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Category: WNBA

Sparks General Manager Penny Toler explains Carol Ross hire

Sparks.logoAfter the Sparks missed the playoffs for the fourth time in franchise history last season, General Manager Penny Toler knew the team needed a change.

"It hurts when you underachieve, but anyone in sports knows it can happen," Toler said in a phone interview with The Times. "I felt we were really, really talented but the chemistry was bad."

She said that's part of the reason she decided to hire Carol Ross as the team's new head coach, a move the franchise announced Thursday.

"She knows how to get good players and strong personalities to play together as a team," Toler said.

Ross spent the last three years as an assistant with Atlanta, where she helped the Dream reach the finals in 2010 and 2011. As a college coach at Florida (1990-2002) and Mississippi (2003-2007), she had a combined record of 324-161.

"The thing I like the most is she's won at every level," Toler said.

The Sparks have recently experienced a lot of change at the coaching position.

Jennifer Gillom was hired in 2009 to replace Michael Cooper, who went on to coach at USC. Then, 10 games into last season, the Sparks fired Gillom and promoted assistant Joe Bryant. The team finished with a 15-19 record.

Toler said she considered rehiring Bryant, whose contract expired at the end of last season, but "decided on a different direction."

Ross is known as a defense-minded coach who can relate well to her players.

Said Toler: "I think she's going to do a great job here."

ALSO:

Sparks hire Carol Ross as new head coach

Lakers know going to Portland is a pitfall

For the Clippers, practice makes near-perfect

-- Melissa Rohlin

Carol Ross is the Sparks' new head coach

Carol-ross_350The Sparks hired Carol Ross as head coach.

Ross was an assistant with Atlanta the last three years and helped take the Dream to the WNBA Finals in 2010 and 2011.

Ross will replace Joe Bryant, who was hired last season as an assistant but took over the helm when Jennifer Gillom was fired on July 10 after the Sparks skidded to a 4-6 start. Even though Bryant was promoted, he remained on an assistant's contract, which expired at the end of the WNBA season, according to Sparks director of communications Ben Alkaly.

Alkaly said that Bryant was considered for the position of head coach again this season but the team ultimately decided to go with Ross.

Before Ross moved to the WNBA ranks, she was the head coach at Florida (1990-2002) and Mississippi (2003-2007), where she amassed a combined record of 324-161.

“It’s a pleasure to welcome Carol Ross to our Sparks basketball family,” Sparks general manager Penny Toler said in a press release.  “Carol is a proven winner with an incredible track record at both the collegiate and pro levels.  She has groomed many women for great WNBA careers.  We’re confident Carol is the ideal coach to lead the Sparks to our next Championship.”

ALSO:

GM Penny Toler explains Carol Ross hire

Lakers know going to Portland is a pitfall

For the Clippers, practice makes near-perfect

-- Melissa Rohlin

Photo: Carol Ross instructs her team during her coaching days at Mississippi. Credit: Ann Heisenfelt / Associated Press

Sparks will get top pick in WNBA draft

Sparks

The Sparks were awarded the top pick in the WNBA draft despite entering Thursday's lottery in New York with only a 10.4% chance of earning the No. 1 spot.

The Sparks were competing against three other teams for the top pick -- the Tulsa Shock, the Minnesota Lynx and the Chicago Sky -- and had the fourth-best odds.

The Shock, who were 3-31 last season, were favored to win the top pick (44.2%). They will draft fourth. The Sky (14-20) will select second and the Lynx (27-7) will choose third.

This is the second time in franchise history that the Sparks drew the top pick. The last time they had the top choice was in 2008, when they drafted Tennessee superstar Candace Parker, who went on to earn the MVP award in her rookie year.

This is an unexpected coup for the Sparks, who were 15-19 last season and missed the playoffs for the fourth time in franchise history.

The draft will be held April 16.

-- Melissa Rohlin

Photo: The Sparks prepare for an exhibition game against Seattle in May. Credit: Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times

Candace Parker expected to return to Sparks lineup Tuesday

Sparks star forward Candace Parker is expected to play Tuesday against Atlanta after being sidelined for seven weeks with a knee injury.

Parker suffered a torn lateral meniscus in her right knee during a game against New York on June 26. The injury occurred after she grabbed a defensive rebound and collided with the Liberty's Quanitra Hollingsworth while trying to dribble around the center.

Parker was averaging 17.7 points, 9.7 rebounds and 2.9 assists for the Sparks.

Without Parker, the Sparks have posted a 5-10 record.

Parker, the 2008 MVP and rookie of the year, has played in only 35 games the last two seasons due to pregnancy and injury.

