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Sparks will get top pick

Times Staff Writer

Fans of Los Angeles professional sports teams finally have something to cheer about.

The Sparks earned the No. 1 pick in this spring’s WNBA draft Tuesday, beating out four teams for a shot at Candace Parker of Tennessee.

“It’s even hard for us to believe,” General Manager Penny Toler said after winning the draft lottery. “Having the No. 1 pick in a deep draft is phenomenal.”

Kathy Goodman, the team’s co-owner, called it a great day for Los Angeles sports fans, who have suffered through disappointing seasons from the Lakers, Clippers, Dodgers, Kings, Galaxy and, yes, the Sparks.

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“I don’t want to make it sound too grand, but what we should end up with is two of the best players in the world,” Goodman said. “Lisa Leslie and our No. 1 draft pick.”

By a fraction, the Sparks had the best odds of winning the top pick in the lottery, owning 341 four-number combinations out of a possible 1,000.

The Chicago Sky will draft second and the Minnesota Lynx, which had a 34% chance of securing the No. 1 pick, will select third.

After watching their team labor through a 10-24 season without Leslie (who was on maternity leave) or Chamique Holdsclaw (who retired shortly after the season began), Toler and Coach Michael Cooper were in a celebratory mood Tuesday. However, they had yet to order a jersey for Parker, a 6-foot-4 junior who helped the Lady Vols to the championship last season.

“She’s a very good basketball player,” said Cooper, before quickly changing the subject to other top names expected to be in the draft.

Parker, 21, has already reached a number of milestones. She was the first woman to dunk twice in an NCAA game and the first to dunk in an NCAA tournament game.

She was the youngest player on the U.S. team that played at the 2006 FIBA World Championships, and won the John R. Wooden player-of-the-year award last season.

Parker, who redshirted her first year after undergoing knee surgery, has two years of eligibility remaining. The league’s collective bargaining agreement states that if a player is on schedule to graduate from college in the same year as the draft, then they are eligible.

Parker is on pace to graduate from Tennessee in December but has made it clear that she will return to school, much to the delight of her coach, Pat Summitt.

And, although many of the top men’s players opt for the draft before their senior year, women usually don’t, mostly because there is simply not enough money to lure top talent out of college early. The average WNBA salary is about $50,000.

Other players Cooper expects to have a quick impact on the league include Sylvia Fowles of Louisiana State, a 6-6 senior center, and Tasha Humphrey of Georgia, a physical 6-3 post player.

“We’ll be watching all those players all year long,” Cooper said. “It helps with the scouting part, because usually we’ve always been the 12th or 13th pick.”

The 2008 draft will be held in April.

dan.arritt@latimes.com


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