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Sparks open training camp with new coach in Derek Fisher and new bonds to forge

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Coach Derek Fisher and the Sparks gathered Sunday at L.A. Southwest College to open training camp.
(Steve Galluzzo / For The Times)

The Sparks opened training camp Sunday afternoon at L.A. Southwest College and new head coach Derek Fisher liked the energy and enthusiasm his players brought to the court.

“Today was really just about starting to build relationships, making connections and getting to know each other as a group, so I think we accomplished that first and foremost,” said Fisher, 44, who won five NBA championships as a guard with the Lakers, the last in 2010. “The energy was great. We’re a veteran group and they’re serious about their jobs, so we don’t have to get them fired up very much, they already know what they want to do.”

Fisher, who was hired in early December, is the 12th head coach in team history. He replaced Brian Agler, who resigned in early November after four seasons. Agler led the Sparks to the WNBA title in 2016.

“The thing we have to remember most is that even those who are already great at what they do never stop working hard to get better, it’s an ongoing journey,” Fisher added. “On paper it appears we’re supposed to do something, but it’s about coming in here every day like we have something to prove every time we step on the court. These are smart, high-IQ basketball players. Many of them have won championships before and I’m excited that we have an opportunity to be really good, but we’re going to have to work hard.”

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The Sparks’ roster is headlined by former MVPs Candace Parker and Nneka Ogwumike, All-Stars Chelsea Gray, Alana Beard and Chiney Ogwumike, who joins her older sister after being acquired in a trade with the Connecticut Sun, and 2019 draftees Kalani Brown (Baylor) and Marina Mabrey (Notre Dame).

“The ultimate goal is to always strive to be better than you were yesterday and so there’s not really a final destination,” Fisher said. “For this group, we’re not going to be fixated on a championship or a trophy, with this group it’s about focusing on being as great as you can possibly be. We have to have a common vision and this is our first day working together … it’s going to be a process. I have to earn their respect and show that I’m capable of doing the job.”

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Rounding out the training camp roster are guards Alexis Jones, Gabby Green, Karlie Samuelson, Sydney Wiese, Loryn Goodwin and Tierra Ruffin-Pratt, forward Ashley Walker, forward-centers Maria Vadeeva and Jantel Lavender, and center Rachel Hollivay. Gray, Vadeeva and Lavender will join the squad after overseas commitments.

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Parker, an 11-year veteran who in 2008 became the first player in league history to be named rookie of the year and most valuable player in the same season, is a five-time All-Star and two-time Olympic gold medal winner. She is excited to make another run at the title.

“It feels great, we have a new coaching staff, a lot of new players, a lot of new faces, it’s like the first day of school — you lay out your clothes and you come to training camp ready to get better,” Parker said. “The goal for all 12 teams is to win a championship but Rome wasn’t built in a day. Coach made the comparison about how Beyonce at Coachella prepared eight months for two hours and that’s what we’re doing … preparing for that moment to shine in October.”

Nneka Ogwumike is happy to have her younger sister on the team and they have a chance to achieve their childhood goals together. She doesn’t think it will take any time for them to develop the chemistry they had at Stanford.

“We played on the highest stage at the collegiate level and now for us to be able to do it at the professional level is not only special but historic,” Nneka Ogwumike said. “It would be awesome for her to also get her own championship, especially here with the Sparks.

“Now we don’t have to root for two different teams trying to go for a championship, now we can all keep it in the family. That’s the legacy we’ve always wanted to leave. We’re going to pick up where we left off and I’m also going to build on the chemistry I have with C.P. (Parker). It’s going to be hard to stop.”

The season tips off May 26 in Las Vegas against the Aces. The Sparks’ home opener is May 31 against the Sun.


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