The Los Angeles Sparks will have their home opener on May 31 at 7:30P.M. as they battle the Connecticut Sun at the Staples Center. While the core of the team has been constant for several seasons, the team underwent several changes in the offseason.
“We’ll be able to do what is best for the team and that’s really what every decision will kinda be based on,” said Sparks head coach Derek Fisher. “The great part about the women on this roster is that they’re committed to that.”
One of their biggest moves was the acquiring of former Connecticut Sun star and sports analyst Chiney Ogwumike. The 2014 Rookie of the Year brings to the Sparks 14.1 points and 7.5 rebounds per game; she dished out 12 points and five rebounds in their preseason win against the Seattle Storm.
“She’s dynamic in her own right. Her and Nneka Ogwumike are the only siblings besides Eli and Peyton Manning that go No. 1,” said Sparks vice president and general manager Penny Toler. “I think she’s gonna be a great addition to the team.”
WNBA champion Alexis Jones and former Washington Mystics standout Tierra Ruffin-Pratt will also be competing for Los Angeles this year. Jones was a rookie when the Minnesota Lynx bested the league with a 27-7 overall record, defeating the Sparks in the WNBA Finals. Jones played in five post season games that year.
Ruffin-Pratt helped carry the Washington Mystics to the Finals last season, making a collective 16 points and five steals against the Seattle Storm in the title series. Reigning Defensive Player of the Year Alana Beard contacted Ruffin-Pratt while she was playing for the Maccabi Ramat Hen in Israel to convince her to play in L.A.
“Alana Beard is one of my idols. I watch her game; I try to emulate her game and play like her as a defensive player,” Ruffin-Pratt said. “I was kinda like shocked just hearing from her.”
Forward Ashley Walker returned to the WNBA after five seasons. She came from a dominant performance overseas with 16.4 points and 8.3 rebounds per game in the Turkish League.
As Los Angeles welcomes new talent, they part ways with key contributors. Essence Carson now plays for the Phoenix Mercury, Odyssey Sims was traded to the Lynx and former Sixth Woman of the Year Jantel Lavender was sent to the Chicago Sky. Both Carson and Lavender were instrumental to the Sparks championship-winning season in 2016.
For the first time in a number of seasons, the majority of the roster has been in attendance for training camp, allowing the players to become familiar with Fisher. The Sparks players noted him being welcoming and open-minded.
“He’s very much a player’s coach and that’s something that I have really not experienced in my career,” said forward Nneka Ogwumike. “He approaches a lot of what we learn in practice from a more humane perspective, not just a basketball player’s perspective.”
The Sparks went 1-1 in the preseason, losing to the Phoenix Mercury and defeating the Storm at Pasadena City College. WNBA icon Candace Parker sustained a hamstring injury during the Mercury game and is predicted to return in 2-4 weeks. Rookie Marina Mabrey contributed 11 points against the Mercury along with nine points and five assists against the Storm.
The Sparks starts their season with an away game against the Las Vegas Aces on May 26, at 5:00P.M. and can be watched on Twitter.