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|"We try to inspire and challenge them ... to practice good sportsmanship and teamwork and to have a good attitude," says Spencer of her work with the children of New Orleans.|
|Randy Belice/NBAE/Getty Images|
And though the Sparks struggled to a 10-24 record, Spencer played in all 34 games, averaged 9.6 ppg, good for third on the team, and was named to the league's All-Rookie Team.
Taking a break from her offseason, Spencer has been in New Orleans for several days participating in the WNBA's events at NBA All-Star. She spoke with WNBA.com's Adam Hirshfield about her work in the Big Easy and her hopes for the coming season.
Q. So you've been here a couple of days already and are staying through the weekend. What does it mean for you to be here in New Orleans representing the WNBA and the Los Angeles Sparks after only your first season as a pro?
A. "First of all, I've been having a blast! And I feel really privileged to be asked to come down here and to work with the community here… especially with all that they've been through after the hurricane and with rebuilding the city. It's been an honor and a blessing to be around these great NBA and WNBA legends, to get to meet new people, and to be able to give back to the community and the kids and to help them out in any way we can."
Q. What is your reaction to the dynamic of the city so far? Does it seem like the people here are still recovering from the hurricane or is it business as usual?
A. "If you look at the physical structure of the city, it's still rebuilding. And it's been a slow process. We were in the Ninth Ward on Monday, and it's amazing to see how high those waters still are. There is still a lot of destruction in that area from the storm, which was now almost two and a half years ago.
"As far as the spirit of the community, though… oh man, they are persevering, not looking back on it and coming together to make things as normal as they can be. There's a real sense of camaraderie. It's almost like a close-knit family, and it's awesome to see the city working like that. That's the kind of spirit I'm sensing here."
Q. What about the kids you've been dealing with at the WNBA Cares events? What's their reaction when they see you, a pro athlete, coming into their school with other basketball legends?
A. "Oh yeah, they've been excited! I think it's partially because they get to do something different from their normal classroom routine (laughs)! They get to go to a cool assembly and meet new people. And of course we get there, and we try to inspire and challenge them to read better, to practice good sportsmanship and teamwork and to have a good attitude. And their energy has been just unbelievable. I'm really enjoying it and I think they are too."
Q. Heading back onto the court for a moment, you were a part of Tennessee's National Championship run last year and were drafted by L.A. in the second round. So it's fair to say that you came almost out of nowhere to contend for the 2007 Rookie of the Year award. What did it mean for you to come into the pros and to overachieve right from the get-go?
A. "Just to be drafted was an honor in itself! I didn't care where I went, as long as I had the opportunity to play. My parents have always told me to make the most of every opportunity I get because you never know if you're gonna get another one.
"So it's even more exciting that I got drafted by a team like L.A. that I've been watching since the start of the WNBA. And to be on a team with a leader like Lisa Leslie, even though she wasn't on the court last year, was awesome."
Q. Looking ahead to 2008, with Lisa coming back, with Taj healthy and coming back for another run--
A. "And the No. 1 pick!"
Q. Right, whoever that might be… The point is, you guys had one of the worst records in the league last year, but now you have to be considered one of the favorites. How are you dealing with that change in perspective?
A. "I like that! I like that talk! Last year was definitely really hard. Losing as much as we did was not fun, but I feel like I gained a lot of experience that I otherwise might never have been able to get. I learned a lot. And sometimes you have to go through the valley to get to the top.
"Having Lisa and Taj back along with the No. 1 draft pick, I think we're going to have an amazing squad. Temeka will be back, too, and she'll be healthy. We have an awesome coach in Michael Cooper. He knows the kind of talent we have and he pushes us. If we can all come into camp, work hard and stay focused, I think we'll be able to do something special."
Q. Is there anything you're focusing on as a team to help you hang with the Phoenixes and San Antonios in the West this coming season?
A. "Last year, we lost something like seven games by five points or less. So I feel like all we need is that one spurt, that one extra person, one extra something to get us over that hump.
"Individually, I've been able to get back to L.A. a couple of times this offseason to train with Coach and we've worked a lot on ball-handling, staying in shape and shooting. I'm also learning some new moves. He's full of knowledge, so it's amazing to sit there and pick his brain. He can teach you something new every day.
Q. What else have you been up to since the end of the Sparks season?
A. "Well, I had to leave my Tennessee teammates right after the championship game last spring and I felt bad about that, so I went back to Knoxville for a little while after the season. Then I was home in Alabama and spent a couple of months with my family. I got to watch my five-month-old niece a lot, so that was nice. And training, obviously. But it's been really nice to be home and to see the family, because during college, I never had time to."
Q. So let's get down to it: How do you see the Sparks doing this coming season? Are you a playoff contender? Are you a title contender?
A. "Whoa, sir! I know Detroit had this motto a few years ago, but I would love to go from 'worst to first.' With the caliber of players that we have, I don't think that's unreachable. I would definitely, definitely love to make the playoffs."
Q. What about yourself? How do you see your game growing as you head into your second season as a pro?
A. "I want to contribute any way I can to help this team. I want to contribute from the outside, because we have such great post players. If I can hit from the outside, maybe they'll get more space in the paint. I want to expand the court and expand my game."