April 17, 2023
Los Angeles Sparks rookies ready to get to work
Zia Cooke, Monika Czinano see pathway to playing time
The Los Angeles Sparks accomplished their twin goals in the 2023 WNBA Draft: they managed to address the immediate present while keeping an eye on the future. They understood that 19-year-old Shaneice Swain will not report this season, and she was always going to be a future project.
But they did add a pair of rookies capable of giving them immediate help in South Carolina’s Zia Cooke and Iowa’s Monika Czinano. Cooke, in particular, was a player the Sparks brass did not anticipate being available when it their pick came up and so they felt they had no choice but to nab her.
Although the Sparks roster is guard-heavy, passing up someone of Cooke’s caliber was something they couldn’t do. Cooke is coming off her best season at South Carolina in terms of shooting efficiency. It was, in fact, her shooting numbers that stood out the most for the Sparks.
The Next, a 24/7/365 women’s basketball newsroom
The Next: A basketball newsroom brought to you by The IX. 24/7/365 women’s basketball coverage, written, edited and photographed by our young, diverse staff and dedicated to breaking news, analysis, historical deep dives and projections about the game we love.
Cooke shot 40.5 percent from the field this past season, the first time in her college career that she cracked the 40-percent mark. Her three-point shooting wasn’t bad either. She knocked them down at a 34.6 percent clip. In her four years at South Carolina, her junior year was the only year she shot less than 34 percent from distance.
It’s her shooting ability that she believes can translate right away to the WNBA, especially when it comes to opening up the rest of her game.
“This past summer going into my senior year, I really put a huge emphasis on my shot. There were some days I would just go in there and I would just do form shooting, an hour of form shooting. It’s all about repetition and it’s all about figuring out exactly what your shot is,” Cooke said during a media availability session this past week. “I’m still learning what is Zia Cooke‘s shot. I think once I get it all the way down, my shot will become automatic… Once I’m able to do that, I think it will open up my drive, my midrange and people will have to really play close up on me.”
Being able to perfect that shot is something Cooke takes pride in. It’s a product of all the time and effort spent in the gym. She knew she wanted to get her shooting efficiency up so she put in the required work. It’s type of drive and that type of mindset that she’s also hoping she can bring to the WNBA. She wants the Sparks staff to know that they have a worker.
Add Locked On Women’s Basketball to your daily routine
Here at The Next, in addition to the 24/7/365 written content our staff provides, we also host the daily Locked On Women’s Basketball podcast. Join us Monday through Saturday each week as we discuss all things WNBA, collegiate basketball, basketball history and much more. Listen wherever you find podcasts or watch on YouTube.
“I’m a gym rat, and the coaching staff will start to realize that when I get down there. I love being in the gym. I like to work on keeping myself as consistent as I can,” Cooke said. “I’m always in the gym trying to figure out different ways to perfect my three-point shot.”
Czinano brings a different sort of game to the Sparks. In today’s game when modern offenses are putting such heavy emphasis on the three-point line and shooting, she is a throwback to the days of old. She makes her living in the post with impressive footwork and limited dribbling.
“The low post, back to the basket type style is definitely kind of going out of play and people want to space out more and more,” Czinano said during a media availability session this past week. “I honestly think the position is so valuable having the presence down low. Just kind of like an old reliable type thing.”
With the absences of Stephanie Talbot and Katie Lou Samuelson, the Sparks have lost some the size they were hoping to deploy at small forward. As a result, Nneka Ogwumike and Dearica Hamby might see minutes as big small forwards. That would allow Czinano to step in and provide center minutes from the beginning of camp.
While Czinano knows her low post game can translate to the league, she’s heading to LA with an open mind, ready to do whatever is need from her.
“I’m excited to get to LA and kind of see what the coaches want from me and my game,” Czinano said. “I think throughout my entire career I’ve just kind of put my head down and done what I needed to do and that ended up turning into being low post, back to the basket play. It worked so I’m just going to keep going with that.”
Written by David Mendez-Yapkowitz
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.