Cooper to leave Sparks for USC

By Mark Medina
Updated: May 3, 2009

LOS ANGELES — L.A. Sparks Coach Michael Cooper will leave the team at the end of this season to take over USC’s women’s basketball team, the school announced Friday, bringing to an end weeks of speculation.

“It’s something I couldn’t pass up,” Cooper said. “But my focus, heart and energy is helping the Sparks win another championship.”

Cooper, 53, the former Lakers standout, won WNBA titles with the Sparks in 2001 and 2002.

Ervin Monier, the Trojans’ newly hired assistant who was associate head coach of the women’s team at Rhode Island, will oversee the team, including recruiting, until the WNBA season ends.

The Sparks begin play June 6 and could play through Oct. 9, if they make the WNBA finals. USC’s regular season starts in mid-November.

“Being with the Sparks this summer, Cooper won’t have that interaction with USC,” said Monier, who was an assistant coach at Temple from 2001 to 2004. “We’ll put together a staff that will do that and move the program forward while he is away.”

Although Cooper has extensive NBA and WNBA experience, he has never coached college. Contract terms were not disclosed, and his agent, Lon Rosen, declined to comment.

The Sparks, meanwhile, must find Cooper’s successor, but General Manager Penny Toler said Friday there is no timetable.

“We have all season to hire a coach,” Toler said. “Right now, Michael Cooper is the Sparks’ coach. We have everything to be successful to win a championship in 2009.”

Cooper replaces Mark Trakh, who resigned April 8. Trakh had a record of 90-64 in five seasons. The Trojans reached the NCAA tournament his first two seasons but not in the last three.

Although Cooper hasn’t worked in college sports, he doesn’t expect much of a learning curve.

“Coaching is coaching,” he said. “Obviously it’s college, but they’re still players. You put more time with them and allow them to enhance their talent and grow.”

NOTE: Times staff writer Gary Klein also contributed to this report.