Sparks rookies are adjusting to physicality of play in the WNBA

The morale was low on Tuesday after a particularly intense practice at the Galen Center, with Sparks players eyes downcast amid looks of frustration as head coach Curt Miller told them they needed to do better.

With a 2-6 record and a game against the Minnesota Lynx, one of best teams in the league, on Wednesday, the feeling of urgency to improve was palpable.

“We need to work on everything,” first-year forward Cameron Brink said Tuesday. “Physicality, turnovers, the list goes on. But you know, it’s a young team and we are trying to rebuild. We are always going to work our hardest, always.”

That’s just how it is for young teams sometimes. New players bring a period of adjustment for the whole team, and the Sparks are no exception with a young squad that includes two first-round picks from this year’s draft.

Brink and fellow rookie forward Rickea Jackson are going though their own period of adjustment, particularly to the physicality of play in the league. Luckily, they have veteran players who have made the transition to professional ball a bit easier.

“It’s a very physical league,” Jackson said. “Phoenix was physical and Minnesota will be even more physical but I feel like I’ve been adjusting. I might wait a little too long sometimes because in college I would get too physical and then get a lot of fouls so learning that this is a physical league and that’s the way you’re going to get buckets, get screens, get open. Nobody cares that I’m a rookie so I just have to stay strong and be physical back.”

Sparks forward Rickea Jackson, right, chases Chicago guard Chennedy Carter, left, around a screen set by Dana Evans during a game last week.

(Charles Rex Arbogast / Associated Press)

Foul trouble has been a topic recently after rookie Caitlin Clark of the Indiana Fever was knocked to the court by the Chicago Sky’s Chennedy Carter on Saturday. For veteran Sparks forward Dearica Hamby, the incident is just another example of the league’s physicality, and that it’s not an anomaly.

“Everyone is getting fouled,” Hamby said. “I’m not saying she’s [Clark] not but you can pull up 50 clips of me getting hammered and nobody is giving me calls. … It’s a physical league. Everyone is getting beat up. Everyone is bigger, faster, stronger. The refs are letting us play a bit more. You’re not seeing as many foul calls. I’ve personally been beat up myself but you just got to play through it and move on to the next play.”

Hamby, who has had a stellar start to the season by putting up double-digit points in all five starts, has acted as mentor and role model for both newcomers. She often checks in on them as they adjust to all the changes that come with professional life.

“She’s really like a mom through and through,” said Jackson, who calls Hamby “Mama D.”

“Not everything is just basketball with her, she’s always telling me how proud she is of me, which means a lot coming from vets because they don’t have to do those things. She goes out of the way to do those things for me.”

According to Miller, Brink and Jackson have been adjusting well and that a lot of their learning comes from game minutes with such little practice time. Starting Wednesday, the Sparks will be going into a stretch of nine games in 18 days.

With experience, committing fewer turnovers and playing with more physicality, two issues that currently plague the Sparks, will come.

“Both are so talented with high ceilings,” Miller said of Brink and Jackson. “There’s an adjustment period of the speed and physicality of the game. There is more physicality than the collegiate level. Everyone’s a star so they are playing against the best players in the world. What great learning lessons for them. They are learning on the fly. … It’s baptism by fire.”


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