Sparks bring Te'a Cooper back into the fold

"I really want my defense to speak volumes," Cooper said

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The Los Angeles Sparks made their first move of the WNBA’s free agency period this week when they announced the re-signing of guard Te’a Cooper. As a player with three years or less of experience, Cooper was considered a reserve player, meaning she was only able to negotiate with the Sparks unless they released her outright.

Cooper emerged in the bubble as a dependable bench player as a rookie, helping steady the second unit as a point guard while providing valuable minutes as a brief starter in place of injuries. She looked like a good player to have for the future, and judging by their recent move, the organization felt that way as well.

On a conference call with media Tuesday morning, Cooper reflected on her rookie season in the bubble and the challenges that came along with it. She credited her teammates with accelerating her learning curve.

"I had to learn so much so quick, and I was on a team full of vets. They all took me under their wing individually, I had different moments and experiences with each player," Cooper said. "They taught me so much, whether it was on defense or offense, tricks that they learned over the years … really just helping me learn so quickly."

The absence of Kristi Toliver, who opted out of the 2020 season, opened up some available minutes at guard, and Cooper took full advantage. She was a steadying force with the bench, helping to keep the ball moving and providing offense as needed, especially from the perimeter.

As a rookie, Cooper put up 7.0 points per game on 45.1 percent shooting from the field, 34.4 percent from three-point range, and 2.0 assists. She finished in the top 10 among rookies in both points and assists.

Cooper also credits Sparks head coach Derek Fisher and assistant coach Latricia Trammell for helping her adjust quickly to the WNBA game. They laid out what was expected of her on both ends of the floor and she was able to provide that.

"They really made me aware of what to expect and what about me that I could use as an advantage," Cooper said. "They taught me things on defense and offense, our scouting report was easy to follow. They gave me a game plan and I tried to follow it as best I could."

Last month, Trammell told The Next that Cooper was one of the players who stood out the most to her on the defensive end last season. She knew that coming from a college program coached by Kim Mulkey, Cooper was going to have to play defense as a priority.

"I think she did a great job coming in as a rookie and buying in," Trammell told The Next. "At Baylor, you're always taught to work hard on that end, and so I was really impressed with her mentality and her confidence in defending a variety of players. I think she's going to be a highlight for us moving forward."

Cooper herself has defense as one of the areas she wants to improve upon this upcoming season, and she has some pretty big goals that she's set for herself for the 2021 season.

"I really want my defense to speak volumes," Cooper said. "I would like to be on a defensive team or Defensive Player of the Year … just being consistent and being efficient, that's what I really want to work on."