10.11.12 Entry

Heartbroken. Difficult to swallow. Shocked.  All of these are words that may describe what all of us in the Sparks family are still dealing with after this amazing season came to an abrupt end in game 2 of the Western Conference Finals. Of course these feelings are understandable especially with how unexpected this loss was but we can not forget to also add these words: grateful, hopeful (for next year), proud, excited, and heck even confident. If there is one thing that I have learned throughout this season and this injury is to appreciate EVERY day because tomorrow is not promised. No, this season did not end with a championship but it ended with a plethora of achievements that we all can be proud of. Our general manager, Penny Toler, knows the game of basketball.  She did an amazing job of bringing together an experienced and defensive minded coaching staff coupled with a coachable group of extremely hungry young women.  Despite injury and the seemingly constant turnover of players these ladies put together a season to be remembered.

The WNBA’s Coach of the Year, Coach Ross, brought a sense of toughness to this team.  Her system allows for her players to have a great amount of freedom. The WNBA’s Most Improved Player Kristi Toliver proved to be an excellent example.  Kristi had the best year of her four-year career under Coach Ross. The Rookie of the Year Nneka Ogwumike surely proved to excel and to show her extreme athleticism.  Nneka and her selfless attitude was a superb compliment to the (should of been MVP) Candace Parker.  Candace had a year unlike any other and displayed her maturity in a lot of the Sparks wins this season.  Just looking at those 4 pieces to the puzzle we all should be letting out a sigh of relief and getting hopeful for next season but that is not all.  There were eleven players this year that made a tremendous amount of sacrifice and contribution to this season.  With our 24-10 record the Sparks got back to the Western Conference Finals for the first time in a decade and this looks to be just the beginning for this team.  So instead of being down about the end of this year get yourself ready for next season because I KNOW it will be one that you will not want to miss!!!

Oh and don’t fret you can still get a dose of things Nae’s Way LA style because I will be continuing my rehabilitation for a couple of more months!!! Be sure to keep up with me through my website www.sharneezoll5.com and my blog there and hey who knows maybe we can meet up and talk basketball!!!

9.7.12 Entry

Three Game Losing Streak: No Problem!!

Hey Sparks fans, I know this edition of Nae’s Way reaches some fans in an uproar about our recent 3 game losing skid!! I am here to calm your nerves. Yes we lost to Tulsa (for the second time) but let’s not forget that despite Tulsa’s abysmal record they are a very good team. We turned the ball over 17 times which played into their game plan. Each team had 35 rebounds which is a statistic we should dominate especially against the Shock. And we allowed them to shoot 58% from the 3 point line. With stat lines like that it is very difficult for us to win games and let’s face it Tulsa gives us a match up problem.

The next game against the Chicago Sky was also a tough one. While they are not quite as athletic as Tulsa they are bigger inside. We played the first half pretty well but the third quarter was not the best for us. Again, three key statistics for us are the turnovers (TO’s), rebounds (rebs), and the opponents field goal percentage (FG%). We had 19 TO’s, were outrebounded by 6, and allowed the Sky to shoot 50% from the field and 44% from 3’s. With the system that Coach Ross emphasizes these numbers are not good enough for us to win.

The game against Minnesota was better than the two previous games. It looked like we went out there as if we had won the last two. (That is an important thing to note because it shows the mental toughness of the team as a whole.) Our TO’s were still high with 19, we actually did outrebound Minnesota (which is tough to do because of the size and intelligence of their frontcourt), but we allowed them to shoot 42% from the field and 39% from 3’s. This game was closer than the 88-77 score indicates. We seemed to have learned from the last two games and tried to come out better after halftime. The game really came down to missing open shots and our turnovers leading the Lynx to fast break points. The good thing we can take away from this game is that we play them again on the 20th at home. We will need EVERYONE to come out and help support our girls for this game and to leave the regular season behind with a win.

