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Monday, April 26, 2010
Trying out for the Sparks' practice squad

By Henry Abbott

Writer D.J. Foster, a regular contributor to ClipperBlog and ESPNLos Angeles, tried out to be part of the Los Angeles Sparks' practice squad. It would have been a cool opportunity to share the court with transcendant players like Candace Parker.

Foster didn't make the cut, and he's not even all that sure why he tried out. But his tale of the tryouts, on ClipperBlog, is a great read. We join his tale just after the contestants finish running "seventeens," and Foster has begun to lose some of his enthusiasm for the project:
At this point I’m breathing harder than I have in a long time. Apparently it’s noticeable, as one of my fellow competitors is concerned for my general well being and asks me if I’m okay.

“Hufffff…AHHHH….Huffff,” I answer. He raises an eyebrow at me, so I give him a thumbs up before finding a spot on the bleachers. Just as I sit, coach Smith calls us back to the court. He is an evil man. I do not jog to center court this time around.

As I gasp for air, I watch our first five on five action start to unfold. I look around for my future teammates. There’s a shorter man with a Los Angeles Lakers tattoo blazoned across his bicep standing next to me. Think there’s anyone with a Clippers tattoo who will run with me? Probably not here, probably not anywhere. There’s a young man on the other side of me ironically complaining to an older man about his hip flexor. He’s not gonna do. Finally I give up and decide that I’m too exhausted to actively recruit my five to run with, so I just group up with the people next to me. Coach Smith has us in the Phoenix Mercury’s 3-2 zone, and I plead with my teammates to get their hands up. Active hands! Coaches dig active hands. When we switch to man-to-man later in the drill, I hedge on a screen in a manner that would make Anderson Varejao jealous. I am tired, but there’s life in me yet.

At least for a little while, anyway. Coach Smith is relentless and puts us through more conditioning drills. Full court sprints on an NBA sized court. Suicides. One tryout attendee loses his lunch. Some of the older guys trying out struggle to keep up. We are a diverse crowd, with players aging from 19 to 50, but we are all collectively bonded by our misery through running. I find myself cheering for a complete stranger who is running with me, telling him to dig and keep going. I have no idea why I do this, but all of the sudden I start to feel like I’m part of a team. A wildly dysfunctional, out of shape team, but a team nonetheless. At that point I decide that’s probably why we’re all here — we all want to be a part of something, whether we admit it or not.