Before Michael Jordan was making Bryon Russell fall with a killer crossover and draining the go ahead jumper to win his sixth NBA title with the Chicago Bulls, Jordan was a skinny, determined athlete dominating the competition at Laney High (Wilmington, N.C.).
Before Adrian Peterson was trucking opposing defenses and racking up 2,097 yards in a single season for the Minnesota Vikings, he was shining bright under the Friday night lights at Palestine High (Palestine, Texas), averaging 12 yards a carry and scoring 32 touchdowns.
Before any athlete can become legendary, they have to lay their foundation in the high school ranks.
We catch up with a high-profile athlete’s former coach, mentor, family member, etc., and reminisce about their high school playing days; everything from the greatest moment to the wackiest story.
For Girls Sports Month, we caught up with WNBA star Candace Parker’s high school coach at Naperville Central (Ill.) Andrew Nussbaum.
Jason Jordan: What’s your best memory of Candace on the court back in high school?
Andrew Nussbaum: Well, right away there’s two that I think of; the first one is when we were in the Final Four her junior year and she was driving to the basket and the opposing player was gonna take a charge so Candace went up and bellied up to the defender and took it around her back, went into the air and hit a jump shot over the kid. That sounds fancy and cool, but it had a purpose. She was always very intentional with her moves. The other one is that same game when we knew that we were actually going to win and the look on her face. She had this stunned look that the TV cameras caught and everything.
JJ: What’s your best memory of Candace off the court?
AN: When I took her the letter that was informing her that she was going to be named Ms. Basketball. She had the biggest smile on her face that you could imagine. That sticks out to me.
JJ: You had her since she was a freshman, what was it like when she dunked for the first time in a game?
AN: She had missed a dunk earlier in the year and this was a similar situation. It was the first quarter and the other team had kinda thrown it away and she got it on the break and you could tell that she was gonna try again. Then she just threw it down. It wasn’t a home game and there were a lot of people there, but I think everyone was just shocked. It was pretty incredible.
JJ: What’s the craziest thing you can remember from her recruitment?
AN: Oh just the attention. We had never had a D-I recruit and then we get Candace. We had every coach you could imagine come through the school. Illinois actually brought the entire team to one of her games. It was wild. Candace is actually the reason that I got a cellphone; just to help her keep up with all the calls.
JJ: What is something that people would be shocked to know about Candace?
AN: She loved to fill the water cups for her teammates when she wasn’t playing. She’s probably the best high school girls player to ever play the game and here she is doubling as the water girl. She also used to look at the scorebook to see who hadn’t scored yet so she could get them the ball.
JJ: When it’s all said and done will Candace go down as the greatest player in WNBA history?
AN: I used to say that, barring injury, she would go down as the greatest. I’ll tell you what I’d take her, that’s for sure. She’s easily at the top of the conversation for that honor. She’s just incredible.
Here’s how Candace Parker got it done in high school.
Follow Jason Jordan on Twitter: @JayJayUSATODAY