Now that we have talked about these losses we can talk about why it is not the end of the world and the upcoming game against the Washington Mystics! There is no need to get all flustered and worried about this losing streak. We have already clinched a spot in the playoffs and we are still one game ahead of San Antonio. (And if you haven’t noticed San Antonio has a pretty tough schedule to finish out with.) These games have not been our best however, we would rather have this lapse now then in the playoffs. At this point I would hope that every one is letting out a slight sigh of relief. No we never want to lose three in a row and don’t want to lose any Western Conference games but hey it happens.

First of all let me say that if I know anything about Coach Ross she is definitely not panicking. The girls had a couple of days to thoroughly prepare for the Mystics and to get some rest. All of the girls are still positive and ready to get back on the winning side. The Mystics have a record of 5-22 but that will have no bearing on the game itself. Washington has two great post players in Crystal Langhorne and Ashley Robinson. We need to be mindful of Robinson’s length on the offensive end and of Langhorne’s left hand and rebounding ability on the defensive end. The guards for the Mystics are extremely talented and athletic. Matee Ajavon is a VERY dangerous threat because of her ability to penetrate and her strength to finish. Jasmine Thomas is a taller point guard who can penetrate and kick out to shooters. Monique Currie is a strong guard who can hit from anywhere if she gets hot. In order to win this game we need to really focus on out rebounding Washington, keeping our turnovers below 15, and to not allow the Mystics to get hot from outside. Our boxing out and defensive rebounding will be the biggest key of tonight’s game in my opinion. It will allow us to take away Langhorne’s strength as well as fuel our transition game. Hopefully this helped to give us all some relief from panicking to much!! Until next time...be blessed!!!

8.30.12 Entry

Hey Sparks fans this week’s edition of Nae’s Way was for you guys. I gave you the opportunity to ask me ANYTHING that related to basketball. There were a lot of good questions but I chose to pick 5 so that I can answer them a little more thoroughly. As you know this week our ladies start a 2 week road trip so we have some time to rest up and recruit some friends for the home games when they come back!!!

Coaching Points With Nae:

1. With our next game being Tulsa what do you think we have to do to avoid another upset there?

ANSWER: Well let me start off by saying that Tulsa is a really good team despite their record. They are coming off of a big road win in Atlanta and have some confidence. I think that we obviously have to limit our turnovers (TO’s). We need to make sure that even if there are TO’s that they are dead TO’s. What I mean by a dead TO is one that makes Tulsa take the ball out of bounds and stops the play of the game. Tulsa is a very fast and aggressive team so if we have a live TO then that will enable them to start their fast break. The transition game is where they are most effective so we can not play into their hands. Also this game we will have Ebony and Nicky so that will help our rebounding. Last game in Tulsa we were outrebounded by 3 and that is NOT a good stat for us. Most of all I think we need to play our game, with confidence, and as a team. When we share the ball and play hard defensively we are an extremely tough team to beat!!

2. What are the major differences in terms of style of play between the WNBA and Euroleague?

ANSWER: Wow this a good question. There are not too many major differences because almost all of the teams in the EuroLeague have one or two WNBA players on them. I would have to say the biggest difference is the physicality allowed for the guards. In the WNBA, we don’t allow hand checking or much contact outside of the 3 point line but overseas (WHEW!) is a different story. They allow ALOT of contact from the guards especially from the European guards. I would also say the “traveling” call. Here in America most times we technically “travel” when we make a swipe move but it is so quick that it very rarely is called. Overseas however, they call it almost every time. Their footwork is a little different than ours on the perimeter and on the inside so Americans have a tough time adjusting to that.

3. I would like to know what is the typical day/week schedule of PG player like yourself. Let's take the typical season like it was in Polkowice (Poland).

