Forward for the WNBA's Los Angeles Sparks; Member of the 2008 U.S. Women's Olympic Basketball Team
A great '08 so far
As long as Candace Parker plays basketball, it will be tough to top her year of 2008. On April 8, she led Tennessee to its second straight NCAA national title, after which Parker was named Most Outstanding Player of the Final Four for the second straight year. The next day, she was selected first overall in the WNBA Draft by the Los Angeles Sparks, becoming the first player with remaining college eligibility to be taken No. 1. Then, in her first WNBA game on May 17, Parker scored 34 points, the most in a WNBA debut (and added 12 rebounds). On June 23, she was awarded the Honda-Broderick Cup, which is given to the collegiate woman athlete of the year. And this is all before the 22-year-old makes her Olympic debut in Beijing.
'She's just that good'
The U.S. women have won the gold medal at the past three Olympics, and are favored to win a fourth. Despite the abundance of talent, Parker figures to step right in and contribute. "She does things at her height that you don't see many people do: the ability to shoot outside, go inside, she can dribble, rebound, go coast-to-coast," says U.S. teammate Sue Bird, adding, "Even though she is probably going to be one of the youngest, if not the youngest, on the team, she's still going to be one of the main (contributors). She's just that good, that talented." Says Diana Taurasi, "And the thing that really sets her apart: When you're young, a lot of people don't want to listen. But she listens and actually puts it to work when she gets advice."
The youngest player on Team USA's 2006 World Championship team, Parker also was the only collegian on the squad, which went 8-1 and earned the bronze medal. Generally the first player off the bench, Parker was third on the team in points (12.3 per game), second in rebounds (6.1) and first in field goal percentage (58.3). She also led the team in blocked shots with 14, which was good for an all-time world championship record (was 11). At the 2007 FIBA Americas tournament, where the U.S. went 5-0 and qualified for the 2008 Olympics, Parker started each game and averaged 13.8 points, which tied Tina Thompson for the team lead. Parker shot 61.7 percent from the field and added 4.0 rebounds and 2.4 assists per game.
Volunteering to win
She played just three seasons at Tennessee, but Parker clearly made her mark as one of the school's finest. In addition to her two national titles and MOP awards, she won the 2007 and 2008 Women's John R. Wooden awards, the 2008 Naismith Player of the Year and 2008 Associated Press Player of the Year. A second-team All-American selection following her freshman year, Parker made the first-team as a sophomore and junior. Her 2,137 career points rank her third all-time in Tennessee women's basketball history.
Parker first achieved national fame when she became the first female to win a slam dunk contest, which she did during the 2004 McDonald's High School All-American weekend. And she went to new heights in college. As a freshman, she became the first woman to dunk in an NCAA Tournament game. Later, she became the first woman to dunk twice in the same college game. And in her 11th professional game, on June 22, Parker became the second woman to dunk in a WNBA contest. Lisa Leslie, her Sparks and U.S. teammate, is the only other WNBA player to do it. Parker says she first dunked as a 15-year-old sophomore in high school.
Though new to professional basketball, Parker has been around it for years. One of her two older brothers is Anthony Parker, a guard for the NBA's Toronto Raptors who spent time playing in Israel and Italy and went to college at Bradley. And Candace's fiancé is Sheldon Williams, a center for the Sacramento Kings who played his college ball at Duke.
After four years at Naperville Central High School, Parker was one of the most highly-touted recruits in the nation. In her final three prep seasons, she was the Gatorade Illinois Player of the Year, and in 2003 and '04, she was the Naismith, Gatorade and USA Today National High School Player of the Year. All the while, Parker was on Naperville Central's High Honor Roll each semester of her high school career.
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