April 27, 2021 

Sparks open training camp with roster battles ahead

After the draft, the Sparks cut veteran wing Tierra Ruffin-Pratt, one of the team's best defensive players

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Training camp got underway for the Los Angeles Sparks this week and there appears to be some competition for roster spots heading into the regular season next month.

Before the WNBA draft and after the free-agent signing period, the Sparks had 14 players on their roster, two above the league maximum for the start of the regular season. That also included third-year center Maria Vadeeva who is not expected to join the team until later in the season after finishing overseas commitments.

Teams are allowed to carry 15 players into training camp, and with Vadeeva not arriving until sometime in the summer, the Sparks essentially would be allowed to bring a 16th player to camp.

In the weeks leading up to the draft, the Sparks had four picks at No. 10, No. 22, No. 28, and No. 34. Sparks’ general manager and head coach Derek Fisher had surmised that the players selected at No. 10 and No. 22 would essentially be competing for the final spot in training camp.

A couple of things have happened since then. First, the Sparks pulled off a trade with the Dallas Wings for the No. 7 overall pick. Second, on the draft night, they had Arella Guirantes, widely considered a lottery talent, fall into their laps at No. 22.

After the draft, the Sparks cut veteran wing Tierra Ruffin-Pratt, one of the team’s best defensive players, opening up a potential roster spot beyond training camp. There was already going to be a placeholder spot available until Vadeeva’s return, but now there appears to be another roster spot for the taking to get the roster up to 12 players by the start of the season.

It would seem then that each of the Sparks’ three rookies: Jasmine Walker, Stephanie Watts, and Guirantes would all have a shot at earning one of the last two roster spots. They’ll be joined by camp invitees Nia Coffey and Bria Holmes, two veterans who will also be eyeing a coveted roster spot.

After the draft, Fisher addressed reporters and spoke about what he envisioned the atmosphere at camp to be like.

“We just feel like we put a nice group together and when we start training camp, it is going to be highly competitive,” Fisher said. “One thing we know for sure, that we can guarantee, is that everyone that comes here and reports to camp…is going to have the opportunity and the responsibility to make the most out of the chance they get to be a part of this team.”

Looking at the roster hopefuls, one of Watts’ strengths is an area of need for the team, consistent outside shooting. She finished her college career second all-time at North Carolina in three-point shots.

Before the draft, Watts wasn’t projected to be a first-round pick, but the Sparks had followed her closely and felt confident enough to make her a top selection. In a call with media following the draft, Watts mentioned that she was always confident that she would be a top pick after returning from injuries.

“This is something that I’ve expected. A lot of people don’t believe in me, but I know my capabilities. I know what I can do on the basketball court,” Watts said. “I like when people sleep on me because I know me and I know what I can do. This is something that I knew I was capable of.”

Walker, another rookie, and roster hopeful has an intriguing skill-set that the Sparks might not be able to pass up, at least for the time being. She’s a versatile forward who can play inside, she had 21 career double-doubles at Alabama, and she can step out and shoot from three-point range.

On a call with media after the draft, Walker assured everyone that she was going to come ready to fight to earn a roster spot.

“My whole life I’ve been on teams that have been the underdog and I’ve always been the head of the snake. I’m used to a challenge and I’m used to having to work 10 times as hard as anybody else,” Walker said. “That’s always been my mindset, I’ve never backed down from a challenge. Challenges are what uplift me with anything…I always say challenges are what I go for.”

But the one roster hopeful who is very intriguing is Guirantes. She was widely projected to be a top 3-5 pick before her unexpected slide into the second round. She’s a very explosive wing scorer and a strong defensive player as well. She also has the added motivation of proving she was worthy of being a top pick.

On a call with media after the draft, Guirantes confirmed that she was going to use this as fuel coming into camp.

“If I did need any more motivation, that was it. Definitely poked the nice little bear. It’s like where you don’t get picked at the park and you’re the last pick and you know you can play, and you’re waiting on somebody to take a chance,” Guirantes said. “Eleven other teams missed out, that’s fine.”

The Sparks will open the regular season on May 14 at home against the Dallas Wings.

David has been with The Next team since the High Post Hoops days when he joined the staff in 2018. He is based in Los Angeles and covers the LA Sparks, Pac-12 Conference, Big West Conference and some high school as well.

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