The Sparks are in fifth place in the six-team Western Conference with a record of 9-13.

-- Melissa Rohlin

WNBA: Top 15 players in league history

Leslie_275 Lisa Leslie, Tina Thompson, Ticha Penicheiro and Teresa Weatherspoon were among the 15 WNBA players selected as the top players in league history by fans, sports writers, current players and coaches. Thompson and Penicheiro currently play for the Sparks, while Leslie and Weatherspoon played for the Sparks before retiring.

Penicheiro, the league's all-time leader in assists, was signed by the Sparks in 2010 after the Sacramento Monarchs folded. She currently averages 4.2 points and 3.9 assists. Thompson, the league's all-time scoring leader, has played with the Sparks since 2009. She averages 9.5 points and 3.9 rebounds.

Leslie, a three-time WNBA most valuable player, played with the Sparks from 1997-2006 and 2008-2009. She helped lead the team to championships in 2001 and 2002. Weatherspoon played for the Sparks in 2004.

The complete list follows the jump.

Continue reading »

Candace Parker voted to be a starter on All-Star team

Candace-parker_350 Sparks forward Candace Parker was voted to be a starter on the Western Conference All-Star team with 19,376 votes, making her the sixth-leading vote getter. 

Parker will most likely miss the game because of a torn lateral meniscus in her right knee that she sustained on June 26. She is expected to be sidelined for another month. 

Her replacement will by chosen by WNBA President Laurel Richie and announced next Wednesday or Thursday.The All-Star game will be played July 23 in San Antonio at 12:30 p.m. and will be broadcast nationally on ABC. 

Parker was averaging 17.7 points and 9.9 rebounds before she was injured. 

The players voted to start with Parker in the West are: Minnesota Lynx forward Maya Moore (21,379), Seattle Storm guard Sue Bird (25,077), Phoenix Mercury guard Diana Taurasi (22,406) and Storm forward Swin Cash (14,907). 

The players voted to start in the East are: Indiana Fever forward Tamika Catchings (32,706), New York Liberty guard Cappie Pondexter (20,226), Indiana guard Katie Douglas (18,598), Connecticut Sun center Tina Charles (17,205) and Atlanta Dream forward Angel McCoughtry (14,310).

The reserves, who are selected by WNBA head coaches, will be announced Tuesday during a nationally televised game between the Storm and the Chicago Sky on ESPN2. 

RELATED:

Year-round play is becoming hazardous duty for some WNBA players

Joe Bryant replaces Jennifer Gillom as Sparks coach

--Melissa Rohlin

Photo: Sparks forward Candace Parker drives past Seattle's Ashley Robinson in an exhibition game in May. Credit: Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times

Lisa Leslie on Gillom being fired, Bryant being promoted [Video]

Former Sparks star Lisa Leslie says she was not surprised by the team's recent decision to fire Coach Jennifer Gillom and promote assistant Joe Bryant

"The Sparks have always been like the Lakers," Leslie said Wednesday during a red-carpet interview at the ESPY Awards show. "Our goal is to win and when you're not winning, they usually make changes."

That Sparks announced the coaching change Sunday after the team had lost five games in a row, three of which were played without 2008 MVP Candace Parker, who is expected to miss six weeks after sustaining a torn lateral meniscus in her right knee on June 26. 

"You always have to keep in mind that when you lose a player like Candace Parker, it's tough for any coach," Leslie said. 

In his first game at the helm on Tuesday, Bryant helped lead the Sparks past the San Antonio Silver Stars, 84-74, snapping their worst losing streak since 2007. The Sparks had lost to the Silver Stars with Parker, 90-80, on June 24.

Leslie said she believes that Bryant will be a good fit with the team. 

"I think the ladies will relate to him," she said. "He's very passionate about what he wants and specific, so I think that they can only go up."

When asked if the coaching change was the right move, Leslie said she wasn't not sure.  

"I'm not in the locker room anymore," she said. "I'm not around the team enough to see."

The Sparks, who are in fifth place in the six-team Western Conference, close a seven-game road trip Friday against last-place Tulsa before returning home to Staples Center on Sunday to play Washington, which is in the cellar of the Eastern Conference. 

-- Melissa Rohlin

New Sparks Coach Joe Bryant lands his dream job, in more ways than one [Updated]

Joe-bryant_600 Joe Bryant received some good news in a phone call Sunday -- he would be promoted from assistant to head coach of the Sparks.

Then he had a nightmare.

Bryant said that in his dream, the Sparks were in triple overtime against the San Antonio Silver Stars. He was jolted awake before the game ended, and ran plays through his head into the wee hours of the morning.

