Gillom named Sparks head coach

EL SEGUNDO, Calif. -- Hoping to infuse some new life into the franchise, Los Angeles Sparks general manager Penny Toler tabbed a former WNBA veteran with limited coaching experience to become the team's newest head coach.

Toler introduced former Sparks player and Women's Basketball Hall of Famer Jennifer Gillom as the eighth head coach in franchise history on Monday.

Gillom, a six-time gold medalist, said she had to "pinch myself" after the details were finalized on Friday.

"This is definitely a dream job," Gillom said. "I mean, what coach would not want to coach here? It's been probably one of the most well-known organizations in this league and is just a class act."

The 6-foot-3 Gillom averaged 13.4 points and 4.5 rebounds in seven WNBA seasons and retired after playing her final season with the Sparks in 2003.

Toler said she interviewed five candidates before choosing Gillom, who was an assistant coach for the Minnesota Lynx in 2008 and was promoted to interim head coach in 2009. Before that she coached Xavier College Preparatory in Phoenix to a 130-25 record in five years.

Though there were other coaches with more experience available, Toler decided that Gillom's familiarity with the league, players and passion for the game made her a perfect fit. The two competed against each other professionally in Europe and in the WNBA.

"I'm excited because it's totally different, something out of the comfort zone," Toler said. "She'll be great for the younger players and the veterans already know her. Why should I be afraid to take a chance on someone? Right now we're about to go into a new era. I just wanted something fresh, something new."

Gillom replaces Michael Cooper, who is now head coach of the Southern California women's basketball team.

When deciding who should be the next coach, Toler acknowledged that the option was there to hire a recycled coach with more wins. But she reasoned that many former NBA players have been given a chance to coach in the WNBA with very little head coaching experience so why shouldn't Gillom be given the same consideration?

"I knew with the players she would have instant credibility with them," Toler said. "She came in with the philosophy of bringing back the running style of basketball and has that desire, passion and hunger.

"She wants to do everything she can to help us win a championship."

The Sparks finished last season 21-19 after losing to the eventual WNBA champion Phoenix Mercury in the Western Conference finals.

Gillom is charged with leading the team into a new era now that three-time WNBA MVP and nine-time All-Star center Lisa Leslie has retired.

"Lisa Leslie is going to be very hard to replace, that's a given, but I think Candace Parker, who is the new face of the franchise, is the caliber of player that you would want to start a new era with," Gillom said. "That's what I'm looking forward to the most."