Checking In with the Rook, Zia Cooke

Zia Cooke is the lone rookie left on the Los Angeles Sparks. She has already proven herself a fearless competitor, one her teammates feel can be a longtime player in the league. The 10th overall pick in the 2023 WNBA Draft, Cooke has come into the league with her best foot forward. 

Before joining the Sparks, Cooke was a member of the Dawn Staley-helmed University of South Carolina women’s basketball program, where she won a championship in 2022. The guard had her most efficient offensive season as a senior, shooting 40.5 percent from the field and 34.6 percent from three. She picked up numerous awards, including being named to the All-America Third Team, three-time All-America Honorable Mention, the Ann Meyers Drysdale Shooting Guard of the Year Award, three-time All-SEC, three-time NCAA Final Four All-Tournament Team, and four-time SEC Academic Honor Roll. 

Cooke began her Sparks career with some fire, scoring 14 points in 15 minutes and shooting an efficient 5-of-6 from the field. Since then, her minutes and production have fluctuated opponent by opponent, yet Cooke has remained “ready until my number is called,” as she stated in a postgame presser back in July. 

I checked in with Cooke in late July, and we discussed her thoughts on her rookie season.


Winsidr: Evaluating yourself halfway into the season, how do you think your rookie season is going?

Zia Cooke: I think it’s going okay, but I’ve faced a lot of adversity so far this season. I can’t buy a bucket for some reason, but I think it’s all a part of my process—just being able to dial in and go through adversity, while also giving to my teammates. So, I definitely think it’s not as easy as I thought it would be, but it’s a work-in-progress.

Winsidr: How have you been able to get through that adversity, especially dealing with the widespread injuries on the team and a losing record thus far? 

Cooke: This is definitely my first time losing [like this], my first time not playing as much as I’m used to. So, like I said, I’m going through a lot when it comes to adversity, but the only way I deal with it is just believing in myself. Understanding that life is a process, and I’m starting over. I felt like I was reaching the peak of my game in college, towards my senior year. Now, I feel like I’m starting over again, and I need to continue to play hard.

Winsidr: Who on the team has been a source for you to lean on since coming into the league?

Cooke: Oh man, I’ve been leaning on all my vets, truly. I’ll never forget the way Nneka [Ogwumike] gave me a warm welcome when I first got drafted. I can go down the list—Jas [Jasmine Thomas], Azurá [Stevens], and Jordin [Canada] being in my corner. They let me know what I need to do as a rookie. I feel like I’ve got the best vets in the game.

Winsidr: What have been the easiest and hardest parts about transitioning into the league?

Cooke: The easiest part about this transition is I felt like I was very much prepared for the next level, when it comes to play calls and understanding the game. I think Dawn Staley put me in a great position to be in the league. Because of that, I will stick in the league for as long as I can. The hardest part is definitely dealing with adversity. I feel like I’m starting my whole career over. Being able to deal with this adversity [requires]keeping myself in a peaceful space, for sure. 

Winsidr: What was your welcome-to-the-W moment?

Cooke: The world was saying my welcome moment was when A’ja Wilson blocked my shot, which is cool. Other than that, I think my moment hasn’t been a play [specifically]; it’s been being able to play in the league. When I first got here, I felt very welcomed—this was a dream come true for me.

Winsidr: Do you feel fully adjusted to life in LA?

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Zia Cooke: Not yet. I think I’m getting there. I’m definitely adjusted to the traffic. I know how to maneuver around it, for sure.” 

Winsidr: What are you looking forward to in the second half of the season?

Zia Cooke: I’m looking for us to win a lot more games, to do the best we can to win. I’m looking to keep advancing myself and making myself the best player I can be, [one]that contributes to us winning.


As Cooke continues to blossom, the Sparks hope the shifty, versatile guard will fill the wide scoring gaps brought on by injuries. With her competitiveness, ambitious mindset, and ability to learn  on the fly, the 5’9” Cooke will be an integral component of the Sparks’ future, as well as a mainstay in the league. 


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