2009 WNBA Season Tip-Off Conference Call - Coaches Highlights


Bill Laimbeer
Detroit Shock

Michael Cooper
Los Angeles Sparks

Mike Thibault
Connecticut Sun

Dan Hughes
San Antonio
Silver Stars

Rick Mahorn
Detroit Shock

Q: What is the status update on Candace Parker?

MC: “Candace and the baby are doing extremely well. She has appeared at a couple of practices and she is doing wonderful. We aren’t trying to rush her back. She was doing a lot of work on the elliptical machine; we were putting up about 100-150 shots until about five days before the baby was born. She is in pretty good shape. Penny Toler did a great job filling the hole we knew would be there by bringing in Tina Thompson and Lindsay Wisdom-Hylton. We are comfortable enough now that we can withstand the big gaping hole that not having her creates. We want her to come back whenever she is ready.”

Q: How has training camp gone so far?

MC: “Training camp is going great for us. We are trying to develop chemistry. We do the individual and strategic work in the morning and scrimmage in the evening. I am very happy with the way our training camp is going. It’s a lot different than last year. With Betty (Lennox) and Tina (Thompson) here, we are a lot further ahead with our plays and play-calling. It’s easy to coach talent.”

DH: “I think our training camp has gotten progressively better. When you go against yourself, I don’t know how anyone can be happy. I have a lot of mixed emotions. We have wonderful chemistry, we’ve worked hard and we are better than we were a week ago. It’s been quite fun having more substantial players in camp and it’s more meaningful to me. It depends on the day, though, if the offense or defense is doing well.”

MT: “The biggest difference is having most of our players in camp. We’ve had to re-teach everything in camp three times in the past. So it’s been nice to start from Day One and not have to repeat it a bunch of times. Our progress has gone much faster. It’s been much smoother transition.”

Q: How do you see the Sparks lineup after Candace Parker comes back?

MC: “It’ll be a transition. We’ll be into rotations and combinations by that point so it’ll be a slow progress for her. Our offense has changed a little bit from last year. It’s going to take her some time. As I mentioned, she’s done a great job keeping herself in shape physically, but mentally will be the bigger issue for her climbing back into it.”

Q: This is for Michael Cooper: how have you prepared the team for all that Lisa Leslie will go through during her final season?

MC: “I think it’s a mental thing for her, not to be overwhelmed. It’s a great thing for her. Not every player wants to retire, but to go out like she’s going out is magnificent. We haven’t talked about it too much. We probably won’t address the situation until maybe after the first game.”

Q: For Coach Cooper: with Betty Lennox, Tina Thompson and Noelle Quinn, how does a shorter training camp affect what you’re trying to do?

MC: “It hasn’t affected us at all. I kind of like the timing. This is the first time that I’ve been with L.A. that 99 percent of our players are here. It’s been enjoyable. We’re probably about a week ahead of where we have always been in training camp at this point in time. I like the fact that we only have one exhibition game because we need to work on figuring some things out.”

Q: For Coach Mahorn: is your confidence level at the point where you think you’ll win the championship again?

RM: “We approach each season as if it’s a new season. Other teams are powered up this year like Connecticut and Atlanta, who was an expansion team and all of a sudden they are positioned to win a lot more games this year. Then you have Chicago, who is improved, and Washington. It’s going to be very difficult. You’re the king for now, but there’s always someone who’s going to knock you off the block.”

Q: What has Lisa Leslie meant for women’s basketball and the league?

MC: “I think she’s done a tremendous job with her leadership. She’s a trailblazer for young ladies to achieve fame at this level. She’s not the only one though. You’ve got the Cynthia Coopers and the Tina Thompsons that have come and played. I think she’s just a great role model. She’s letting you know that she can be a mom, a wife and a great basketball player.”

MT: “I was fortunate enough to be part of the USA Olympic Basketball experience this summer and be around her. I’ve known her mostly as an opponent, but I’ve gotten to know her over the last couple of years on a different basis. How she’s learned to balance things in her life is as important to her being a role model as is the basketball part of it. She’s been an important part of the game since she was a high school senior. She made the National Team back then, so she’s had almost every experience you can have in women’s basketball. She’s made the transition pretty smoothly into the married life and being a parent and being in the spotlight for other reasons. As Coop says, she’s a great role model for younger players.”

DH: “One of the things about Lisa that is so attractive to me is that not only has she embraced being a great player, but she’s embraced leading the WNBA. She’s embraced leading the National Team. She’s embraced leading what a women’s basketball player is. She realized she’s more than just a basketball player. She’s someone who had to be involved in other things to make things better, to make USA Basketball better, to make the WNBA better, to make what a women’s basketball player is better. That takes leadership, when you see yourself more than just a basketball player. I have a lot of respect for people who care about the totality of the game as much as they care about themselves.”

Q: Can each of you comment where you think the league is right now? Does this feel like a pivotal season, given the economic condition?

BL: “It’s brutal economic times in our neck of the woods. Tickets are difficult to sell whether a sporting event or concert. Every sports team is hunkering down. You’re seeing layoffs across the board, including football, which is the strongest league. Every sports league now is about survival. Every sports league is working a little extra harder to put revenue into their teams and sports and we’re no exception. We’re going to have to continue to be diligent and work extremely hard.”

Q: For Coaches Cooper and Laimbeer: the Detroit-Los Angeles games are going to be highly anticipated this year. Can you talk about the scheduling of those two games early on in the season?

BL: “It’s a little unfortunate that the scheduling came out back-to-back. I know the Shock-Sparks matchups are highly anticipated by not only our own fans, but a lot of WNBA fans. It comes too fast and it kind of gets lost in the shuffle. We’re a little banged up right now and we’re going to come in and just try to keep our head above water. Hopefully we can win two games or at least split them.”

MC: “What a way to start the league off. There’s a lot of matchups that people are going to anticipate this year and I think the Detroit-Los Angeles ones are special because of the altercation last year. I think our matchups with San Antonio are ones that people are really going to enjoy, as well as the Detroit-Connecticut matchups. I’m looking forward to it and what a way to test your team right off the bat.”

Q: Coach Laimbeer, can you talk about the level of competition and the level of talent in the league overall?

BL: I’ve been here a long time and every year the league gets bigger, faster and stronger. The depth right now is bursting at the team level. It’s very, very difficult for a player to make a roster right now. With the last dispersal and the great players that come into the league every year, it’s tough. Every team can win now on any given night and every team thinks they have a chance to get in the playoffs. It hasn’t always been that way. I think if you poll every team out there, they believe they can make the playoffs and that’s very dangerous for a team like us that come in as the defending champion.”