ANSWER: I will give you a day from my overseas season since you are an avid follower and one of my favorite Polish fans :)! For CCC Polkowice last season we played EuroLeague games on Wednesdays and Polish League games on Saturdays. For example if both games were at home we would have 2 practices on Monday. A morning practice that would consist of weights and some shooting or team drills. Then a night practice where we would work on defenses, our offenses, run a little, free throws, and a little of the other team’s offense. I would usually watch film on the team so I could get a grasp of how they played defense, the girl I was guarding, and especially how they played pick and rolls so I could beat them ;). On Tuesday, as a team, we would have off. Almost every time I would go in and do individual shooting drills to work on form and shots I would take in the game. Tuesday night we would practice our offenses, our defense against their offense, and what they would do to us on defense. Wednesday morning we would have a shoot around in the morning and the game in the evening. Depending on the outcome of the game we would have Thursday night practice or off. If we have practice on Thursday then we would have two practices on Friday. The morning would be the same as Monday and the night the same as Tuesday. Saturday we would have a shoot around in the morning and a game in the evening/afternoon. Then Sunday would be an off day!!

4. What is your opinion on the firing of Marynell Meadors? Do you think it was due to anything that Angel did?

ANSWER: Personally I do not know of any inside information regarding that situation. I can say that I am a coach’s player and by that I mean I VERY RARELY attribute a loss to a coach. I feel like a coach can do their work to get a team prepared for a game but once that ball goes up it is between the 10 women on the floor. I understand that coaches substitute and can make adjustments but we are professionals. At this level there are not many things that we haven’t seen on that floor. With that said Atlanta has been a very good expansion program and I’m sure will continue to be competitive.

5. What is the hardest part of your physical therapy? What has been the hardest part about tearing your ACL?

ANSWER: Well to answer the second part of your question first, the hardest part is by far not playing the game that I love, the game that takes away all of my cares, and the game that I love (did I say that already!). I haven’t been away from the game this long in a very long while. Since 2008, I have spent my entire summer working out on my individual game. There is nothing better than getting into a gym and working away all of your weaknesses and stresses of the day but this year was supposed to be different. This year I came back to the team that drafted me and was ready to play my first full season in the best league in the world. TOUGH for me to take that but it is life and I WILL GET BACK to proving myself! The hardest part of my physical therapy changes everyday. It is mostly just staying even keeled mentally because there are so many up and down days. One day you feel like your knee is fine and the next day you can’t do a task that you’ve done a million times before without even thinking. So to go in there and to just clear your mind, work hard, and know that there will be a tomorrow no matter what.

Thank you for your questions. I got pretty personal in this one hope you guys like it!!! Until next week ladies and gents, be blessed and be sure to catch our Sparks on their trip!!!

8.17.12 Entry

Hey Sparks fans this week I will be showing you guys some pictures from a charity event I was able to attend. It was hosted by the New York Knicks guard Baron Davis. It was the 3rd annual Rising Stars of America Celebrity Kickball Game. I know what you all are thinking and NO of course I didn't play in the game itself but I went to show my support for the amazing cause and to represent the WNBA and the Sparks organization. Before I tell you some of the amazing celebs who were there I will tell you what this organization is about. "The Rising Stars’ mission is to utilize basketball as a means of teaching ethical and social values, and life skills through mentorship and positive role modeling to today's youth." It is very well run and has touched many children and been an integral part of their growing success. So needless to say I had an phenomenal time. As you will be able to see from some of the pictures and video we have. So not to name drop but some of the people supporting the RSOA were Laura Govan, Michael Ealy, Jessica Moore, Kyla Pratt, Matt Barnes and of course Baron Davis. This is just to name a few. So I hope you enjoy the pictures!

It's that time again Sparks fans!! The season is underway and we are close to our first home game back. Next week’s edition of Nae's Way will focus on YOUR "Coaching Point Questions". This means that you can send me a message on my Facebook fan page (Sharnee Zoll) or on twitter (@sharneezoll) with any questions you have regarding anything about the game in itself.

