April 19, 2022 

‘They’re here with purpose’: Sparks training camp gets underway

No matter what, talented players will be left off this roster

LOS ANGELES — WNBA training camp got underway this past weekend and for the Los Angeles Sparks, they welcomed a few new faces into the fold.

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The Sparks still have a few veteran players who have yet to join the team due to prior commitments. Jordin Canada, Lauren Cox, Katie Lou Samuelson and Amanda Zahui B. are all overseas still while Kristi Toliver is an assistant coach with the NBA’s Dallas Mavericks who are currently in their first-round playoff series against the Utah Jazz.

But for the players who are currently present in camp, it represents a fresh start and an opportunity for new teammates to get to know one another. There are only 144 (or so) roster spots in the WNBA and the reality is the majority of these players are not going to survive the next two weeks. Despite that looming in the distance, Sparks head coach and general manager Derek Fisher has been encouraged by the attitude the players have brought so far.

“You can always tell when a person is really present, you can see it in their eyes, they know that they’re here, they want to be here, and that they’re here with purpose. To me that’s what stood out the most,” Fisher said. “They want to make the most of the opportunity. That’s not always easy when everybody’s not gonna survive these next two weeks. So to have a group that really does enjoy the process of getting to know each other and getting after it like that, that’s what stood out, that was a really positive environment.”

With four rookies as well as some returning young players, the Sparks come into training camp with one of the youngest rosters they’ve had in some time. Only Nneka Ogwumike and Toliver have more than ten years of experience in the WNBA. Out of the 20 players listed on the camp roster, only seven of them were born before 1995.

It can be tough for the younger players who don’t have guaranteed contracts, who are not guaranteed a spot in this league past training camp, to stay focused day to day. For players like Ogwumike, who is heading into her tenth year in the WNBA, she’s taken it upon herself to make sure that each player in camp, no matter what their future with the team may be, can take something away from this experience.

“I really just tried to put myself in their shoes. I know what it felt like to come into what felt like an established system with veterans that have been here, have history here for a long time,” Ogwumike said. “I just want to be a resource to them, I want to be helpful for them, especially for those who may not make the team. . .I still have to think about that, there’s a whole league of players sitting at home.”

It’s also helpful for the new players to have someone not too far removed from their situation in Te’a Cooper. Now entering her third year with the Sparks, Cooper experienced being drafted by the Phoenix Mercury during the bubble season in 2020 only to be cut without a training camp and then immediately signed by the Sparks.

Last season, she experienced the whirlwind that is the WNBA with a full training camp and players coming and going and not having the security of a guaranteed contract. She now knows what to expect and how she can help calm the nerves of the young players who may be going through the same kind of anxiety she felt.

“I thought I’d be getting cut every day. Every day I felt like something new was gonna happen, somebody else will disappear, somebody else is coming in, you just didn’t know,” Cooper said. “This year I feel like I’m more calm, I know what’s going on. I can help the rookies try to calm down. If I would have known how it was gonna go, I probably wouldn’t have been so anxious. I can help the rookies now and it’s fun being on the other side.”

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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