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And One with Brittney Sykes: How a change in mentality ‘saved my career’

Brittney Sykes is having one of her best statistical seasons with the Sparks in 2022. (Meg Oliphant/Getty Images)

Have you ever thought about having a regular conversation with a WNBA player? Say, over coffee or just hanging out at backyard barbecue?

That’s the kind of vibe I’m aiming for with And One — a new regular series for Just Women’s Sports involving 10 questions. I ask about basketball things, of course, but also about their lives off the court so you can get to know the players of the WNBA a little bit better. The first edition featured a conversation with Las Vegas Aces All-Star Jackie Young.

Los Angeles Sparks guard Brittney Sykes didn’t mind fitting in some time after practice to chat. She was as breezy on the phone as she is on the court, slicing through defenses on her way to the hoop. One of the most affable players in the WNBA, Sykes — known fondly as “Slim” by coaches, players and fans — has become one of the top defenders in the league since the Atlanta Dream drafted her seventh overall in 2017.

Sykes remains the winningest basketball player in Syracuse program history, despite suffering an ACL tear her freshman year. Since then, the 28-year-old has been named to two WNBA All-Defensive Teams and finished the 2021 season as the league’s steals leader. She currently leads the WNBA again in steals with 2.1 per game, while averaging 10.3 points, 3.9 assists and 3.5 rebounds in 18 games for Los Angeles.

We talked about how that injury — and a second ACL tear later on — helped her evolve as a player and as a person, where she got her nickname from, what the 10-12 Sparks need to focus on in order to make a playoff push in the second half of the season, and more in the latest And One.

1. When you saw the Sparks make offseason moves to bring Liz Cambage, Chennedy Carter and Katie Lou Samuelson to Los Angeles, what were your initial thoughts?

I get to play with a big again in Liz, and then I got a dynamic guard in Chennedy and I’ll have another shooter on the wing with Katie Lou.

2. The Sparks have a roster full of talent. What do you think has been the biggest issue for the team as far as putting it all together on the court?

I don’t really think it’s an issue. I think it’s more of a thing where people get hellbent on the physical aspect of the whole thing. You see Liz, you see Chennedy, you see Katie, you see KT [Kristi Toliver], and you think, oh, this team is supposed to be 10-0, right? And then what people don’t realize is that the only people that were returning were me, Nneka and Chiney [Ogwumike]. I was the only person that played the entire season.

So, there’s a lot of variables that go into having a team like what we have right now. I don’t think people really understand that. Or those who don’t understand basketball like that, they see the people, they see the bodies and then they think, oh, this is just supposed to come together. Well, no. You’re supposed to work the kinks out. It takes teams years sometimes, and some teams get it in months. I look at it as that. It’s gonna take some time and it’s gonna take some effort.

3. How can this team turn things around and make a playoff push?

I think these last [few] games is the direction that we want to go in, how we’ve been playing. We’ve been getting points in the paint, rebounding. Of course, we’ve been working on our free throws, making them when we get to the line. We’re starting to move up in the rankings in the specific things that we want to do in this league and be top five in every category, so I think these last few games kind of showed us that we can be the team that we’re trying to be. It’s there. We’ve just got to keep going.

4. You’ve mentioned in the past that recovering from two ACL tears in 2016 has helped make you a stronger player and person. How so?

Yeah, I mean honestly, my ACLs, I think the first one was kind of eye opening, like hey, this s—t can be taken from you at any moment, right? Because I was, like, taking it for granted. I wasn’t working out like that. I just relied on my athleticism. I got a scholarship to college, like I’m on the high horse. I’m a freshman, I’m starting, all these things. And then boom, I get hit with my first ACL tear. I’m like, OK, I need to take basketball seriously.

So, I do all the work, I do all the rehab. I’m going to rehab twice a day. I’m knocking it out. The second [ACL] comes, and now I realize I need to work on the individual. I’m not a s—tty person. I take pride in my character. But my mentality was terrible. I was just all me, me, me. Like once I get this surgery, I’m good — just nonsense, complete nonsense. Once that second one happened, I’m like, you need to sit down. You need to get more in tune. Talk to a therapist. That second one definitely saved my career because there was definitely some things I was missing. I was going through PTSD and I didn’t know, and that second one definitely opened my eyes to the things I needed to improve on.

5. You’re one of the top defensive players in the league. How have you honed and improved your defensive skills over the past few seasons?

