The Los Angeles Sparks almost weren't this year.
The team - one of the WNBA's original franchises in 1997 - opened training camp Sunday after a sudden off-season change of ownership. Williams Group Holdings' announcement in December that they were giving up their ownership of the team sent fans into a frenzy. But just over a month later, Magic Johnson and business partners stepped up and bought the Sparks.
Most of the team's office staff was retained, as were General Manager Penny Toler and Coach Carol Ross. But two new assistant coaches were hired in Gail Goestenkors and Gary Kloppenberg.
At the first day of training camp were 13 of the 20 who are vying for one of 12 roster spots. Ross and veteran guard Alana Beard spoke to reporters afterward.
How does it feel to be back in season?
Carol Ross: It feels great to be back. We should never take our journey for granted. We don't, but at no point in the offseason did we think we wouldn't be doing this today. Other than being a little more grateful than we usually are, we're excited to get back, get on to the court and start the process of seeing who's going to be wearing purple and gold in 2014.
You have two new assistant coaches this year in Gail Goestenkors and Gary Kloppenberg. How has the transition been?
Carol Ross: It's been tremendous. They're both teachers, and they've both experienced a lot in their coaching careers. I think we're all very complete coaches. We've all been head coaches and coached all sides of the ball. Fortunately or unfortunately we all have a lean toward defense. But we coach both ends comfortably. Training camp is good for us to learn to work together just like players learn to work together. What I really also enjoy is that philosophically, we all see the game the same way, and that'll speed up things because we're not in conflict.
What traits are you looking for in prospective players?
Carol Ross: The first thing we look for is energy. Then, skill set. It's hard to tell the first day because they're edgy and not sure what to expect. We're already a veteran-laden roster, so finding out who the player is who can bring something new and unique.
What is the mission this year?
Carol Ross: Win a championship. We've banged on the door, kicked at it. We've learned, I've learned, we've figured out things. It's easy to say. I'm sure every training camp across the country is saying the same thing. But what we have to do with our "want to" is take that and bring it every day. You don't become a champion in September. You do it everyday with what you do, how you carry yourself, what your expectations are. It's not because we say it that it's going to happen, but it's because we're going to carry ourselves like that.
Will the extra roster spot help you get that championship?
Carol Ross: We've never focused on that. I don't need more, I need better. Whether we use 11 or 12, it's all about everybody pulling together. Everybody understands the committment it takes to win a championship.
How did you feel the first day of training camp went?
Alana Beard: It's a typical first day in training camp. Everyone's trying to feel things out. People are at a level 20 when you should be at a level 10.
How has the transition been so far with the new coaching staff?
Alana Beard: Coach Ross does a great job of putting coaches around her that are excellent in the things she's not, and she's good in so many areas. Coach G and Coach Klop are really good at skill work in terms of breaking things down for us, both offensively and defensively.
Have the veterans had a chance to talk about what you're going to do differently this season?
Alana Beard: We haven't had a chance to talk about anything yet, but when everyone gets in we'll have a team meeting and discuss that. But the philosophy we have here is, what's in the past is in the past. We can only move forward and get better. It's not much talking we need to do - just focus on what's in the present.
How was playing in Korea this winter?
Alana Beard: Well, I played the five for months, so I'm not sure I took anything out of that except post moves. I was guarding Nikki Greene, literally. It was an interesting experience, but it's the fourth time I've been there, so I knew what to expect. It was a good experience to keep my body in shape, and they did a great job of taking care of me in physical therapy.
What kind of advice can you give to the rookies?
Alana Beard: My advice just comes from action. I'll talk to them along the way and answer questions, but I think for a rookie they're more visual. If they see, they're going to do, so that's my role here.
The Sparks host China in their first preseason game on May 10.