The Los Angeles Sparks' campaign of "New Year, New Schedule, New Coach, New Direction" was unveiled today with Carol Ross slated the lead the Sparks.
Ross, a four year assistant with the Atlanta Dream, has risen up the coaching ranks in her 20-year career after her basketball beginnings as a player at Ole Miss, under famed Van Chancellor's tutelage. She was head coach at Florida for the first 12 years of her career, building the Gators into a national power. Florida was 247-121 under Ross' watch, and she departed the Florida as the winningest coach in program history.
So it should come as no surprise that one of Ross' most glowing endorsements came from one of her former players in Gainesville.
“Carol Ross will be a great addition to the Sparks family. Her positive attitude and basketball intellect are the necessary qualities to lead the Sparks in our quest for a title," said Sparks forward DeLisha Milton-Jones in a release. “I'm incredibly excited to play for her again. She is the person who jump-started my career and intensified my passion for the game.”
Her next stop was at her alma mater of Ole Miss, where she led the team to four consecutive post season appearances and an Elite Eight appearance in 2007. That team was led by future WNBA rookie of the year and current Atlanta Dream guard, Armintie Price.
Ross moved up to the WNBA from her position at Ole Miss, where she has been serving as an assistant for the Dream since the Fall of 2008. Since that time, Atlanta has gone 57-45 and reached the postseason each of the last three years. The Dream has represented as Eastern Conference Champions in each of the last two seasons, falling to Seattle and Minnesota in the WNBA Finals.
Ross has been among the most widely respected assistants in the league and is often credited as a significant reason for the Dream's success over the past two seasons, with some fans even joking that Ross deserved a piece of Dream head coach Marynell Meadors' 2009 WNBA Coach of the Year award after the young franchise improved 14 games in Ross' first year with the team.
Ross' impact has not been lost on Sparks superstar Candace Parker.
“I'm extremely excited to hear about the hiring of Coach Ross. I have played against her teams for a number of years and I believe she is a huge part of why the Atlanta Dream and Ole Miss have had tremendous success,” Parker said in a release. “Through her leadership, motivation and knowledge there is no doubt the Sparks will be back in the Championship hunt next season.”
Last year, the Sparks struggled to even stay in the playoff hunt, albeit with Parker injured for much of the season.
The Sparks did not qualify for postseason play and had a mid-season coaching change when Joe Bryant took the reins from second-year coach Jennifer Gillom 10 games into the season. Bryant, in his second stint with the organization, finished with an 11-13 record and was unceremoniously tossed out of the final game of their disappointing season against San Antonio.