"I didn't sleep," he said. "That's the difference between head coach and assistant coach."

In a whirlwind move Sunday, second-year coach Jennifer Gillom was fired and Bryant was asked to scoot over a chair on the bench.

"It was a surprise," Sparks forward DeLisha Milton-Jones said. "I was sitting there with my mouth agape."

The coaching change came after the Sparks had fallen to fifth place in the WNBA's six-team Western Conference and had lost five games in a row -- their worst skid since 2007.

This is not the first time Bryant has taken over as head coach of the Sparks after being hired as an assistant. In 2005, Henry Bibby was fired with five games remaining in the season and Bryant was asked to replace him. Bryant went 4-1, then remained as coach through the 2006 season.

"Let's just hope this trend pans out like the first time," Sparks General Manager Penny Toler said.

Continue reading »

Joe Bryant will replace Jennifer Gillom as Sparks head coach

Joe-bryant2_275 Sparks assistant coach Joe Bryant will replace Jennifer Gillom as head coach, the team announced  Sunday.

The Sparks have fallen to fifth place in the WNBA's six-team Western Conference with a record of 4-6. They have lost five games in a row.

Bryant was head coach of the Sparks from August 2005 through the 2006 season, but was replaced in 2007 by Michael Cooper. He was hired as an assistant on Gillom's staff in March.

Gillom, who was hired in 2009, coached the team last year after Cooper left to coach at USC. The Sparks went 13-21 last season and were eliminated in the first round of the playoffs.

More to come at latimes.com/sports.

ALSO:

Candace Parker has begun rehabilitating her right knee

Parker talks about her knee injury during the Sparks' game

--Melissa Rohlin

Photo: Joe Bryant. Credit: Jeff Lewis / Associated Press

Candace Parker has begun rehabilitating her right knee

Candace-parker_325 Candace Parker said Thursday evening that she is rehabilitating the torn lateral meniscus in her right knee for 2 1/2 hours every day in an attempt to reduce the swelling and regain her range of motion.

"My knee is feeling good," she said. "I'm weaning off the crutches."

Parker said her 2-year-old daughter, Lailaa, is helping her keep her spirits up by sometimes kissing her hurt knee or touching it lightly while saying "amen."

"Right after I got hurt, she made me smile," Parker said of Lailaa.

Parker injured her knee on June 26 while trying to dribble around New York's Quanitra Hollingsworth. She fell to the ground, writing in pain, and immediately feared she had torn the anterior cruciate ligament.  

An MRI exam the following day revealed the injury wasn't as severe as she anticipated. Parker is expected to be sidelined for six weeks.

"I was relieved," Parker said.

After being selected MVP and rookie of the year in 2008, Parker has played in only 35 of a possible 68 regular-season games because of pregnancy and injury. Parker said she's anxious to return to the Sparks -- who are on a four-game losing streak and have fallen to fifth place in the Western Conference with a record of 4-5 -- but said she's going to listen to her body and allow it to fully heal before pushing herself again.

"I've learned to just continue to set goals for myself," she said.

Well, that and her doctor has intervened.

"I'm not allowed to be in the gym," she said, with a laugh.

RELATED:

Sparks fall to 0-5 on the road with loss to Mercury

L.A. drops another game at Connecticut

Parker to miss six weeks with injury

--Melissa Rohlin

Photo: Sparks forward Candace Parker tries to save the ball from going out of bounds during a playoff game against Seattle in 2009. Credit: Elaine Thompson / Associated Press

WNBA: Candace Parker talks about her knee injury during the Sparks' game

Parker1 During a live phone interview with ESPN2 in the second quarter of the Sparks' game against Connecticut on Tuesday, Candace Parker sounded optimistic about her knee injury.

Parker learned Monday that she would be out for at least six weeks after suffering a torn lateral meniscus in her right knee during a game Sunday against New York.

"I'm bummed," Parker said. "But it's a good outlook compared to what it could've been."

Parker, the 2008 most valuable player and rookie of the year, played in only 35 of a possible 68 regular-season games the last two seasons because of pregnancy and injury. She played in 10 games last season after having surgery in June on a dislocated left shoulder, an injury she initially suffered her senior year at Tennessee.

Before this season began, Parker said she was looking forward to finally playing healthy for the first time in her professional career.

Then, with about six minutes remaining in the third quarter on Sunday, Parker grabbed a defensive rebound and injured her knee while trying to dribble around the Liberty's Quanitra Hollingsworth.

"Emotionally it's tough, but I have to keep things in perspective," she said. "God never gives you more than you can handle. I'm just trying to face this obstacle with the best attitude."

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