Girls Sports Month: Candace Parker on what drives her, dunking and being a mom

Girls Sports Month: Candace Parker on what drives her, dunking and being a mom

Girls Sports Month

Girls Sports Month: Candace Parker on what drives her, dunking and being a mom

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Two-time Olympian Candace Parker is heading to Rio in hopes of winning her third Olympic gold (Robert Hanashiro, USA TODAY Sports)

Two-time Olympian Candace Parker is heading to Rio in hopes of winning her third Olympic gold (Robert Hanashiro, USA TODAY Sports)

Six years ago, Candace Parker was selected as the No. 1 player overall in the WNBA Draft by the Los Angeles Sparks after a stellar career at Naperville (Ill.) Central and the University of Tennessee.

She’s won the WNBA Most Valuable Player award twice and the Rookie of the Year, been All-WNBA First Team four times and made the All-WNBA Defensive Team twice. She will attempt to bring home her third Olympic gold medal this summer in Rio.

And while she wants to win a WNBA title to complete her lengthy basketball resume, she already has an important title: Mom.

Parker, who turns 30 next month, and former Duke and NBA player Shelden Williams have a daughter, Lailaa, who turns seven in May. “As much as what I’ve given her, she’s given me 10 times more,” Parker said.

As part of Girls Sports Month, USA TODAY High School Sports spoke with Parker about being a mom, what continues to drive her, what she still wants to accomplish and what advice she has for young athletes.

MORE: Complete coverage of Girls Sports Month

Q: You were the Rookie of the Year and MVP in the WNBA in the same year in 2008. Only Wilt Chamberlain and Wes Unseld have done that in pro basketball history. Why were you able to have such a quick impact?

A: I think as a rookie coming in – it’s your year to play, your year to learn, your year to prove yourself.  That year I just remember having all those things and just trying to learn from my vets and get better every day.

Q: Is there something at a certain point during the year where it just clicks and you just know you’re able to play at your absolute peak?

A: I think it feels good when you get in your rhythm and your body feels good. Your shot’s going in. When you get into that mode, it’s a fun place to be.

MORE: Maya Moore on finding balance, striving to be great 

Candace Parker of Naperville, Ill. Central High School, dunks during the Powerade Jam Fest as part of the McDonald's All-American High School Team competition held at Carl Albert High School in Oklahoma City, Monday, March 29, 2004. (Photo: Ty Russell, The Oklahoman/AP).

Candace Parker of Naperville (Ill.) Central High School, dunks during the Powerade JamFest as part of the McDonald’s All-American Game in 2004. (Photo: Ty Russell, The Oklahoman via AP)

Q: You won the dunk contest in the McDonald’s All American Game. You were the first woman to dunk in an NCAA Tournament game, the first woman to dunk twice in a college game and the second woman to dunk in the WNBA. But you obviously dunked before you did it in a game. What do you remember about the first time? 

A: I think I was more excited about dunking for the first time because I was 14 and my brothers didn’t dunk until they were 16. I was excited that I was able to do it before they did.

Q: What was it like growing up with your brother Anthony, who played in the NBA?

A:  I talk to Anthony every day. Still. He’s my hero. I look up to him. He’s the best guy and to have him as your hero growing up was a great role model to follow.

Q: At this point in your career, what do you still look forward to?

A: I want to win a championship.  I haven’t won a WNBA championship yet and it’s the last thing to check off the resume. I’m looking forward to the Olympics in Rio and hopefully we can win that fifth straight gold medal.

The other thing is just enjoying the journey.  My daughter is 6 now, so she knows mommy plays basketball. She’s not into sports, but she follows it a little bit so I just want to make her proud.

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Q: What’s the No. 1 thing you can impart early on your daughter?

A: I really just tell her that you wake up every day with a choice – you can choose to be happy. … I just want her to enjoy the moment and I’m enjoying her.  As much as what I’ve given her, she’s given me 10 times more.

Q: You were a two-time winner of the Gatorade National Girls Basketball Player of the Year and then won the Gatorade National Female Athlete of the Year. You were back to present the award last summer. What was that like?

A: It felt extremely weird to see my name on the banners so far to the left – and as the years are passing we’re going right so it felt a little strange. I felt old.  … Being on the stage and presenting, I remember sitting in the stands and out there waiting for the Gatorade Player of the Year to be called.  And just the excitement.  To realize this isn’t an ending point, this is a starting point.  Your career is a blank slate and that has to be exciting.

Q: Your recruiting was very well chronicled before you selected Tennessee. What are some of your memories of that process? 

A: The thing I remember is just the amount of experiences that I had.  I was able and fortunate enough to go to different campuses and to meet different people and to really choose someplace that I wanted to go.  And I was really lucky from that aspect because I think a lot of people don’t get to choose where they want to go.  I really took in that process and built great relationships over the years because of it.

RELATED: Tamika Catchings on her career and what comes next

Q: As someone who has maximized her potential, what would you say to young athletes about maximizing their potential?

A: Enjoy the moment, experience it, take a lot of pictures and snapshots in your head because it goes fast. (Olympic sprinter) Allyson Felix is a really close friend of mine. We met in 2003 at the Gatorade Player of the Year event, and 12 years later hanging out in LA, she comes to my daughter’s birthday parties. She comes over and gets killed at cards with me and my husband (laughing), but it’s fun to build these type of relationships. Honestly, the awards and honors are fantastic, but I think what you get so excited about is the relationships you build because of them.

Los Angeles Sparks forward Candace Parker (left) tries to get past Tulsa Shock forward Karima Christmas (Photo: Mark J. Terrill, Associated Press)

Los Angeles Sparks forward Candace Parker (left) tries to get past Tulsa Shock forward Karima Christmas (Photo: Mark J. Terrill, Associated Press)

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Girls Sports Month: Candace Parker on what drives her, dunking and being a mom
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