8.10.12 Entry

“Who run the world?? GIRLS!!” Oh Beyonce you don’t know how right you had it! While watching the London Olympic Games this week it has been difficult to overlook the astounding number of women athletes not only participating in but also winning gold medals. It has made me extremely proud as an American athlete to see my countrywomen participate with such heart and passion. From teenagers to forty something the Olympic athletes fought hard to represent themselves, their families, and our country! Since it seemed to be an overwhelming number of women winning gold this year I decided to do a little research and here is what I learned. As of August 9th, the United States have a total of forty gold medals. Of those 40, women’s sports account for 25 gold medals. Is that not amazing or what?? Well now that I have given my little fun fact, I will speak on a couple of my favorite Olympic sports to watch and then of course break down my thoughts on the USA vs. Australia semi-final game!!
First I thought the talent displayed by the US gymnastics team was nothing short of spectacular. I have always admired gymnasts because they take bravery to a new level. The way those girls fly high on uneven bars and flip on the balance beam is quite remarkable. The strength and courage that exudes from those teenage girls is amazing to me. One moment that almost made me stand an applaud was witnessing Gabby Douglas make history and win the all around final. I loved to see Gabby Douglas have the confidence to go out onto the biggest stage in the world and make a statement. She showed that color, age, or economic status means NOTHING if a person works hard and believes in their dreams.
Secondly, I LOVED watching the US women’s soccer team. You cannot speak about them without talking about heart and faith. They play every single game like it is their last game. They show exactly what it means to be a team. They communicated, they had each other’s back, they played hard for each other and most importantly they believed in one another. They did not care who scored as long as it culminated into a team win. To come back out and redeem themselves against a talented Japanese team was great. And I may be a little biased because a fellow University of Virginia alum, Becky Sauerbrunn, helped in the team’s success. WahooWa to that!! Basically, I liked watching this team because they proved that an unselfish team could also be a successful team!
Lastly, a team that has not yet won a gold medal but they are heavy favorites, the US Women’s basketball team. Prior to the Australia game they were blowing teams out but not on this day. The Australian team had a good game plan and was equipped with a chip on their shoulder. The first half the Aussies, especially Tulsa Shock’s Liz Cambage, did whatever they wanted to on offense. The USA was allowing a lot of middle penetration, which just breaks defenses down. Because of Australia’s penetration the American forwards and center were being forced to help out and this caused a match up problem. When a big man helps a guard must drop down and help her teammate. There were instances when the US wasn’t helping down or even when they were it was a guard against a forward. This helped Australia and Cambage rack up rebounds and second chance points. The second half was a completely different story however. The US guards put more pressure on the ball without allowing penetration. Also anytime Australia tried to post Cambage up the guards would dig down and help to get steals. The post defense and on ball defense was a lot better in the second half. This showed in the fact that Cambage did not score in the second half. Even with Diana Taurasi in foul trouble, the US was able to knock down shots and get some easy buckets in transition. Of course our Olympian Candace had a well-played game. I love seeing her help the guards by denying the inbounds and get some put backs. I love watching our women win and hope for their return with a gold medal but more importantly I can’t wait to see CP and our other Sparks in their gold and purple uniforms! LETS GO SPARKS!!

8.3.12 Entry

Hey Sparks fans. I am back again this week with a contest!! I went on a search to find the fan with the best "Nneka Game Winner Face". We all remember the nail biter that we played on June 3rd where Nneka hit the game winning jumper to beat the Seattle Storm. I searched and found and our winner is "Feek/ @sparks_catcher9"! She will receive two premium level game tickets for the game on August 21st against the Indiana Fever!! Here she is with her contest winning picture:

It is almost time for the season to resume so lets make sure as we are all working hard to get back onto the court that you guys are getting your voices ready to help us through this second part of the season!!!

7.27.12 Entry

Sharnee' Zoll caught up with the Sparks at the Tip-A-Spark fundraiser held at Jillian's at Universal City Walk.

7.20.12 Entry

Hey Sparkies you guys really hit me with some amazing questions! I thoroughly enjoyed you guys picking my brain. I was not able to use all of the questions but I have saved them all and through out the summer I will have the opportunity to answer them.

