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The Sparks are rebuilding with hometown heroes

The acquisition of L.A. natives Jordin Canada and Katie Lou Samuelson highlights a hectic offseason for the Sparks.

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Graphic via Zain Fahimullah / SB Nation

The Sparks made big news when they announced they would be playing at Crypto.com Arena full-time in 2022, the first time in three seasons that the team will complete a full season in its home arena.

And to celebrate a return to Crypto.com Arena, the Sparks are bringing in two new additions who grew up in Los Angeles dreaming of playing in that building. The team welcomed Jordin Canada and Katie Lou Samuelson to the organization this week, and the excitement of each of them playing in their hometowns was palpable during their introductions to the media.

Canada, who signed as a free agent after spending her first four years with the Seattle Storm, not only played high school ball in Los Angeles at Windward School under current Phoenix head coach Vanessa Nygaard but also spent four years at UCLA. She always hoped to play for the Sparks at some point in her career, and when the team swooped in near the end of free agency (after the Mercury had expressed interest), it felt like the stars were aligning.

AZUZA, CALIFORNIA MARCH 7, 2014-Winward’s Jordin Canada forces Mater Dei’s Katie Lou Samuelson into
Jordin Canada and Katie Lou Samuelson’s paths have been colliding in SoCal for years before joining the Sparks.
Photo by Wally Skalij/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

“It’s something about having L.A. pride, especially me being born and raised in L.A., this type of pride and the swagger that we have, and I feel like the Sparks are a part of that culture, since I was growing up and watching Lisa Leslie and Candace Parker and ooh wow, Lindsey Harding and a lot of other greats that have played for the Sparks,” Canada said. “I feel like everyone who has come across and played for this organization, there’s just a sense of pride a sense of L.A. swagger that you have and I feel like the Sparks have it and I’m glad to be a part of it.”

Samuelson had a similar desire to one day suit up for the Sparks after attending their games as a kid and then seeing her older sister Karlie have three separate stints with the team.

“I always knew the Sparks and watched them, that’s kind of what I knew of the WNBA was, you know, the Sparks, and especially at a young age was able to come to games and watch some of the greatest players play here in LA,” Samuelson said. “Even recently in my college years Karlie was on the Sparks a few times, in and out of seasons, just similar to last season, so I was able to go watch her play a lot in Staples — in Crypto.com Arena, and I was able to to just really experience the culture and the excitement of playing there and seeing her play there and so it was always like a dream that I would be able to play there one day.”

Perhaps Samuelson’s literal home can be her actual WNBA home. This will be her fourth team in four seasons, and even though she likes to say that means everyone wants her on their team, the constant instability isn’t helpful for anyone. The Sparks have some experience with that, having welcomed Nia Coffey a year ago and guided her to the most productive season after spending her first four seasons in four different cities as well.

Samuelson gets to come home with an old friend. It’s fitting that Canada and Samuelson would end up on the Sparks at the same time considering how intertwined their basketball journeys have been. The two played against each other as kids and into high school, with Canada’s Windward getting the better of Samuelson’s Mater Dei three times. Samuelson returned the favor as her Connecticut team beat Canada and UCLA twice while they were in college, including one Sweet 16 matchup.

UConn Huskies Vs UCLA Bruins
Canada and Samuelson are happy to be teammates again after so many intense battles against each other.
Photo by Tim Clayton/Corbis via Getty Images

After years of facing off against one another, they finally became teammates in 2021 when the Storm traded for Samuelson, making her a starter for the first time in her career. With Canada running the second unit, they only shared the court for 143 minutes — plenty of time, however, for the SoCal natives to keep building their lifelong bond.

“It’s like a full circle moment to be honest,” Canada said. “I remember playing Katie Lou and even Karlie when we were younger, just playing against each other when we were kids and then growing up in high school playing against each other again.... But you know, just the journey that we’ve had. It’s just been pretty cool to see and now coming back to LA where it all started and being able to represent where we come from and being able to play together at home, I think it’s going to be a great thing.”

The Sparks are hoping that the investment in Canada and Samuelson pays off not just in ticket sales, but on the court as well. Their familiarity with one another could go a long way towards helping L.A. get off to a strong start, especially after the team dealt with so many growing pains with almost a brand new roster a year ago.

Samuelson fits an immediate need on the Sparks for more spacing. A low-usage, high-efficiency shooter like her gives the team’s slashers and posts more room to work in the paint. It’s easy to envision Samuelson slotting into the starting lineup next to Kristi Toliver, another ball-handler, and two bigs (ideally Nneka Ogwumike and Liz Cambage).

At 6’3, the fourth-year wing brings length on defense as well, necessary on a team with some small guards, and Derek Fisher touted her “great on-court instincts” when L.A. acquired her. Samuelson had her best defensive season with Seattle in 2021, aided in part by her 3x3 preparation that required her to bring continuous energy and intensity on defense and guard every position.

The Sparks certainly value production on that end, having finished as a top-3 defensive unit in each season under the current coaching staff. That’s one of the reasons why Canada is a natural fit in this system. As an energetic defender at the point of attack who likes to put pressure on the rim and play in transition, and who brings championship experience to Los Angeles, Canada was born to play for Fisher.

“The biggest thing that I’ve noticed while watching the Sparks and how Derek Fisher coaches is that they’re defensive-minded, and I think that’s something that I really bring to the table, is my aggressiveness on the defensive end,” Canada said. “And just also being able to play freely, watching his players and people who have been there, like Brittany Sykes and Erica Wheeler, Kristi Toliver, Te’a Cooper, the guard play is allowed to play their game and play it really free. I really like that about his coaching and that he’s not putting them in the box or restricting them, he’s allowing them to be who they are and I think that’s really great, especially for me.”

Canada and Samuelson began last year on a Storm team most prognosticators thought would compete for a championship. That level of expectation isn’t immediately present in Los Angeles, not after the Sparks missed the playoffs a year ago, but neither player is ready to lower the bar for themselves or for the team. They’ve already have accomplished one dream by suiting up for their hometown franchise — why not continue to set their sights high?

“I think we have a really, really talented team. We’re really deep, maybe one of the most deep rosters and teams in terms of talent,” Samuelson said. “We have a lot of young players, we have a lot of vets, so we have a really good mix of people that we can rely on, we can count on, so I think just once we build that chemistry, hopefully we can really get it going.”