Finding new ways to just be in the play, because teams are now starting to scheme me out of the play. Whoever I’m guarding, they just take them completely out of the play and I hate it. Like, I’m starting to realize that. So now I have to find new ways to still be effective, make teams pay even when I’m not on the ball. Because teams don’t want me on the ball. They want their point guards to breathe. Apparently, I don’t let them.

6. Where does the nickname Slim come from?

It comes from [former Dream head coach] Michael Cooper. He gave it to me in training camp ‘cause I had on all black leggings. He was like, “God dammit, Slim. You just slim. You would wear black when you that skinny.” He called me Slim Quick. And in the game, he would yell at me so much. He’s like, “I can’t call you Slim Quick. I’m just gonna call you Slim.”

7. You have your master’s in instructional design, development and evaluation in education from Syracuse. What does that involve?

It’s just a long ass name for consulting. It basically teaches you how to teach others in multiple ways. That’s the best way I can describe it.

8. If you weren’t a professional basketball player, what would you be doing?

I’d be a PBA bowler. I’m nice. I’m like that. I love bowling. It’s me and my dad’s thing.

9. What show streaming on Netflix, Hulu, etc. are you obsessed with right now?

I’m obsessed with Legendary [on HBO Max]. It’s like America’s Best Dance Crew and voguing all smashed together. It is fire.

10. What is the funniest/craziest thing that’s happened to you in the WNBA?

Some of those I cannot disclose. Oh, I missed my flight. I missed a flight (laughs). It was crazy. We were at the wrong terminal and we thought we were at the right terminal. And we were texting the group like, “Hey, did the plane board yet?” And apparently as I’m texting, the flight door closed. So, there was no chance of me getting on the flight.

Lyndsey D’Arcangelo is a contributing writer at Just Women’s Sports, covering the WNBA and college basketball. She also contributes to The Athletic and is the co-author of “Hail Mary: The Rise and Fall of the National Women’s Football League.” Follow Lyndsey on Twitter @darcangel21.

Cameron Brink likes Caitlin Clark for 2024 WNBA Rookie of the Year

Cameron Brink poses with Caitlin Clark at 2024 wnba draft in new york
Cameron Brink poses with fellow draftee — and possible WNBA ROY —Caitlin Clark. (Photo by Emily Johnson/NBAE via Getty Images)

Cameron Brink already has her rookie of the year pick for the upcoming WNBA season, and it’s Indiana-bound star Caitlin Clark

In the latest edition of Kelley on the Street, host Kelley O'Hara caught up with Brink in New York hours before the Stanford phenom went No. 2 overall to the Los Angeles Sparks at the 2024 WNBA Draft. When O’Hara asked who would win the WNBA's rookie of the year, she answered without pause.

"Caitlin Clark," she said, while a fan commented that she thought Brink would take home the award. Brink later added that the extra foul granted to WNBA players will be "good for me."

"I hope it’s me," Charisma Osborne, who was later drafted by the Phoenix Mercury, said when asked her ROY prediction. "But, I don’t know — we’ll see."

Watch more of Kelley on the Street:

Dash winger Maria Sanchez confirms trade request a day shy of NWSL deadline

María Sanchez of Houston Dash during a NWSL game
In December, Sanchez signed a new three-year contract with the club worth $1.5 million including bonuses and an option year. (Photo by Marcus Ingram/Getty Images)

Maria Sanchez issued a statement on Thursday, confirming recent reports that she has requested a trade from the Houston Dash. 

In it, she revealed that the club has been aware of the request "since late March."

"This has all taken a toll and isn’t an easy thing to talk about, but I want to confirm that I’ve requested an immediate trade," she wrote. "My expectations and reasons have been clear. I trust that my current club’s management will honor my decision in a timely manner and proceed with accepting a trade."

"I’m eager to refocus and dive back into what I love most: playing football," she concluded.

Reports of Sanchez's trade request first surfaced on ESPN last week, and were later confirmed by multiple sources. 

In December of last year, Sanchez signed a three-year contract with the Dash valued at $1.5 million including bonuses and an option year. It was the largest contract in NWSL history at the time — a figure that would be eclipsed by multiple contracts in the following months. 

Sanchez spent the offseason as a restricted free agent, meaning that Houston could match any other team's offer to retain her rights. Should the Dash trade Sanchez, her current contract terms would remain intact, limiting potential buyers to teams able to afford to take on an inking of that size.

