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WHITE PLAINS, N.Y. (AP) — Derek Fisher admitted he learned a lot from his failed stint as coach of the New York Knicks. He's taking those lessons over to his new role as the head of the Los Angeles Sparks.
So far, it has paid off. The rookie WNBA coach has guided the Sparks to wins in two of the team's first three games, including Tuesday afternoon's hard-fought victory over the New York Liberty. He said it was one of the first times he's been back to New York since he was fired in 2016.
"There are things that I experienced while coaching here in New York that worked, and that didn't' work," he said after the 78-73 victory over the Liberty on Tuesday. "The way I want to coach the game, the way I want to do things offensively and defensively."
Fisher, who played in the NBA for 18 years, also feels he learned a valuable lesson on how to talk to players.
"When I got to New York as coach of the Knicks leaving the playing court I tried to create some distance between being the player and the coach," he said. "At times, I needed to be closer to the individual players in terms of building relationships and having conversations and not feeling like I'm overstepping by trying to be closer to my players. That was a mistake in a sense because players need the personal relationship and connection with their head coach so that they can trust him.
"Now understanding that, my communication level with my players is now really overly communicating and building one-on-one relationships. Those are key things I learned."
His new team has been impressed with what they've seen so far from Fisher.
"It's refreshing. He comes with open eyes and respects us as players and what we're fighting for," Chiney Ogwumike said. "Every experience is a new experience for him. I like his perspective. Basketball is just basketball. He brings an NBA perspective that's unique and may help us win games. Lot of teams in this league have huge playbooks. For him in the NBA, it was just basketball. Matchups, isolations and defensive core principles. We're just playing the game, not overthinking. We're improving our skills."
Nneka Ogwumike echoed her sister's comments.
"I feel like I'm finally in the evolution of the game. It's funny because with the NBA and WNBA, yeah it's the sister league, but it's very different from the NBA," she said. "Coach provides that cross-sectionality of the two. Bringing together the true foundation similarities that both leagues have and should have and don't have. It's extremely apparent in how our organization is being run now. He pays attention to detail in everything we do."
Fisher is also learning about the difficulties that WNBA teams and players face. The Sparks played Friday, had to practice early Saturday morning because they had to be off the court by 11 a.m. because they don't own the facility that they practice at. They had a season ticket holder event, then flew commercial across the country Sunday morning and didn't get to their hotel until 7 p.m. that night.
"It's not easy to be in the WNBA," he said.
Fisher also didn't know how tight a rookie's schedule is going from the Final Four to the draft to the city they are playing in soon after.
"They definitely have it a lot more difficult then NBA guys," he said.
Fisher was emotional after the win over New York on Tuesday. Even though the Liberty aren't owned by James Dolan anymore and the game wasn't played at Madison Square Garden, it still had a lot of meaning.
"He didn't want to talk about it till after the game, how much it meant to him" Chiney Ogwumike said. "He has a lot of memories here, good ones, bad ones. Where we are right now, in the present moment, is where we're supposed to be. ... This win is a testament to his journey, not only as a coach, but a man as well."
Fisher said he told his story to the team so they could understand his journey.
"The New York part I shared with them about how life throws things at you sometimes. Don't plan for it. You can't expect to get embarrassed. You failed. It didn't work out," Fisher said. "How you have to just keep pushing and learn from it. Try to get better so that you're better prepared for it. That's the best part about being back here, not sticking it to New York. I loved my time here in the city. The fans. I have nothing negative to say about being back here."
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