The Los Angeles Sparks will tip off their season on July 25 at 12:00 p.m. against the Phoenix Mercury. The team is working to be a versatile power as they gear up for this unorthodox season.
While training for a new season, WNBA players are taking a stand against social injustices. Several WNBA players, including guard Tierra Ruffin-Pratt, will have the name Breonna Taylor on the back of their jerseys.
“Her killers have not been arrested,” Ruffin-Pratt said. “So we’re still trying to fight for justice for her and make a statement as a league that we’re still standing with her, and even though we’re not out there on the front lines, we’re still trying to make some noise here in the Wubble.”
While the Sparks reached the WNBA semifinals last season, they suffered through injuries and suspensions. A key precedence this season is to not put too much competitive stress on their core players so they can maintain good health.
The COVID-19 pandemic forced the Sparks to start their training camp with most of their roster present, while some players missed part of it due to overseas and collegiate commitments in previous seasons. This also allowed the Sparks to build chemistry amongst each other.
“I think the circumstances that have been difficult for all of us around the world has really forced us as a group … to buy [in] together and come together more often to support each other,” said head coach Derek Fisher. “I think we’ve seen that type of energy since we’ve been here together.”
With travel being a major issue in the WNBA in previous seasons, the Wubble allows players to spend more time working on their game than on commuting. This is a benefit to forward Candace Parker, who had a one-hour commute from her home to Staples Center.
“We’ll get on a bus and we’ll ride 20 minutes and we’ll be back at our apartments and we can do recovery,” Parker said. “We’re all here and the focus is basketball. There’s other things to do, but there’s not a lot of other distractions as well.”
During practices, rookie guard Te’a Cooper has been assigned to defend guard Chelsea Gray. Cooper’s defensive skills was one thing she noticed.
“She’s trying to find her voice and how to command out there on the court,” Gray said. “I think she’s on the path of doing that, understanding and learning.”
Fisher designed practices to ease the players back into their typical intensity. His desire is to keep injuries at a minimum throughout the season. They did not start doing five-on-five full-court transition drills until last week after being in the IMG Academy for two weeks.
“We practice three days full strength and then we take a day off,” said guard Seimone Augustus. “He’s been doing a great job at slowly ramping up practice to get us to where we need to be.”
Early in their stay at the Wubble, forward Nneka Ogwumike treated the Sparks and other teams to a meal catered by Chipotle. Other perks that players are getting are yoga classes, spots at the IMG Academy driving range and personalized birthday cakes for players celebrating their birthday during the season.
“I’m gonna try to get more Chipotle. That was an amazing thing that Chipotle had set up,” Ogwumike said. “We’re constantly surveying players and asking questions and a part of conversations between the league to create a more home experience.”