The Sparks will open their 2005 training camp today at HealthSouth in El Segundo with a new coach, a new star and supposedly a new era. But it will take some work to equal the standards of the last era.
Two years removed from their last WNBA championship, the Sparks have had an up-close view on how quickly things unraveled for the Lakers after their three-time NBA championship run.
General Manager Penny Toler does not want a similar free fall on her watch. "It's never a rebuilding year for us," she said. "It's about winning a championship and winning now."
Among the new faces is Henry Bibby, who spent eight seasons coaching the USC men's team before being abruptly fired four games into the 2004-05 season, his ninth. Bibby's previous pro coaching experience was with men's teams in the Continental Basketball Assn. and the U.S. Basketball League. This is his first time coaching women.
"I don't have any concerns about the women's game as a whole or coaching women," Bibby said. "To me this is no different from the nine years spent in the CBA.... This is what I am accustomed to. You're always teaching what you are doing, offensively and defensively."
Not all the veteran players are expected here today. Tamecka Dixon, Tamika Whitmore, Mwadi Mabika, Laura Macchi and Raffaella Masciadri are completing their European winter seasons. Nikki Teasley is attending to a personal matter.
The most important new face among the players has arrived, though. That belongs to three-time All-Star forward Chamique Holdsclaw, who has not yet been available to media. She was brought to L.A. in a trade with the Washington Mystics for DeLisha Milton-Jones.
Holdsclaw, with scoring and rebounding numbers of 18.3 and 9.0, will join the starting lineup with Dixon, Mabika, Teasley and Lisa Leslie. Scoring has never been one of the Sparks' shortcomings, and Bibby probably won't adjust much on offense.
"The real changes have to come on defense," he said.
There will be lots of point guards in camp, including the Sparks' top draft pick, Dee-Dee Wheeler, as L.A. looks for a dependable backup for Teasley.