Naperville’s Candace Parker can’t wait to compete at London Olympics
BY TINA AKOURIS Sun-Times Media July 19, 2012 10:56PM
U.S. women's Olympic basketball players Sue Bird (6), Candace Parker (15) and Sylvia Fowles (13) during practice, Saturday, July 14, 2012, in Washington. (AP Photo/Nick Wass)
Candace Parker’s milestones
High school (postseason)
State championships — 2003 (Central def. Fenwick 63-59 in OT) and 2004 (Central def. New Trier 48-37)
Most points, state finals — 92 (28-32-32) Class AA in 2003.
Most points, state title game — 32, Candace Parker, Class AA in 2003 vs. Fenwick (13-19 FG, 2-3 3P, 4-4 FT)
Most field goals made, state tournament — 37, Class AA in 2003 (37 of 63)
Most blocked shots, state title game — 8, Class AA in 2004 vs. New Trier
High school (career)
Most points — 2,758, 2000-04, 11th overall.
Most rebounds, season — 483, 2002-03
National championships — 2, Tennessee, 2007 and 2008
Free throws, single game — 17, vs. Middle Tennessee (12/13/07), shared with
Free throw attempts, single game —
21, vs. Middle Tennessee (12/13/07)
Free throws, season — 201, 2007-08
Free throw attempts, season — 288, 2007-08
Blocks, season — 99, 2006-07
Dunks, season — 4, 2006-07
Free throws, career — 526, 2005-08
Free throw attempts, career — 738, 2005-08
Blocks, career — 275, 2005-08
Dunks, career — 7, 2005-08
Source: U. of Tennessee website
Updated: August 21, 2012 6:12AM
The upcoming London Olympics will be extra special for Naperville native and women’s basketball star Candace Parker.
True, she was on the women’s team that won the gold medal in Beijing in 2008. This time, though, will be different.
“I have a different perspective now,” Parker said. “Back then, I didn’t know what to expect. I was really young, and now I’m more mature, and I know how truly special this experience is. I didn’t truly grasp how big it was.”
Since Beijing, Parker had to miss part of the 2009 season with the WNBA’s Los Angeles Sparks, when she gave birth to her daughter, Lailaa, and last season she injured her right knee and played in only 17 games.
And there was also Parker’s left shoulder. Parker said she injured it before Beijing but didn’t get it surgically repaired. In 2010, Parker reseparated the shoulder and had to have surgery, missing more time.
The injuries and her age — Parker is 26 — have put athletics in perspective. This time around, Parker plans to enjoy the Olympic experience, and that will include sightseeing — she wants to see Big Ben — and events that aren’t men’s basketball.
Parker’s life isn’t nearly as chaotic now, either. She won back-to-back state titles at Naperville Central High School. As one of the most highly recruited players in the nation, she went to the University of Tennessee, where she led the Lady Vols to back-to-back NCAA titles. Then she was drafted into the WNBA and moved to Los Angeles.
“The Olympics got lost in the shuffle, and (life) went from one thing to the next,” Parker said.
Now, she fully grasps how magical it will be once the games start in London.
Parker’s family moved to Naperville when she was 3 years old. She attended Kingsley Elementary School, Lincoln Junior High and Naperville Central High School.
At Naperville Central she was nothing less than a superstar, leading the team to two state titles. In her junior and senior years, she was the Naismith, USA Today and Gatorade National High School Player of the Year. She was also a top student every year at Naperville Central.
She comes back to town from time to time, giving basketball clinics or dropping by to pick up an honor or two, like in 2009, when the basketball court at Spring-Field Park in Naperville was named in her honor. Her popularity was shown that day, as hundreds of fans gathered around for the festivities.
It was also a special moment for Parker, because that is the park where she and her family would go to play basketball.
She also has plenty of other memories around town. In 2001, she became the youngest female to ever dunk in a regulation game. Her first dunk of any kind, she has said, was at Edward Health and Fitness Center.
Naperville Mayor A. George Pradel has known Parker since she was at Naperville Central. He said that even as a teen, she was a very special person in many ways, and that is still the case today.
“She is one of the best representatives we could have for Naperville,” Pradel said. “She is so humble, and just a delight to be around.”
Parker has a huge number of fans — “she draws a crowd wherever she goes” Pradel said — and is proud of her hometown.
“She always mentions Naperville” when she is doing interviews, Pradel said.
That pride in her hometown is genuine.
“I always tease my husband that I want to bring my daughter back here and raise her here because Naperville is the best place,” Parker has said.
Her husband is NBA player Shelden Williams. And with her brother Anthony Parker also playing in the NBA, Candace certainly has deep connections to the game.
Chicago Sky center Sylvia Fowles has been a friend for years, and will also be on the Olympic team.
“Syl and I have grown up together, and we started playing against each other when we were 13,” said Parker. “It was always about this kid Sylvia Fowles. I heard a lot about her through AAU and the Nike and Adidas camps. There was always a connection between us.”
Parker and Fowles are coming full circle as they embark on their second Olympic tournament. They were rookies at the 2008 Beijing Olympics.
“With (Parker) being healthy, she’ll bring a lot to the table,” Fowles said. “But we have so many great people on that team, it’s not going to matter because everyone can contribute. From what I know of Candace, every time it’s something big, she’s going to step up.”
Into the future
Parker said she wants to have more children but still sees herself playing for a few more years. Even though she wouldn’t discount this being her last Olympics, she realizes she can’t keep playing 20 years from now.
The only thing Parker hasn’t won is a WNBA championship. Parker won back-to-back state titles at Naperville Central, two NCAA titles and an Olympic gold medal. Her career won’t be complete, though, without that WNBA crown.
But all eyes for the moment will be on the Olympics, and that includes her legion of fans in her old hometown. No matter what happens, though, Parker will hold a special place in the hearts of our community.
“She is our lady of Naperville,” Pradel said.
Kim Williams and Dan Cassidy of Sun-Times Media contributed to this story.