 3 which will be the team’s second home game of the season. The first half of the team’s home games will be played at the Los Angeles Convention Center before they move over next door to Staples Center.
The team’s first game at Staples Center will be following their return from the Olympic break, with that game slated for August 15 against the Indiana Fever. The final home game at the Convention Center will take place on July 11 against the Minnesota Lynx before the break occurs.
The 32-game season will stretch into the middle of September, with players receiving a break when the Olympics start in mid-July. For the Sparks, their first live-action against another opponent will take place against the Las Vegas Aces on May 2 in Las Vegas, as the two teams will face each other in a back-to-back set before the regular season kicks off.
Featured Image: Los Angeles Sparks PracticeBRADENTON, FL – JULY 22: Derek Fisher of the Los Angeles Sparks during practice on July 22, 2020, at IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida. Copyright 2020 NBAE (Photo by NedDishman/NBAE via Getty Images)
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