It sure hasn't been the season the Los Angeles Sparks anticipated. Candace Parker, Tina Thompson and DeLisha Milton-Jones up front; TIcha Penichiero and Marie Ferdinand-Harris in the backcourt; Betty Lennox and Noelle Quinn heading up a strong bench. Unfortunately for head coach Jen Gillom, things really haven't worked out that way. Serious injuries to Parker and Lennox derailed the Sparks' express ride to the playoffs before it even got off the station. Here we sit at the beginning of August, and the Sparks are with a record of 8-17, but with playoff hopes still alive due to similarly disappointing performances by most of the Western Conference.
DeLisha Milton-Jones is as intense a competitor on the court as you will find in the WNBA. She knows what it feels like to win the WNBA championship, as she has held that trophy aloft with the earlier Sparks' championship teams. After a detour in Washington DC, DMJ is back in LA, gunning for another title. She is one of those players that when she's on your team you love her; when she's not...well, you don't care for her all that much. She has cultivated the nickname D-Nasty due to her intensity and physical play on the court. She has also earned the nickname Sunshine for being such a charming and friendly person off the court.
So which DeLisha Milton-Jones does the Sparks need the rest of the way?
As you read and listen to the snippets of my interview with DeLisha for the Dishin & Swishin show (www.wstrradio.com, every Wednesday at 1 pm ET), keep the following in mind: I see nothing wrong with using the rules to your advantage. Basketball is more than just a physical game, it is a psychological game, and very few play that side better than DeLisha. She will use the rules to her advantage, and she's not afraid to "bend" them a little to get into her opponent's head. Lauren Jackson has called her "a thug." She's been called worse. But she has no apologies for the physical, aggressive play that has made her so successful.
Off the court, she is one of the nicest players I've met. DeLisha has always been friendly and polite to me and my family. We talked many times in Connecticut, and I enjoyed every conversation. It was great to talk to her again, this time for DnS via conference line recently.
This season has been a resurgence for her. She's scoring 13.8 points per game, and her other numbers are up in almost every category while logging 31+ minutes per game. Make no mistake, it is because of not just the basketball skills but also the leadership of Tina Thompson and DeLisha Milton-Jones that LA still has a chance at the playoffs.
Every team faces adversity though, in some shape or form...injuries, illness, back to backs...you gotta fight your way through it. The Sparks have faced more adversity than most, sure, but they are still in the fight for the fourth and final playoff spot in the West. What does the Sparks have to do?
As I mentioned earlier, along with DeLisha, Tina Thompson is helping carry the Sparks on her shoulders. About to become the WNBA All-Time Leading Scorer, the "WNBA Original" is a one of a kind, legendary player. Leading the Sparks in scoring and rebounding while being forced to play some center in Parker's absence, she has been frustrated at times this season. Thompson has not been afraid to call out the play of her teammates, as leaders must do. I talked to DeLisha about Thompson.
In many ways, this year's Team USA for the World Championships will be the true Changing of the Guard. It will seem very strange to me. Not for who is there, but to not see Lisa Leslie, Tina Thompson, Katie Smith, and DeLisha Milton-Jones wearing the red, white and blue. The foursome gave and gave some more for USA Basketball. They have medals galore, much success, and they have inspired the new group of young USA players. I talked to DeLisha about how it felt when USA Basketball gathered for the All-Star weekend, to be sitting home this time.
So, finally, I got to what most of you probably turned to this page to hear or read about: DeLisha's reputation for physical play and whether she crosses the line. I commented on the fact that LJ did call her a thug, and that she has gained this reputation for her physical play. I asked her, is the line being crossed? Is there too much physical play in the WNBA, and her thoughts about the physicality of the league. Her answer didn't surprise, nor did it disappoint!
So where the Sparks will finish, we'll have to wait and see. They have the benefit of playing most of their Western Conference opponents several times. Still, they have to develop the consistency and determination out of all 9 players that are healthy, and not really only on Thompson and Milton-Jones. They also have a few very special games to focus on. Tina Thompson becoming all-time leading scorer, and the retirement of the famous Lisa Leslie number 9 jersey. One thing is for sure, until the last minute of the last game, DeLisha Milton-Jones is going to give you 100% effort to win the game. She'll do whatever it takes....even if you think if makes her D-Nasty, not Sunshine.