Just a reminder tomorrow is Tip-A-Spark at Jillian's Universal City Walk so make sure you come out and join me in some food and fun. As you guys know there are many ways to do things but only ONE Nae's Way so stay tuned!!

1. Do you think the WNBA should expand/renew their teams to other cities like Philly/Jersey/Miami/Orlando/Detroit etc. (@jaysreallife)

Hey Jay! I do wish that the WNBA would expand their list of cities. In an ideal world we would probably have WNBA teams in the same cities as the NBA but unfortunately money doesn't allow that to happen. I do think that the league is trying to step up it's marketing and the fans are doing well in supporting their teams. With that said before we can expand I think we need to fill more seats in the arenas that we do have and be able to get more games on national TV.

2. Who is considered the biggest clown on the team? (@musicluv83)

If I were to vote I would say there are co-clowns lol. I think that Ebony Hoffman and Delisha Milton-Jones share this award. I like to think of them as a dynamic duo similar to Tom and Jerry. They are always going at each other but with loads of love propelling them.

3. Which team do the Sparks consider to be their biggest rivavls? (@hoopism)

In all honesty I believe rivalries are more for the fans than for the players but if I had to choose I think that it is Seattle. It is always a physical and emotional game when we play them.

4. What are the Sparks doing during the Olympic break? Free? Organized practice? (@YoCat)

Coach Ross allowed the girls to have a little time off but we will be resuming with practices shortly.

5. A) What has been your most memorable basketball moment? (Tony Zoll)

Hey Dad lol! This is an extremely tough question because I have so many memories but my number 1 has to be when I broke Dawn Staley's ACC assist record. She is my idol and I set a goal before entering UVA to break this record so it was very fulfilling for me!

B) You appear to be flexible in terms of change. How are you able to adapt so quickly or easily to change? (Cheryl Zoll)

Hey Mom! Well in terms of adapting to different environments I get that from you being in the military and us moving around quite a bit. But for other things I think it is because of my light hearted personality. I don't take many things too seriously so that allows me to move freely throughout life.

6. What advice would you give kids aspiring to make it to the pros? (Devlen Polite)

First and foremost I would say that in order to succeed in ANYTHING school is the key. Your education is the most important aspect of life because sport doesn't last forever. Secondly, I would tell them that to make it to be a professional you have to be willing to sacrifice good things to get great things. This means you will have to miss parties and dances to be in the gym working harder than your competition. You have to believe in your heart you will make it and work harder than everyone else until you do!

7. What changes, if any, have you noticed in Candace Parker's game that have allowed her to become the odds-on favorite to win her second WNBA MVP award?

This is a tough one. We all know that this season is different because Candace is healthy. With her being healthy she is able to really showcase what she can do. I still don't think that she has shown ALL that she has and that is the scary part! The one thing that I can see that is different from years past is her touches on the block. She is an obvious tough guard down low because of her height and versatility and she is taking advantage of those mismatches.

8. What are five skills/characteristics that all true PG's should have/embody?

GREAT question! I will break these up into two separate answers. The skills I would say are court vision, exceptional ball handling, quick hands, great conditioning and 1 on 1 moves. The characteristics (I could go for days about these lol) are great communication (with teammates and coaches), mental toughness, a high basketball IQ, even keeled attitude and leadership.

9. With the high number of scoring PGs in the women's game these days, do you take pride in being one of the few pass-first PG? Do you believe that a pass-first PG can lead a team to the WNBA championship?

ABSOLUTELY! I think in the men's and women's game pass first PG's are few and far between. Honestly I think we are a dying breed. I do think a pass first PG WILL lead their team to a WNBA championship. I believe that in 2013 (God willing) we may see. #WeAreSparks :)!

10. When your playing days are over (hopefully that's a long, long time from now), would you consider being a women's basketball analyst for, say, ESPN?

I have always dreamed of being a women's collegiate head coach but with this injury I found that I enjoy doing interviews and analyzing the game. That may just be an option!

