The Two-Time WNBA Title-Winning Coach Sits on Top of the Draft

Sparks coach Michael Cooper
Delighted to be Drafting No. 1

Whether it was chance, luck or the odds finally holding true, the ping pong balls bounced the Sparks' way at the 2008 WNBA Draft Lottery. With a 34.1 percent chance coming in, Los Angeles won the No. 1 pick and now sits in the pole position to take the top player available.'s Adam Hirshfield spoke with Sparks coach Michael Cooper after L.A.'s big day to discuss his fears heading into the event, his roster plans for the offseason and who he's considering at No. 1.

Q. Congratulations, Coach! You had the best chance of winning the top pick in the Draft, but in five of the six lotteries before this one, the team with the best chance has not won the top pick. What was going through your mind as you heard the draft order announced?

A. "That exact scenario! The last couple of years, the team with the worst record hasn't gotten No. 1, so we were worried about that. But it's a great day here for L.A. fans and L.A. basketball and for the WNBA. We're happy and excited, but we also have our work cut out for us because there are a bunch of talented prospects out there… and we'll be watching every one of them."

Q. Do you have any definitive plans for the pick at this point? Or are you going to get out there and scout the top talent in the college ranks?

A. "I'm going out to scout. But having the top pick definitely cuts down the number of people you have to watch and consider. We haven't had the luxury of such a high pick in a while… you know, after winning championships you pick lower in the first round. And in those situations, your scouting had to be a lot broader because you never knew who would be picked ahead of you. You had to go out and watch a lot of the prospects out there. We're still going to scout a lot because we still have those second- and third-round picks, but being No. 1 in the first round cuts down on the first-rounders we have to consider.

"Tennessee, LSU, Georgia, Stanford… Parker (if she comes out), Fowles, Humphrey and Wiggins… those are the players we'll home in on. But right now, I couldn't tell you who we're going to pick.

"We'll definitely go with the player we feel fits best on our team. Things will be very different next year with Smooth (Lisa Leslie) coming back, a healthy and improved Temeka Johnson and a healthier Taj after her offseason surgery. We need to pick the player who fits in well with all of them."

Q. Is there a position you're specifically looking to improve on in the Draft?

A. "You can never have enough bigs. And possibly the top three players in the Draft -- Humphrey, Fowles and Parker -- are some big people who can get it done.

"Another thing to consider is that Smooth probably has only another two or three years left in her, so hopefully the player we bring in can add another year or two to her career. But eventually she's going to retire and we're going to have to turn this team over to someone we can build around. That kind of thinking narrows us down even more."

Q. In terms of on-court skills, what do you feel like the Sparks need to improve on as a team heading into 2008?

A. "I thought our defense was hurting a lot this season. I never felt like we did a poor job out on the court, but we lost 14 games by 10 points or less. And that can be blamed on both defense and rebounding. We need to clear things up in both cases. We got out-rebounded a lot and that will be something that we can address by taking one of these top players."

Q. Will your free agent plans be affected by this No. 1 pick? Knowing you'll have your pick of the top college players, might that change who you try to go out and sign?

A. "For sure. We're going to consider our moves from every angle. We're fortunate enough to be in a position where we can do some things in free agency. We have a lot to assess in the coming weeks and it's nice to finally have this part of the process out of the way. Now we know what we have to get done in the next month or so, and we've already started doing our homework. Penny Toler and I are in here every day talking, looking at players and analyzing who will fit. Then we'll get with our owners and decide the best route to take. But yeah, having the first pick will affect who we look at in free agency. But it's also fair to say that free agency will affect who we take with this first pick."

Q. How would you sum up this whole lottery experience? Obviously there's a lot of chance and luck in getting the top pick, but do you feel like landing No. 1 can bring the Sparks back to where you were when you won those two WNBA titles?

A. "For sure! It's definitely going to bring us back. But we never felt like everything hinged on getting the No. 1 pick. We always knew we'll be able to do something in free agency. When you go that route, you're bringing in veterans who have been in this league and know how to get it done. So a lot of times, those veterans will have a more immediate impact than even the top rookies. But it's nice to have the luxury of both the top pick and some free agents. We'll bring in some solid veterans and then get the best player in the Draft. Hopefully that will bring us back to where we belong.

"Since I've been coaching, it's all about championships. You can't win 'em all, but you try to win more than you lose. We had our fair share of losing last year, so now's the time to get back on top and win some more championships. I think our outlook is very good."