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Brittney Sykes looks to expand her role and game with Sparks

Sparks guard Brittney Sykes, left, blocks a shot by Mercury center Brittney Griner on July 25, 2020.
Sparks guard Brittney Sykes, left, blocks a shot by Mercury center Brittney Griner last season.
(Phelan M. Ebenhack / Associated Press)

As power shifted in the WNBA with a series of blockbuster free-agency moves in early February, Brittney Sykes stayed quiet. It wasn’t that the Sparks’ restricted free-agent guard was deliberating her decision, though.

She knew she would stay with the Sparks.

“I’m very big on stability,” Sykes said Tuesday on a videoconference after re-signing with the team Monday. “I’m very big on seeing how something plays out, especially if there is the potential for growth. … I just felt that coming from Atlanta, going to L.A., that was a blessing. And now being with them for a year, and under the circumstances that we had to be with each other, now I get a chance to build and grow with them.”

During her first three seasons in the WNBA, Sykes dreaded playing against the Sparks while with the Dream. It was so difficult to get into the paint against their length and athleticism. They pushed the pace on offense.

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Now Sykes is happy to keep tormenting other teams in the Sparks’ system.

In her first season with the Sparks, the former Syracuse guard averaged 10.1 points and 2.6 rebounds in 2020 and started the last 15 games. After blocking a shot by 6-foot-9 Brittney Griner in the season opener, the 5-foot-9 Sykes quickly established herself as one of the team’s top perimeter defenders and was voted to the league’s All-Defensive second team with a career-high 1.5 steals per game.

“I get energy, I get fuel from defending and getting stops and doing things that can ultimately lead us to a win,” Sykes said. “That’s a huge, huge shoutout to Coach LT [Latricia Trammell]. I don’t know how to explain it. She just ignited that fire in me to want to be a defender just because of how passionate I see her on defense.”

With defense as her anchor, Sykes is looking to expand her game on offense. Through four seasons in the WNBA, her basketball IQ has grown and she is learning to operate in the Sparks’ system instead of just focusing on getting the type of shots she wants. Sykes had a career-high 105.6 offensive rating last year, while her effective field goal percentage (54%) and true shooting percentage (59.8%) soared past her previous highs of 45.8% and 50.3%, respectively.

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With a re-tooled backcourt of Erica Wheeler and Kristi Toliver, Sykes sees an offense that can push the pace and her numbers even further.

“Those type of players that Kristi and Erica are, I can get up and down the floor and they can just throw a 94-foot pass with ease,” Sykes said.

Wheeler, who signed last week as a free agent from the Indiana Fever, will replace three-time All-Star Chelsea Gray, who jumped to the Las Vegas Aces. With the additional departure of superstar Candace Parker, the team Sykes will rejoin this season lacks much of the star power it had when she arrived in a trade last year.

Erica Wheeler, the 2019 All-Star point guard, is introduced by the Sparks and, despite roster changes, thinks the team has the potential for another crown.

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The shifting personnel doesn’t shake Sykes’ dedication to the team.

“I’m just gonna stay ready so I don’t have to get ready,” Sykes said. “Whatever my role intends to be this year, then so be it, whether people are there or people aren’t there, I just plan on staying ready, and being ready to do whatever I need to do to help my team.”


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