Candace Parker, Olympian and WNBA star, recently took a break from her prestigious life to talk ball. The 6-foot-4 standout from Naperville, IL, has marked her name in numerous record books, dominating at each level of her game.
Candace is currently touring on behalf of the Capital One Cup, the prestigious award, which recognizes the best men's and women's Division I athletic programs in the country, giving a combined $400,000 in student-athlete scholarships.
The Lady Vols athletic department has two top-20 overall finishes in the award's five-year history, and the winner of this year's women's NCAA college basketball title will earn 60 points toward the Capital One Cup. For more information on the Cup, or to see where your school stands, fans can go to www.capitalonecup.com.
Swish Appeal: You graduated from Tennessee, and you're touring on behalf of the Capital One Cup; for other female athletes at Tennessee also looking to complete their education, what would the $200,000 mean to them if they were able to win the Capital One Cup?
Candace Parker: Well I think it's a really great thing that Capital One is doing. It wasn't there when I was there, and for them to be given the opportunity to win that money in athletic scholarships to different universities means a lot. Of course it's bragging rights so it's kind of fun to look and see if your team is in the top 10; and you get 60 points if you win a national championship. So it's something to keep an eye on. It includes all sports and it's something I want to spread the word about. It's something that's great that Capital One is doing.
SA: How much did championship coach Brian Agler really help the team's success last year?
CP: Coach Agler is a fantastic coach. He's a great communicator, he's very knowledgeable about the game of basketball, and he really takes in his player's points of views and opinions. You see him really thinking about what you're saying. There's very few people that ask your opinion and really want to take it into account what you say. I think he was great for the Sparks because he motivated us and built us into the team that we were at the end of the year.
SA: What kind of impact has Pat Summitt had on your life?
CP: Coach Summitt has had a huge impact on my life. I think the biggest thing is ... you know a lot of people say the right things, but very few live it and demonstrate it in the toughest of times and the greatest of times. You know, some people are, "do as I say not as I do" but she walks the walk. And when you have someone that sets such great examples, it inspires you that much more to be like her.
SA: You lead the team and the league in numerous categories. How do you continue to make yourself better after having accomplished so much?
CP: In search of a WNBA championship. It's something that I haven't accomplished, and the team hasn't accomplished in a long time, but I think you're always motived to be the best and want to win, and that's what I want. I want to do that because I feel like when you win championships, that's something that people can't take away from you. You can't dispute who won the WNBA championship. People can argue individual awards, but that championship means a lot.
SA: You've broken several records for dunking. How does it feel to be one of the few women to dunk in a game?
CP: Well it started off in high school. I wanted to dunk before my brothers. I was a lot taller than them, so my dad challenged me and threw me a tennis ball, and I just worked on it, and it was just something I did after workouts. And then it turned into, "why not?" Why not try adding that to my game. I definitely don't want to be known solely for my dunks. I really try to work hard at other aspects of my game, but it obviously gets you points and excitement and attention to the women's games.
SA: What was your childhood like growing up? Aside from natural talent, how did you become the player you are today?
CP: I grew up with two older brothers, and I always wanted to do everything they did. When I was younger, I just followed them around, and they're so much older than me so we never really played against each other. I just really did everything they did and wanted to emulate their game.
My older brother played professionally for over 13 or 14 years, and he really challenged me. My mom and dad were my coaches when I was younger and pushed me to play sports. Obviously, I credit soccer with a lot of it as well and see the floor and understand angles.
SA: Being an athlete has its highs and lows, and you've clearly had a lot of highs, but what's been the hardest thing you've had to overcome in basketball but also in your life outside of basketball?
CP: The hardest thing I've had to overcome in basketball is my injuries. I've had a great deal of setbacks in that aspect, and I love basketball so much, and I'm so passionate about it that it's hard to sit out and watch other people play it. You know, there's obstacles in life, and it's about how you handle it. Sometimes it's not what happens, but rather your reaction to it.
SA: You have a daughter, Lailaa, how do you balance being a mom, professional athlete, and wife to another professional athlete?
CP: It's definitely a balance. We've been married since the beginning of my professional playing days, and it's definitely a partnership. My husband Shelden is a great father we both fill different roles cooking, cleaning and picking up Lailaa. Definitely, the key word is balance.
SA: What more do you want to accomplish in your career before it's over?
CP: Winning a WNBA Championship is something that I want to accomplish. That would be an amazing feeling. It would be the last little checkmark on my list of things to do in my career. Obviously, another Olympics would be amazing, just to win another Olympics would be a goal of mine too.
SA: You're a role model to women and athletes all across the country. How do you give back and mentor your alma mater through your experiences and what you've accomplished?
CP: Honestly, I just point to my coach. They have the best role model in Coach Summitt. I think that life is a process and a learning experience. You have to learn from mistakes you make and go forward. Nothing is a finished product, and you always have to be willing to work and be respective.
The basketball legend that is Candace Parker has big plans for the future. And while Parker continues to rewrite the record books, she will work to fulfill the last item on her checklist; a WNBA Championship.