The Dash has yet to address the trade, instead reiterating to ESPN that Sanchez is "under contract, a choice she made in free agency at the end of 2023." 

Both the NWSL trade window and transfer window close tonight, April 19th, at 12 a.m. ET. The window will stay closed through the next 11 regular season games, reopening on August 1st, 2024.

Seattle Storm debut state-of-the-art $64 million practice facility

Jewell Loyd #24 of the Seattle Storm during warms up during practice on July 11, 2020 at IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida
Jewell Loyd, seen here practicing at Florida's IMG Academy, and her team are in for a major upgrade this season. (Photo by Ned Dishman/NBAE via Getty Images)

The four-time league champion Seattle Storm unveiled their new practice facility on Thursday, with Storm co-owner Lisa Brummel dubbing Interbay's Seattle Storm Center for Basketball Performance the team’s "new home."

"It's just such a special space," Brummel told Fox 13 Seattle. "I think when the players get here, it's gonna be overwhelming."

The sprawling 50,000-square-foot, $64 million property is just the second designated practice facility to be designed and built expressly for a WNBA team, with the Storm further noting that 85% of all design and engineering team members involved in the project's construction were women and people of color. The finished product holds two professional indoor courts, two 3x3 outdoor courts, a state-of-the-art locker room, and players' lounge, plus designated areas for strength and conditioning, kitchen, dining, and nutrition, and recovery. 

"This facility reflects our commitment to providing our athletes an exceptional environment that supports their growth, health, and performance," said Storm co-owner Ginny Gilder in an official team release. "It’s built for women, by women, embodying our dedication to leading the way in professional women’s sports."

For their part, the team can't wait to make the faciilty their own.

"It's amazing," Storm guard Jewell Loyd told Fox 13. "Not having to drive everywhere around, knowing you have access anytime of the day to get into the gym, to workout." 

Head coach Noelle Quinn said she predicts the team is "never going to leave this building."

"Which is a good thing for me," she continued. "You talk about having an edge in performance. We want our athletes to not only perform on the court, but get whatever they need."

All of the Storm's staff and operations will now live under one roof, and the team also has plans to launch a youth basketball program operating out of the building.

Mystics relocate game to accommodate Caitlin Clark fans

Maya Caldwell, Erica Wheeler, and Lexie Hull of the Indiana Fever celebrate Caitlin Clark
Get ready — Caitlin Clark is coming to town. (Photo by Ron Hoskins/NBAE via Getty Images)

The Caitlin Clark effect is quickly making its mark on the big leagues, as WNBA host teams around the country rush to upgrade their Fever games to larger arenas in order to accommodate surging ticket sales.

With Clark mere weeks away from her Indiana Fever debut, both the Las Vegas Aces and Washington Mystics have officially relocated their scheduled home games with head coach Christie Sides' squad. On Thursday, the Mystics became the latest to adjust their plans, moving their June 7th matchup from Entertainment & Sports Arena in Southwest DC to the more centrally located — and much larger — Capital One Arena "due to unprecedented demand."

The Mystics home court's capacity taps out at 4,200, while Capital One Arena — home to the Wizards, Capitals, and Georgetown Hoya's Men's Basketball — can fit nearly five times that crowd at some 20,000 spectators.

"The move to Capital One Arena will allow for additional fans in the stands as well as premium hospitality options, including Suites and the all-new all-inclusive courtside Hennessy Lofts," the team announced via Thursday's press release.

The Aces were one of the first teams to switch venues, aiming to take on the Indiana Fever in front of as many as 20,000 fans inside T-Mobile Arena on July 2nd. That’s a sizable a boost from their home venue, which holds just 12,000.

For those still planning to face the Fever in their home arenas, ticket prices have skyrocketed. Previously scheduled construction has already forced the LA Sparks to relocate their first five games — including their May 24th clash with the Fever — to Long Beach State's Walter Pyramid. The temporary venue is quite the downsize, holding just 4,000 in comparison to Arena's near-19,000. As of Friday, the get-in price for that game started around $400.

Despite fans launching a petition urging relocation, the Chicago Sky say they're unable to move their June 23rd Fever meeting from Wintrust Arena's 10,000-seat facility to the 23,500-seat United Center due to a concert. Tickets for that game start around $325 as of Friday.

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