The Los Angeles Sparks had three picks in the 2023 WNBA Draft and they chose University of South Carolina’s Zia Cooke with the 10th overall pick, Shaneice Swain from Australia with their second round pick (#14 overall), and Iowa’s Monika Czinano with their third round pick (#26 overall). Swain is not expected to be on the team for this upcoming season.
But Cooke and Czinano are going to be in training camp for the Sparks. They both talked to the media for the first time after being drafted by the Sparks.
Zia started off by thanking the media and then her family, friends, and the University of South Carolina. She was ready to go to work.
On draft night and embracing her journey:
“Just starting from, speaking of college in my freshman year all the way to my senior year, I had a lot of spurts in my life where I had to learn how to play my role. I had to learn that I’m playing with a lot of great girls and it just won’t be about me. Playing for the University of South Carolina can sometimes be hard and I kinda think I got in my way some of the times in my career. But as I continued to grow, especially when I got to my junior and senior year in college, it started to clear up with me because, mentally, I was just in a better space. And I realize that you have to find the beauty in your struggle. I had a lot of lows in the beginning of my career at the University of South Carolina. But once I learned how to embrace my struggle and with Coach Staley being in my ear all the time letting me know that’s what I have to do, everything started to clear up for me.”
What we might see in the WNBA that we didn’t see in college:
“I think just my ability to score. Being in the W, you have more space and opportunity to show off some of the talents that you have. You have a role wherever you are; it doesn’t matter if you’re in college or in the W. But I think that the floor will definitely be more spaced out to where I’ll be able to operate in a different way. Just speaking for playing for the L.A. Sparks, I’ll definitely just do whatever as needed for them, no matter what it is. I have a variety of different things I’ll be able to bring to the table. And I’m excited to see what my roll will be.”
On her shooting and how it will translate to the league:
“I’m a gym rat. The coaching staff will start to realize that when I get (to L.A.). I love being in the gym. I like to work on keeping myself as consistent as I can. But this past summer going into my senior year, I really (put some) emphasis on my shot. It was some days I was just going there and I would just do form shooting. Like an hour of form shooting because it’s all about repetition and it’s all about figuring out exactly what your shot is. I’m still learning my shot. I think once I finally get it all the way down, my shot will become automatic. I’m always in the gym trying to figure out different ways to perfect my three-point shot. Like you said, once I’m able to do that, I think it will open up my drive, be able to get my midrange in. And people out there will really play close up on me.”
Elements of her game that improved while she was in college and how head coach Dawn Staley helped her through that process:
“I want to start with just saying my mindset. Like I said, when you’re a freshman or a sophomore, you’re still learning everything. So I wasn’t as vocal ’cause I didn’t understand everything. Down the stretch, through my junior or senior year, I kind of knew what was going on the floor, I was able to be a leader to the younger girls. And Coach (Dawn Staley) has always taught me to just maintain. She’s helped me maintain and just know that, with the highs and the lows, everything will be okay.
“And speaking about the way I play now, I’m very confident in myself. My teammates definitely played a huge role in my confidence, believing in me, believing in my shot. So it’s a blessing to have them around as well.
“But Coach Staley has played a huge role in my life when it comes to the player that I am. She’s teached me the game, how it’s supposed to be played, and it’s been very helpful.”
When asked about veteran Nneka Ogwumike seeing her right after she got picked:
“She came up to me and gave me a hug right after I got picked. It made me feel so good. I could tell that she’s very genuine and caring… and I’m definitely going to be under her. I’m going to be under her… asking her questions, trying to figure out this system… because I could tell that she’s the type of person that wants that. I told her that you definitely made me feel welcome and I’m not even there yet. But I definitely will be soaking in as much as I can from her knowing that she’s the vet of that team and she’s the leader of the team. It felt good to have the leader of the L.A. Sparks to give me a warm welcome.”
She was also asked about next year’s season opener for her alma mater, the University of South Carolina, which will take place in France against Notre Dame. Zia said it was special especially since it will be two black women (Staley and Notre Dame’s coach Niele Ivey) facing off. She said it’s a pretty good season opener and it’s great for women’s basketball.
Lastly, Zia was asked about the street being named after her in Toledo, Ohio. She thought she was too young to receive such an honor but her parents gave her the perspective of her getting her flowers while she’s there. She was just so happy that the city is behind her just like she’s been behind the city. She also said she always tried to give back to her city (with the annual camp she holds there and her mom having a non-profit organization) and, in return, the city gave her a street to show her appreciation.
Monika was asked about her reaction on getting picked:
“I can’t even describe truly what I felt when I saw my name pop up on that screen. It’s a dream for so long and you just can’t really imagine it until it happens. I was shocked. My family was going crazy, truly blowing up. Magic Johnson tweeted and my mom was in tears. It was truly one of the best nights ever. I wouldn’t have traded for anything.”
She was asked about her post efficiency and how it will translate to the WNBA. Monika gives credit to her coaching staff. She knew she was somewhat undersized but she also mentioned that her not dribbling (which everyone loves) quickens everything up and it doesn’t give time for the defense to get set. She also said how she’s been blessed to play with great guard play and that she’s excited to get that with the L.A. Sparks.
Czinano is, of course, aware where the game is going with basketball becoming more perimeter-oriented. But she says the post play is “ol’ reliable” and that while she will do what the coaches tell her, so far it’s been about the post. She put her head down and it’s worked for her so far so she’ll keep doing what she’s doing.
If she’s talked to fellow Iowa alumni Megan Gustafson after the draft:
“Well, I call Megan my co-agent at this point because she is doing it all for me truly. She was one of the first people I called after I found out I was drafted. Just an amazing role model, an amazing person. I’m so lucky to call her one of my best friends. She’s been helpful every step of the journey. Anytime I kind of have any type of question, I’ll text her, I’ll ask her. ‘Cause she’s really kind of seen it all and done it all, I feel like. Definitely looking at her journey as something to compare it to but I think everybody’s journey in this league is so different. Truly, we can’t write up how it’s going to happen so just taking everything a day at a time but looking at her journey and realizing that there some similiarities possibly there.”
Monika was asked about her proudest achievement and she pointed to leaving Iowa with a better culture than she’s found it as well as her chemistry with her teammates. She looks forward to bringing that over to the L.A. Sparks.
Apparently, she’s never been to California! But she looks forward to acclimating with the deep culture in Los Angeles. Monika admits to being a foodie and she said L.A. was a pretty sweet place to get chosen.
Finally, she was asked about what she hopes to soak in from the veterans:
“I’d be just… learning anything and everything they have to possibly teach me. Great, great vets on this team. I’m so excited to be able to step in and learn from really experienced players who are doing great things, no matter if that’s overseas or in the league. I think that’s kind of what this whole thing is about, kind of soaking everything in and having the opportunity to come in and compete. I’m so excited to get out to L.A. and meet ’em.”
Special thanks to Corrie Hemry and the Los Angeles Sparks for the access!