Los Angeles Sparks put culture on display in first practice

Derek Fisher: each day "will be an adjustment"

Welcome to The Next: A basketball newsroom brought to you by The IX. 24/7/365 women’s basketball coverage, written, edited and photographed by our young, diverse staff, dedicated to breaking news, analysis, historical deep dives and projections about the game we love.

Subscribe to make sure this vital work, creating a pipeline of young, diverse media professionals to write, edit and photograph the great game, continues and grows. Subscriptions include some exclusive content, but the reason for subscriptions is a simple one: making sure our writers and editors creating 24/7/365 women’s basketball coverage get paid to do it.


Los Angeles Sparks guard Brittney Sykes talks remotely with the media from IMG Academy, Bradenton, Florida, USA on July 11, 2020. Screen capture courtesy of Chris Poss

After losing both Kristi Toliver and Chiney Ogwumike due to opt-outs over health concerns, the Los Angeles Sparks currently have a full roster of 12 players and are ready to get back to work — with some key changes, of course.

This weekend marked the first time that players were able to meet with each other since arriving in Bradenton, Florida, and passing through the league's initial quarantine protocols. They must adhere to social distancing measures in practice which includes no hugs or high-fives.

Having been away from each other and away from basketball for the past few months, and even with the need to maintain social distancing in Florida, the Sparks have still been able to build team camaraderie and togetherness. It's something that head coach Derek Fisher believes will help them once the season begins.

"Taking advantage of those months when we were not physically in the same spaces, but virtual meetings...our entire organization is just closer, and in a better place than we were a year ago," Fisher said on a call with reporters. "I think that will translate on the court once we can catch up to ourselves physically and put these two things together."

The Sparks will also have the challenge of integrating the new players into the rotation. Before Toliver and Ogwumike decided to sit out, the team had four new players in Seimone Augustus, Brittney Sykes, Marie Gülich, and Kristine Anigwe. Following the opt-outs, they have Reshanda Gray and Te'a Cooper to acclimate as well.

While the new players are still trying to find their way around the team, especially with an anything other than normal training camp, the strong closeness, and unity that Fisher spoke about has already been on display. It's one of the first things that Sykes noticed while taking part in the team's first practices.

"The first thing that pops into my head is culture, this is a team of culture. We hold each other accountable in practice, if we do a rep and it's not good enough, we'll do it over and we'll end on a better rep," Sykes said on a call with reporters. "I'm having fun, bringing that personality and that energy to the team off the court. I think that's my role and I'm fitting right in."

For Gray, it's been a similar experience being around the team for the first time. This holds a little bit more significance for her as a Los Angeles native. She's finally getting the opportunity to play for her hometown team, albeit not actually being in her hometown this season.

"It's just great to be somewhere you're wanted. You feel like you can bring something and have an impact on the team," Gray said on a call with reporters. "We're really excited to be back on the court and just getting after it. I just love the fact that all our vets are just so easily approachable and willing to help us get better each and every day."

And as the days go by until the start of the season, Fisher acknowledged that everything is still going to be an adjustment. From the mental aspect to the physical aspect, it will be a work in progress. He mentioned how he'd much rather have the team go a slow and steady pace instead of feverishly working to get back in game shape.

"Definitely every day almost will be an adjustment as we learn and as the players themselves are learning where they are mentally and physically. We can't underestimate or overstate the mental drain that we've all experienced over the last few months," Fisher said. "We're better off in a game on opening weekend with all of the players out there and not in great shape than we are without them at all because we're trying to prove a point to hurry up and get in shape."