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    Sparks’ Jasmine Thomas cites confidence as the key to her comeback
    • July 8, 2023

    TORRANCE — Sparks point guard Jasmine Thomas is ready to stop overthinking and start playing basketball.

    “Just play off instinct and what I feel and just play hard,” Thomas said. “Don’t try to play safe.”

    Thomas, 33, is a mere 11 games back after suffering a season-ending ACL injury in May 2022. The 13-year WNBA guard, who was acquired via trade during the offseason from the Connecticut Sun, is still searching for her first breakout game in a Sparks uniform.

    “(I’m still not) confident. It’s okay, you can call it what it is,” Thomas said after Friday’s practice at the Sparks training facility at El Camino College in Torrance. “It’s the confidence really. I’m definitely locked in, like you said, I do know what’s going on. I’m talking to my teammates. I’m talking to myself, keeping myself engaged, but a lot of times on the court, it’s just the confidence. It’s really trusting myself, believing in what I can do and getting back to playing basketball the way I know how.”

    Thomas started her first home game for the Sparks in Wednesday’s 90-79 loss to the Atlanta Dream, finishing with three points, one assist, and one block in 14 minutes.

    “It’s cool to start,” Thomas said. “Obviously, that is an accomplishment in a career, in a game, but for the most part it’s just trying to get this group to come together and stay together through all the adversity that we’re going through. So for me, I’m just trying to be out there and be focused on doing my best and giving what I can right now but also just keeping us together.”

    “She brings a veteran presence. She certainly knows our terminology. She understands the philosophies that we brought with us from Connecticut,” said Sparks head coach Curt Miller, who is nearly halfway through his first season with the Sparks, after previously coaching for the past seven years with the Connecticut Sun.

    “She’s a veteran so she understands this league. She understands how hard it is to prepare, how hard it is to win, and the fine line between winning and losing. What she can’t do physically like she was doing prior injury, she can make up for in her leadership. She can make up for in her IQ.”

    The 5-foot-9 guard is currently shooting a career-low 19.5% from the field and 18.5% from 3-point range, averaging 2.1 points, 1.3 rebounds and 1.3 assists in 12.5 minutes per game.

    “I think what I am going through is kind of normal. I think it’s a progression of getting back to being confident and being able to be myself. I didn’t have that time where I could do this behind the scenes. It was either play and try to get the growing pains out as I play or just keep sitting out,” Thomas said.

    However, Miller believes his long-time trusted starting point guard, who he has coached for the past eight seasons, is overdue to knock down some shots and feel more like herself on the court.

    “I think the explosion. That’s what Jasmine and I talk about, the fast-twitch explosive movements on the court have come back, ” Miller said. “She’s such an elite athlete and that’s going to gradually get back. You see more and more off the ACL that people come back, but it’s the second year that they really show that they’re back to normal so she’s got to give herself some grace.”

    The Sparks (7-11) have lost eight of their past 11 games as starters Lexie Brown (non-COVID-illness), Layshia Clarendon (foot) and Chiney Ogwumike (foot) have been sidelined. The team is hoping to break a four-game losing streak when they play the Mercury on Sunday in Phoenix.

    The Mercury (3-14) have the worst record in the league, but Thomas will not take a Brittney Griner-led team lightly.

    “Play hard and play hungry,” Thomas said. “We’re on a losing streak. It is what it is and we have to come out and be hungry, come out to a great start, assert ourselves, and just play with that intensity and desire to really pick up some wins going into the (All-Star) break.”

    The Sparks are 2-0 against Phoenix this season – a 94-71 win at home on opening night on May 19 and a 99-93 overtime win on the road on May 27. A win Sunday would clinch the season series against Phoenix.

    Thomas, 33, has not played against Phoenix this season, but the 2017 All-Star and 2021 WNBA All-Defensive second-teamer has 13 years of experience, including several playoff runs and being part of a Connecticut team that made it to the WNBA finals twice under Miller.

    Thomas and Miller’s player/coach relationship is central to her faith in her comeback season.

    “There’s still so much left,” Thomas said in reference to the 40-game regular season. “This season started off great (5-4 record). We got hit with some adversity. We’ve been trying to adjust and pivot since, but there’s a lot of season left so I feel like for us, it’s more so focusing on one game at a time. We can’t look ahead. We can’t look behind us and see the games where we could have won, or we could have been better then. It’s the next game in front of us. Right now it’s that Phoenix game and I feel like everybody is locked in.”

    Coping with injuries

    Due to several injuries, including Nia Clouden (knee) and Karlie Samuelson (foot sprain), the Sparks practiced with less than 10 players Friday.

    Injury Update: Karlie Samuelson has been diagnosed with a foot sprain but did not break any bones, according to LA Sparks head coach Curt Miller. Miller said Samuelson, the team’s top 3-point shooter at 48.2%, will be evaluated day-to-day heading into Sunday’s game at Phoenix.

    — John W. Davis (@johnwdavis) July 7, 2023

    The inability to go 5-on-5 among their own roster has increased the need for male practice players and disrupted the normal two-fold nature of practices, in which teams can to build team chemistry while strategizing for their next opponent.

    Clarendon, Clouden, Ogwumike and Samuelson are all diligently rehabbing their injuries and Brown said Wednesday on social media she’s “excited to start the process of getting back on the court and finishing the season strong.”

    be back soon

    — Lexie Brown (@Lexiebrown) July 5, 2023


    When: 3 p.m. Sunday

    Where: Footprint Center, Phoenix

    TV: Spectrum SportsNet

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    ​ Orange County Register