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WNBA MIKE TERRY

Figgs Made the Going Easy

June 08, 2002|MIKE TERRY

What I remember most about Ukari Figgs is how calm she was last year, no matter what the situation. Not Prozac calm, but tranquil. And it seemed a terrific trait for the point guard of the Sparks to have. They were being pushed to the title by Coach Michael Cooper, who knew how great his team could be and was not going to let it fall short of its goal.

Cooper can be relentless, and I imagine being his point guard can occasionally be thankless. But whatever the pressure, from opponents or the coaching staff, Figgs handled it. She was not the most gifted player on offense, nor was she the quickest or strongest. But whenever the Sparks needed a big basket or a steadying hand, she provided it.

As a reward, she was traded to Portland for a talented but unproven rookie just out of college. Figgs is now asked to apply her gifts to a young, skittish team that, after Monday's defeat by the Sparks in Los Angeles, has lost as many games, four, as she lost last season with the Sparks.

And yet when Figgs returned to Staples Center for the first time as an opponent, there was no sense of anger or betrayal. Just her trademark sense of calm.

"The past is the past," she said. "When something happens, there is nothing you can do to change it. But I don't need to look back and change the past. I think I have a new opportunity to do something different with a different team. Hopefully, I'll be able to do that."

The warm ovation and strong hugs she got from her former teammates reminded Figgs that she will always have a place in L.A.'s legacy. She knows the Fire is not ready to challenge her former team, at least not until Jackie Stiles returns to the lineup. Stiles has been sitting out with a case of bursitis. Figgs also knows that everyone in Portland is expecting her to be some kind of savior, although that's not her game.

She will take each challenge as it comes. At some point the Fire will be ready to receive the kind of help she can provide.

"Trying to fit in with a new team and system has been challenging because I had been running [the Sparks'] system the last three years. And as the point guard you have to know where everybody goes," Figgs said.

"Last year [the Sparks] did some things different from other teams in the league, and that's one of the reasons I think [they] were successful. There are differences in what I have to do here but, hopefully, after a month and a half I've picked up on them."

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Word is that Detroit Coach Greg Williams has a 6-foot-11 shadow looming over him. That would be Bill Laimbeer, former Detroit Piston bad boy who reportedly is talking about wanting to coach the Shock, off to an 0-5 start.

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If Laimbeer were to get a WNBA job, be it in Detroit or elsewhere, he would join Cooper and Orlando's Dee Brown as former NBA players coaching in the women's league.

Cynthia Cooper, at the helm in Phoenix, is the only former WNBA player, so far, coaching in the league. Can there be other first-generation WNBA players like her with the same ambition?

Charlotte's Dawn Staley thinks it's too soon to tell. There are still too many first-generation WNBA players who don't have playing out of their systems, she says, even though there are only 26 of the original 110 players who started with the WNBA in 1997 still in the league.

"I think that if players know [coaching] is available to them, they might try it," said Staley, who coaches Temple University's women's team during the winter. "I think Cynthia did a tremendous job, going from being one of the best in the WNBA into coaching. But the transition is really hard. I'll bet she's struggling with things that she could do and things she could see, and wondering why can't her players do it.

"It takes a great amount of patience. You have to move people to that point. And it doesn't happen overnight. You have to be aware of their progression, and a keen sense of observing things."

Don't look for Staley to seek a WNBA coaching job when she retires. She is happy at the collegiate level.

"I like college," she said. "I like helping young people fulfill their dreams, on and off the court."

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