Sparks

Fred Williams Brews LA Success Formula

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If you had an opportunity for a second chance, would you say yes, even knowing it could be the greatest challenge of your life?

After the Sparks parted ways with embattled leader Derek Fisher, LA named Fisher’s assistant Fred Williams as interim coach. True, Williams had coaching success before, leading Atlanta to the 2012 Finals and experiencing five successful years with the Tulsa Shock/Dallas Wings. But after difficulties in Dallas, Williams needed a new seat as he saw the curtain rise in the next act of his accomplished basketball life.

After Tuesday’s thrilling win, the Sparks are already pleasing a Los Angeles audience hungry for another payment of their championship birthright.

Paddling Like Heck

A popular motivational shirt likens life to a duck: calm and collected above the surface but paddling like heck under the water.

Fitting, then, that the Anaheim Ducks play just a 25-mile hop from LA. In his first weeks as head coach, Williams races to switch on the Sparks’ success lights while blacking out challenging opponents.

Unfortunately, a wickedly competitive league quickly put its sights on Williams.

After a decisive loss to Las Vegas at home, Williams returned to Dallas to oppose his former team. It may have seemed a cruel current twist considering that the Wings dismissed him after an alleged altercation with management.

But here’s a great fact about America: we love redemption stories. And Williams exhibited no fear about returning to his place of defeat. He had the opposite attitude, anticipating a reunion with players he mentored to success.

A Little Bit Different

Before the game, WNBA Lead asked Williams how he had seen his former players Allisha Gray and Kayla Thornton evolve since his departure.

“I’m so proud of them,” Williams beamed. “How they developed their game and still been working hard at it and doing a great job out on the floor. I just think they’re going to get better and better.”

WNBA Lead inquired how Williams would utilize the skill of Liz Cambage, the former Wing and current Spark.

“A little bit different. It’s a different set with the guards; I think when I was here [Dallas] it was Skylar [Skylar Diggins-Smith] and a few others. Here we got to round it out and get a few touches with Nneka [Nneka Ogwumike], KT, Toliver [Kristi Toliver], Liz is one we still go to inside.”

Williams observed that one must acknowledge new situations, even with Cambage’s talents.

“I thought she had a fairly good game other than the foul trouble she got in. It’s a different structure here in LA than it was in Dallas.”

Third, WNBA Lead asked about the difficulty of playing after a week off.

“We’re trying to still catch up. I’m just trying to implement a lot of things that I want to get in.”

Success takes time; no coach can cheat the fourth dimension.

“Sometimes you can’t get it in a week, it takes you a few games and then a few more practices to get everything you want.”

Alas, LA fell again (although Sparks social media rightfully encouraged ballot-stuffing for the All-Star Game).

Would Williams discover roster answers in time to save the season?

California Chemist

The Sparks faced a quick turnaround, returning home to face Washington. Thankfully for LA, the Mystics’ Elena Delle Donne missed the game due to load management. But Washington, even without their best player, is still a dangerous foe.

Before the game, Williams intelligently handled routine matchup questions.

“Just the chemistry,” he clarified after a reporter humorously related an anecdote of a trumpet changing hands. “The coaches, the chemistry of the players, they respond to us in different ways. The closeness of getting the extra time one-on-one.”

Piggybacking off the lightened mood, WNBA Lead asked Williams if he had any points of emphasis as the team sought momentum on a crucial homestand.

“We want to steal some good play where we can have opportunities to win some games, build some of the things to orchestrate there for us offensively.”

W Lead’s question may have been a gentle pass, but Williams slammed it home with specific, measurable observations.

“Defensively, we gotta get better transition flexibility. And once we get better transition, I think we’ll see a more balanced kind of routine going forward.”

Williams, sure, has a lot of predators circling under the competition waters. And after the Sparks had a massive lead whittled to three, karma gave the determined leader a well-deserved reprieve.

Unlimited Ocean

Cambage ignited LA to an early lead, validating Williams’ trust.

However, he faced a cruel specter in the final minute: referee momentum. When a team is on a run, that squad tends to get more calls as the officials, however talented, subconsciously want to be a part of the fun.

A suddenly blazing Natasha Cloud missed a three with seconds left, but Brittney Sykes got a foul despite clearly defending straight up.

Williams was incredulous!

But good things happen to good people. Cloud missed the second free throw, and LA dribbled out the clock after she missed the third purposefully. As the sun beautifully set in Los Angeles, Williams earned his first win as Sparks head coach.

With 21 games remaining, Williams has plenty of time to gather his flock’s focus. True, the rushing rapids of WNBA completion never relent. But if the Sparks can hold their poise, even as a determined team rallies furiously, an unlimited ocean of success beckons for the west coast’s proudest basketball franchise.

About Jeffrey Newholm

"Jammin Jeff" Newholm had been a basketball fanatic since his high school days, and remained a casual fan as a student in Whitewater. Wishing to check in as an active participant, he also completed a writing certificate program at UWM. He loves seeing Bucks games more than any other activity in hometown Milwaukee and especially screaming really really loudly to get someone to miss a free throw. Twitter: @JeffreyNewholm

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