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Candace Parker believes there's always another goal
By Melissa Jenco | Daily Herald Staff

Candace Parker leads Naperville Central High School to back-to-back state titles.

 

Daily Herald file photo

Even at 18 months Candace Parker was enamored with basketball, following in the footsteps of her brother Anthony who now plays for the Cleveland Cavaliers and her father Larry who played for the University of Iowa.

 

courtesy of Sara Parker

By the time she was 14, Candace Parker was already playing in both national and international basketball tournaments.

 

courtesy of Sara Parker

Parker now plays for the Los Angeles Sparks where she earned both Rookie of the Year and MVP honors in 2008.

 

Associated Press

Candace Parker fulfills a childhood dream by winning gold at the Beijing Olympics.

 

Associated Press

Tennessee forward Candace Parker pumps her fist as she heads down the court after scoring against LSU in the second half of the championship game of the women's SEC basketball tournament Sunday, March 9, 2008, in Nashville, Tenn.

 

Associated Press

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Published: 7/29/2009 11:05 AM | Updated: 7/29/2009 11:11 AM

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Candace Parker believes there's always another goal to achieve, another lesson to learn.

This coming from a basketball player who at 23 already has won an Olympic gold medal, two NCAA championships and MVP honors in her rookie season with the WNBA.

This coming from someone who already has emerged as one of the faces of women's basketball.

The Naperville native will return to her roots Thursday, coming full circle when the park district honors her by renaming one of her old stomping grounds the Candace Parker Basketball Court.

The dedication ceremony begins at 11 a.m. in Spring-Field Park, 2031 Springside Circle, and no one is quite sure how many fans to expect.

The Los Angeles Sparks forward cut her chops on that court, practicing endlessly with her dad and her older brothers long before she helped the Naperville Central Redhawks bring home state championships in 2003 and 2004, long before she began dunking, long before her face graced the cover of national magazines.

Parker stunned the sporting world once again earlier this month, this time by returning to play for the Sparks less than two months after giving birth to daughter Lailaa. Parker is married to Shelden Williams of the Minnesota Timberwolves.

Parker recently spoke to the Daily Herald about the success she has achieved and her goals. Here is an edited version of that conversation:

Q. When you were playing in Naperville, did you have any idea how far you'd go?

A. I had no idea. Obviously I had hopes and dreams that I wanted to accomplish but I was just looking at playing basketball. I didn't really think about any of that other stuff. I wanted to go to college and play basketball. Actually from a young age I wanted to play soccer. That was my number one love. I just took it all in stride.

Q. Looking back at your accomplishments thus far, is there one you're most proud of?

A. I think as a young girl you always dream and hope and aspire to play in the Olympics. When I think it really hit me that I played in the Olympics was not when I went, not when I was getting the gold medal placed around my neck. It was in December of this past year.

I was looking back at pictures and it just hit me: I played in the Olympics and I played at the highest level you could possibly play at and won a gold medal and things like that. It was super special and I got chills and everything. It was weird that it happened so late, but I reflected on it and I still have the gold medal in my drawer and I look at it every once in awhile. I haven't figured out what I'm going to do with it yet.

Q. What's your advice for young girls who look up to you?

A. My advice is just to continue to work hard and understand that you're going to have to take some steps back to take some steps forward and it's about continuing to dream and continuing to work harder than anyone else.

Q. How have you dealt with balancing motherhood and basketball?

A. It's been a process, great days and good days and bad days. Overall it's just been a joy to look at her and realize she's my daughter. It's been fun seeing her at the games, that's been the most fun part about it. But it's tough balancing it. I'm nursing as well so it's tough to get up with her and go to practice and things like that, but I've managed and it's been a great experience. I'm not missing my passion, which is basketball, and I'm also not missing being a mom as well.

Q. How did you make such a quick comeback?

A. I tried to stay in shape during my pregnancy. I worked out up until three days before I delivered and I worked out two weeks after I delivered her. I tried to stay in shape, I tried to eat right. She was a very easy pregnancy and I was fortunate with that. I didn't gain a ton of weight ... so it was easy to come off. I'm really a stubborn person and I was trying to work out and trying to come back because basketball is a love of mine and I didn't want to be away from it for too long.

Q. You've already got a long list of accomplishments. What's next?

A. My family is very competitive. When my brother (Anthony) first signed with the Cleveland Cavaliers (earlier this month) he texted me on his way to work out the first day he signed. And he said 'first one to a professional championship, ready, set, go.' Now it's on. I have to win a professional championship before my brother does. So that's the key thing now.

We're very, very competitive but it's all in fun. We root for each other so I'll be there supporting him and he'll be there supporting me.

Q. The NBA still draws much larger crowds than the women's league. Do you see that changing?

A. I think it's a process. Women's basketball is 13 years young and the NBA was at 50 when I was in sixth or seventh grade. Obviously they have a lot more years on us and a lot more brand recognition than we do and it's just about putting one foot in front of the other to make strides toward the positive and I think we're doing that.

Now more than ever I think girls have female role models to look up to. My generation was pretty much the first generation to have that. I can't remember there not being a WNBA and that's a positive and something that I want my daughter to experience as well.