Sparks hire Gillom as coach

By Mark Medina
Updated: December 16, 2009

LOS ANGELES — Former Minnesota Lynx Coach Jennifer Gillom, who once starred at the University of Mississippi and won a gold medal at the 1988 Olympics, was named the Sparks’ coach Monday, ending a months-long search for a successor to Michael Cooper.

Gillom played seven seasons in the WNBA: six with the Phoenix Mercury and her final season, 2003, with the Sparks, in which she was a teammate of forward DeLisha Milton-Jones.

The job search began as soon as the season ended, although it had been known since May that Cooper, who led the Sparks to two WNBA championships, was leaving to coach the USC women’s basketball team.

“I’m happy to be on their side and hoping to help them win a championship,” said Gillom, who acknowledged contract talks broke off with the Lynx following a 14-20 season. “No pressure. I’m really excited about all this.”

Gillom, 45, inherits a team that despite having four Olympians — Lisa Leslie, Candace Parker, Milton-Jones and Tina Thompson — ended the regular season 18-16.

Parker, however, had started the season on maternity leave and Leslie missed some games midseason because of a knee injury. The Sparks made the playoffs but fell to the Mercury in the Western Conference finals.

Since then, Leslie retired, closing out a 13-year career in which she became the league’s all-time leading scorer (6,263 points) and rebounder (3,307).

Gillom, who is a member of the women’s basketball Hall of Fame, said she plans to adopta fast-paced offense.

“We already have the players to do that,” she said. “We just need more production from our bench.”

Last season, guard Noelle Quinn, who started only nine games, was the only one who showed consistency off the bench, averaging 27.3 minutes and 8.4 points per game.

In hiring Gillom, the Sparks passed over assistant coach Marianne Stanley, who has extensive head-coaching experience, including stints with USC and the Washington Mystics.

Stanley will not be staying.

“Marianne Stanley is just as impressive,” said General Manager Penny Toler, who said the Sparks also passed over Louisiana Tech Coach Teresa Weatherspoon. “At some point of time in your career, you have to come out of the box and try something different.”

Gillom joined the WNBA coaching ranks in 2008 as an assistant coach with the Lynx. Toler said Gillom has an ability to relate to players.

Gillom already knows some of them well.

Parker plays for the 2010 USA Basketball World Championship team, for which Gillom is an assistant coach, while Quinn and center Vanessa Hayden were on the Lynx in 2008.

“I can develop a relationship with these players,” Gillom said. “I played against them, coached against them and I know their game.”