October 27, 2021

DCTRS

Damascus Center for Theoretical and Civil Rights Studies

Sparks look for new center Amanda Zahui B. to fill a void

Derek Fisher knows firsthand the type of damage Amanda Zahui B. can inflict on opposing teams.

The 6-foot-5 center dropped 37 points on the Sparks in Staples Center on June 15, 2019, during Fisher’s first year as the Sparks’ head coach. Zahui B., then with the New York Liberty, made 13 of 16 shots from the field, including seven of eight three-pointers. With every made three-pointer, the Sparks bench grew more stone-faced.

Almost two years later, the explosive performance remains a career highlight for Zahui B., but during free-agency meetings, Fisher emphasized he saw even bigger things in the former No. 2 overall draft pick’s future. She had untapped potential as a stronger force in the paint. She could be more consistent. She could become a better defender.

Fisher could help her get there, he told her, if she signed with the Sparks.

She believed him.

“I appreciate that honesty,” Zahui B. said Friday during a videoconference after joining the Sparks as a free agent, “saying that I’m not where I’m supposed to be yet, but he’s willing to work with me and push me there.”

Entering her seventh year in the WNBA, Zahui B. is coming off a career-best season in New York when she averaged nine points, 8.5 rebounds and 1.9 assists a game. The versatile center is a threat from three-point range, shooting 34% last year.

The stats were overshadowed by her team’s many struggles as the Liberty managed to win only two games with star rookie Sabrina Ionescu out for most of the season with an ankle injury. The Liberty have missed the playoffs in three consecutive years and have had three head coaches in the last four seasons.

“The seasons haven’t really gone the way that we planned,” said Zahui B., who played in New York for five seasons after being drafted in 2015 by the Tulsa Shock. “But that don’t take away the fact that every single day in practice we went in with killer mentality, and we wanted to win and we went at each other. … So coming into this culture, I’m going to bring that same mentality of being a winner and wanting to win.”

The Sparks have a “winning culture,” Zahui B. said. She has championship-winning teammates now, including two-time champion Kristi Toliver. She is surrounded by some of the best in the world — Nneka Ogwumike, a former WNBA MVP, and Sydney Wiese were among 19 players invited to Team USA’s training camp earlier this month.

Zahui B. is looking forward to picking up assists by finding Toliver open for threes in the corner — “that’s automatically money,” she said — and learning from Ogwumike’s footwork, which is “probably [some] of the best in the world.”

With the Sparks in need of frontcourt help after the departure of Candace Parker, Zahui B. hopes to follow Ogwumike’s lead on the defensive end. Ogwumike, 30, is a role model, the 27-year-old Zahui B. said.

Two years ago, the pupil showed up the former MVP, though, as Zahui B. drained a three-pointer over Ogwumike that gave the Liberty a lead in the final minutes of their 98-92 win at Staples Center. Zahui B. casually held up three fingers on each hand in front of her chest as she went back up the court.

“It’s kind of wild that I had that game against the Sparks,” Zahui B. said. “Now I just have to do it to New York.”