11. Can you tell us more about Coach Ross's system (defense or offense--your choice)?

Coach Ross' system is not very complex and I mean that with the greatest sense of respect and appreciation. On offense and defense she preaches hard work, communication, trust, and play making. She does not put tons of pressure on you in terms of statistical numbers which is a good thing. In terms of defense she wants you to pressure hard and help harder. You have to trust that with your pressure your teammate will have a steal or that if you get beat your teammate will help. Either way you pressure and someone will have your back. In terms of offense she wants our defense to create our offense. If that doesn't happen then she wants us to penetrate, pitch, and take the open shot!

12. What are the strengths and weaknesses in your game (and how have you worked to make the weaknesses into strengths)?

My main "weakness" is my outside shot. This is a two parter because there are times when it is a weakness because I don't look for my shot enough and times when I'm not confident enough in it. What I have done to turn this into a strength is I have worked tirelessly for the last 3 summers with a shooting coach (Bill Burr of Pushin The Limit in NJ). I have changed the mechanics of my shot to make it more effortless. Subsequently all of that hard work has given me more confidence in my shot and it has taken my game to a different level.

My strengths are my leadership, mental toughness, and my passing ability. I have always been a leader and have been able to pass the ball but also these last three years I have worked on being more mentally tough.

13. Will the Sparks look to pick up another guard before the season resumes? (@MargoLTL)

I am not sure about this. I would think they would try and get some more help in the back court but I can not be positive about that.

14. You prefer to be playing (& we do as well) but do you think being sidelined & watching the players tendencies could be a blessing in disguise for when you do come back next season? (@jovanybz)

For me this is the toughest thing to be sitting on the sidelines. I think this is helping me in terms of seeing styles of play and learning the Sparks system but I have been waiting and watching for 4 years for this opportunity so no I don't think it helps any. Obviously this was in God's plan for me so I am pushing through with hard work and a smile!

15. How did you feel when you tore your ACL? Has the WNBA always been a dream? (@Trelly91)

I felt extremely devastated and disappointed. Initially I didn't think it was fair. I know the hard work I have put in and was more than ready to test myself against some of the best women in the world. But this has happened and with much prayer and support from friends, family, and fans I am ready to again get to the point where I can prove myself. Yes, since the WNBA first began and Penny Toler hit that first shot I have dreamed of playing in the WNBA.

7.13.12 Entry

Hey Sparks fans!! Most of you guys know me but for those of you who don't I am Sharnee' Zoll! I came here intent to be the point guard for us but in an unfortunate accident I tore my ACL! Don't worry though I am still here and ready to share some amazing things with you guys! Throughout the summer the Sparks and I will be sponsoring a variety of MVP and fan events and even more behind the scenes look at the Sparks team. No, not your typical scripted behind the scenes look but the real no holds barred team!

Now I can't reveal all of my little secrets that I have in store for you but rest assured that you will see some of your favorite Sparks in a new light through the videos I'll show. You will gain insight into the game when I hold Q & A's on coaching points via my Twitter account (@sharneezoll). You will get to spend some time with me in rehab and get to see what really goes on in therapy. Our goal of this website is to allow the fans and the Sparks to be just a bit more connected. This however will be a two way street. We will play hard and work hard but your support is going to make it that much better!!

Before I end our first blog I would like to talk a little about the season thus far. We began the season off very well. Prior to the first game we were hit with the unfortunate injury bug with myself and Nicky Anosike being out but the ladies fought through. Coach Ross preached hard work and teamwork and that is exactly what the ladies put on the floor. It was not always pretty but we put ourselves in positions to win and believed in each other. With the lack of practice, strenuous travel schedule, and only nine players, our defense and transition offense took a hit. We got on a small losing skid. However once we were able to get into the gym it allowed Coach Ross some time to fix some of those fundamental mistakes we were making. Once the girls were able to get some rest and some much needed practice time we see that we rolled to a 5 game win streak going into the Olympic break! Now with that said the girls will get some time off but not you and I! No days off from rehab for me and none from the Sparks Nation either!! Until next time be blessed and remember #WeAreSparks!