BEIJING -- Candace Parker always envisioned 2008 as being her year.
Already the new face of women's basketball, Parker wants to pull off an unprecedented triple crown -- Olympic gold, a professional title and college championship, all in the same year.
"I've always circled 2008 on my calendar," Parker said. "This was going to be the year I won a national championship, a gold medal, and won a WNBA championship. I don't think anyone has every done that. It's still my goal."
So far so good. Parker won a second straight national title at Tennessee earlier this year, her Los Angeles Sparks are WNBA championship contenders, and the U.S. is cruising in the Olympics.
The U.S. team hasn't really need much from Parker in the Olympics so far, winning by an average of 47 points. However, she has been relatively quiet on the court despite being third on the team in scoring (10.3 points) and shooting 60 percent from the field. Parker hasn't lived up to her own high standards yet.
"I'd be lying if I told you I played to the best of my ability the past few games," Parker said. "But we won and I've learned from it. This is a learning experience now. Obviously I have room to improve."
For the first time in her career she's not playing big minutes, averaging under 20 a game. She was relied upon in college and in the pros to help carry a team. Even when she played for the U.S. in the 2006 World Championships she was called on to be the low post presence with the absence of Lisa Leslie, Sylvia Fowles and Yolanda Griffith.
In Beijing, Parker has just had to fill a role off the bench spelling either Leslie or Tina Thompson.
"It's like that for everyone," she said. "In the past I've played a lot more. I think it may have been out of necessity. I'm willing to accept my role and stay sharp and be ready when called upon."
U.S. coach Anne Donovan has been bringing the young star along slowly.
"I think she has taken some time to settle in," Donovan said. "I think every first time Olympian goes through it, no matter who you are or where you've been or what level you perform at. When you hear the national anthem before the first game or walk in the opening ceremonies it's a different ball game. There's nothing to compare it to."
Parker has gotten better each game. The 6-foot-4 forward scored 10 points in Wednesday's rout of Mali.
"She started to get rolling the game before last. She was a little bit out of sync in the first game," Donovan said. "The stage being a little bigger than she's used to is enough to make her take a deep breath and say this is new. You'd never know she's had any adjustment issues at all as she's been quite the spark for us."
Whenever she does get overwhelmed, Parker just looks down at her left wrist where etched is a tattoo of a bible verse: "To whom much is given, much is expected."
Parker got the tattoo last October before her Lady Vols made a run to a second straight national championship. It has helped her relax.
"I'm not playing as great I'd like to here," the 22-year-old said. "It's about tomorrow and getting better each day. It's not about now."
Leslie, who is playing in her fourth and final Olympics, isn't worried about Parker's slow start. "As the games get bigger she gets better and that's the excitement of watching Candace play."