Lennox proves a great fit for Sparks

By Mark Medina
Updated: August 14, 2009

Betty Lennox

Betty Lennox

LOS ANGELES – Most of her teammates had left the practice facility an hour before, but the Sparks’ Betty Lennox kept swishing jumpers.

“Practice is over, Betty,” Coach Michael Cooper said. “You can go home.”

This is nothing new. Lennox shoots for at least another 45 minutes after practice. Off-days mean two-hour workouts. And the 32-year-old veteran guard and one-time All-Star knows why.

“It could be a good thing and it could be a bad thing,” Lennox said, “but I’m a workaholic.”

Friday night, the Sparks (8-12) played host to the Sacramento Monarchs in what will be her second game since missing three because of inflammation in her left knee.

Lennox averages 13.4 points per game, which ranks her among the WNBA’s top 20 in scoring.

Yet she briefly walks away when questions turn to her five former teams, including the Minnesota Lynx, who drafted her sixth overall in 2000, and the Seattle Storm, whom she helped win a title in 2004 while earning honors as most valuable player in the WNBA finals.

It is that intensity, that edginess that has caused some coaches to suggest Lennox can disrupt team chemistry, but there is no consensus.

The Sparks love her, from the front office (“It’s been a joy to work with her,” General Manager Penny Toler said) to the coaches (“Betty is all we had pictured her to be,” Cooper said), to her teammates (“Betty fits right in,” forward Tina Thompson said).

Lennox, who wanted the Sparks to draft her, likened her April signing to a multiyear deal as “hitting the jackpot.”

“I could hear in her voice she was happy,” Ruby Lennox, one of Betty’s eight siblings, said of a recent phone conversation. “It was a sound of being really at peace.”

Lennox’s career carries some regret.

Her seven tattoos, which feature barbed wire and the Tazmanian Devil, symbolize a reputation she has struggled to erase: an out-of-control persona that first exploded at Louisiana Tech, where she wrote on Coach Leon Barmore’s chalkboard demanding not to play in the second half of a regular-season game.

She was the WNBA’s rookie of the year, but then-Lynx Coach Brian Agler said he wanted a “true point guard” and midway through the 2002 season she was traded to the Miami Sol.

When her next team, the Cleveland Rockers, dissolved, she rejuvenated her career in Seattle. Yet last year, she was left unprotected in the expansion draft and found herself with the Atlanta Dream.

Although Lennox led the Eastern Conference in 2008 with 17.5 points per game, she and Coach Marynell Meadors agreed she didn’t mesh with the team’s youth, contributing to a 4-30 record.

“Coaches like her edginess if it translates on the floor in the right way,” said Anne Donovan, who coached Lennox in Seattle and is now coach of the New York Liberty.

“I’ve seen Betty channel that the right way.”

So have the Sparks, with Lennox calling Cooper “the best coach I’ve had in the WNBA.”

For each practice, at Lennox’s request, Cooper outlines three areas she can improve, lately including her weak-side defense, avoiding early foul trouble and shot selection.

Her teammates, a group that features five Olympians, embrace Lennox’s goofy facial imitations, call her “Big Bucket Betty” in reference to her clutch shooting, and include her in postgame dinners.

Without complaint, she has moved to a bench role since Candace Parker’s return from maternity leave, and in those contests averaged 14.8points.

Lennox credits her resiliency to her Christian faith and her work ethic to a childhood that entailed hauling hay on her family farm in Hugo, Okla.

So it was no surprise that at a team event involving the Jenesse Center, which redecorates apartments for victims of domestic violence, Lennox focused on painting a bathroom wall until it was done, her arms and hands covered with paint.

It was like another day at practice.

“I’m not about talking,” said Lennox, who started in 2005 a self-named foundation geared to domestic violence victims. “I’m about going to work.”