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Rousseau out; Woolridge takes over

Associated Press

  INGLEWOOD, Calif. -- Julie Rousseau's unlikely one-year rise from high school coaching to the WNBA ended Friday when she was fired after the Los Angeles Sparks stumbled to a 7-13 record.

Assistant Orlando Woolridge was named interim coach, becoming the first former NBA player to guide a WNBA team. Woolridge was to make his debut Friday night when Los Angeles played host to Phoenix.

"I felt we needed to get the Sparks back on track and headed in the direction that I have always wanted the team to go in," Johnny Buss, team president, said in a statement released by the team.

"With 10 games left in the season, I felt we needed to let our players and fans know that we still have hopes of making the playoffs. We felt that bringing Orlando in as head coach will inspire our players not to give up."

The Sparks were expected to be playoff contenders after a 14-14 record last season and the addition of 1984 Olympic gold medalist Pam McGee and first-round draft choice Allison Feaster.

However, with injuries sidelining Feaster, 6-foot-8 center Haixia Zheng and reserve guard Jamila Wideman, the Sparks lost seven of their first nine games. They rebounded to win three of the next five, but lost four of their following five before Wednesday's 77-68 victory over Washington in what turned out to be Rousseau's final game.

"It was a win, but I was disappointed with the way it was done," Buss said Thursday. "We're still going in the wrong direction of where we want the team to go."

Los Angeles has been unable to win consecutive games and entered Friday's play third in the five-team Western Conference, 4 games behind Cleveland and New York in the race for the final playoff berth. The Sparks have 10 games left to play in the WNBA's 30-game schedule, one more than Cleveland and New York.

Rousseau was hired as an assistant in 1997 after coaching the girls' basketball team at George Washington Preparatory High School to five Los Angeles City Section championships. Rousseau was named interim coach July 16, 1997 when Linda Sharp was fired after the team started 4-7.

Rousseau guided the Sparks to a 10-7 record, missing the playoffs after a 73-68 overtime loss to Western Conference champion Phoenix in the final regular-season game.

Rousseau, 33, returned to Washington High after the WNBA season ended in late August, teaching physical education classes. She resigned her teaching position in December after being named as coach, joining the Sparks full-time.

Woolridge, 38, is the fourth male WNBA coach. The Notre Dame graduate was the Chicago Bulls' first-round choice in the 1981 NBA Draft and played 13 seasons in the league, including stints with the Los Angeles Lakers, Detroit Pistons and Philadelphia 76ers.

He began his coaching career as a girls' assistant coach at Los Angeles' Harvard-Westlake School during the 1996-97 season and became the Sparks assistant coach when Rousseau was named interim coach.

Former Mercury assistant Steve Smith has been appointed Sparks assistant coach to join Colleen Matsuhara and Woolridge on the bench. He is a 1996 graduate of Dominican College and spent the '97 campaign with Phoenix. After resigning from his position with the Mercury, he became an advanced scout with the Sparks prior to taking the assistant coach position.

Rousseau is the third WNBA coach to be fired in just over a week. On July 23, the Washington Mystics fired coach Jim Lewis, while Utah Starzz coach Denise Taylor was let go on Monday.