Sunday, May 24, 2009

Michael Cooper Keeping Sparks Roster Options Open

Michael Cooper keeping Sparks' roster options open
6:57 PM, May 22, 2009

Lisa Leslie and her 22-month-old daughter, Lauren Lockwood, pose during a photo session on the Los Angeles Sparks' basketball media day in Hawthorne, Calif., Wednesday, May 20, 2009. Leslie wants to go out with a bang in the WNBA. The soon-to-be retired All-Star wants a championship and she's hoping to have teammate Candace Parker back by late June to help her make it happen. After the Sparks' first week of training camp, Sparks Coach Michael Cooper says "you're starting to see the clarity in the water a little bit more as far as the type of people we need for our ballclub this year.

"I'm changing lineups obviously to give everybody their best opportunity to show what they can do," Cooper said. "Just giving everybody their fair chance to assess that properly."

Cooper maintained he didn't have a set starting lineup, though he acknowledged the combination of Noelle Quinn, Betty Lennox, DeLisha Milton-Jones, Tina Thompson and Lisa Leslie "is a very good lineup for us." That unit often played together in Friday's practice, but players at Wednesday's media day said Cooper has fielded between five and seven different combinations.

"Obviously with Noelle at the 1 brings us that big 1 that we used to have with Nikki [Teasley] in the years we had our championship," Cooper said. "Betty is that awesome 2 guard you want to get points in transition as well as out of your set. Both of them can spread the defense. Both are good three-point shooters."

"D-Nasty (Milton-Jones), you know what she brings at the 3. Tina, we’re seeing more and more of her real value not only to the Houston Comets but to this league with being able to stretch the defense to the NBA [three-point line]. Her tenacity of getting in there and knowing how to win. Smooth [Lisa Leslie] is Smooth. It’s a unique situation to have, but again they say sometimes talent doesn’t win. It has to be brought together right. That’s the coaching’s job. That’s what we’re doing."

Forward Candace Parker, last season's most valuable player, gave birth on May 13 to a girl and will miss an undetermined part of the season. Despite the absence, the Sparks are still considered among the preseason favorites to win the WNBA championship this year, a season after falling to the San Antonio Silver Stars last year in the Western Conference finals.

Cooper's practices mostly entail drills in the morning and scrimmaging in the evening. Because of the WNBA's rule to cut roster sizes from 13 to 11, Cooper says he's waiting until June 5 before he'll decide his complete roster. Silver medalist guard Kristi Harrower hasn't been at training camp yet, as the Australian native is trying to iron out paperwork upon arrival. Sparks General Manager Penny Toler said through a spokesperson that Harrower is expected to arrive on May 28 or May 29, giving Cooper more reason to keep his options open. The regular season opens June 6 against the Detroit Shock, last year's WNBA champion.

"In making our team with the 10th or 11th person, they’re not going to impress me a lot by shooting the ball," said Cooper, who added he plans to rotate nine players each game. "We got people who can shoot the ball. We need people that can get them the basketball and then play defense. Those two attributes will help me a lot as far as determining who’s going to be that 10th or 11th pick."

Among the players competing for a backcourt position include guard Shannon Bobbitt, guard Marie Ferdinand-Harris and guard Marta Fernandez.

"I think the year overseas definitely helped Bobbitt," Cooper said. "I think sometimes you just need to play in this league. As a rookie coming out of college, you don’t understand the real significance of being a pro unless you’re playing other pros. It doesn’t help you to play sporadically here or there. So the years she spent in Turkey, it helped her. You can see the maturity that she has.

"Obviously Marie, the year she had last year, was one she would like to have back. I think the fact that shes’s in a right frame of mind. She is looking for that starting spot. So don’t be surprised to see her in the starting position."

Even though the Sparks have a very loaded frontcourt with four Olympians (including Parker when she returns), Cooper says he's been impressed with forward Lindsay Wisdom-Hylton and Ashley Paris. The Sparks selected Wisdom-Hylton (Purdue) in this year's WNBA draft with its 13th overall pick, while Paris (Oklahoma) was drafted 35th overall in the second round.

Cooper on Wisdom-Hylton: "Active rebounder, real good passer for a big, has that diversity that we like in our bigs in being able to play multiple positions. She showed she can move around to the 3. Five might be out of her realm, but against certain teams she may be able to play the 5 spot."

Cooper on Paris: "Ashley is a better ball handler than expected. She’s another one that can move out and play multiple positions. I know in college she was mainly just a 4 most of the time. But here she’s probably going to have to put in a little work at the 3. So that’s always a good thing because again the more positions you can play, the more minutes you can spend out on the court."

Stay tuned for more Sparks coverage.

--Mark Medina

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