Candace Nicole Parker (born April 19, 1986) is an American professional basketball player who plays for the Los Angeles Sparks of the Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA). She is the younger sister of former NBA player Anthony Parker and was the first overall pick in the 2008 WNBA Draft. In high school, Parker won the 2003 and 2004 Gatorade National Girls Basketball Player of the Year awards, becoming just the second junior and the only female to receive the award twice.
A versatile player, Parker mainly plays the forward position. In college she was listed on Tennessee’s roster as a forward, center and guard. Parker was the first woman to dunk in an NCAA tournament game and the first woman to dunk twice in a college game. She set both milestones as a redshirt freshman on March 19, 2006. Parker became the second player to dunk in a WNBA game on June 22, 2008. Prior to her first WNBA game, Parker had signed long-term endorsement deals with Adidas and Gatorade. In leading the Lady Vols to two consecutive national championships, Parker was named the Final Four’s most outstanding player in both occasions, and was a two-time consensus national player of the year.
Parker has won a WNBA championship (2016), two WNBA Most Valuable Player Awards (2008, 2013), WNBA Finals MVP Award (2016), WNBA All-Star Game MVP (2013), two Olympic gold medals (2008, 2012), and the WNBA Rookie of the Year Award (2008). Parker has been selected to six all-WNBA teams and five all-star teams, and was the first player to win the Rookie of the Year and the WNBA Most Valuable Player Award in the same season.
Parker and her family moved to Naperville, Illinois at the age of two, where she spent her childhood. Her family loved basketball and she began playing at an early age. Her father played basketball at the University of Iowa in the 1970s. The Parker family were also huge Chicago Bulls fans. Candace was worried about playing basketball, fearing she would not live up to the level of play her father and brother demonstrated, so she focused on playing soccer. It wasn’t until the eighth grade that her family convinced her to play basketball. Her father helped coach and critique her. Parker said of the experience, “He did things to make me mad, to challenge me, because I was so much more athletic and had so much more knowledge of the game than everyone else that sometimes I just coasted. If me and my dad went to a park and he didn’t think I was practicing hard enough, he’d just get in the car and leave. And I’d have to run home. I mean run home. Once I figured that out, I’d always try to go to close-by-parks.”
High school career
Like her older brother Anthony Parker, she attended Naperville Central High School in Naperville, Illinois in 2004. While in high school, Parker led her basketball team to Class AA state titles in 2003 and 2004, and compiled a school-record 2,768 points (22.9 points per game) and 1,592 rebounds (13.2 rebounds per game) while starting 119 of the 121 games in which she played.
She is the only two-time award winner of the USA Today High School Player of the Year, winning the award in 2003 and 2004. Parker also won the Naismith Prep Player of the Year Award and Gatorade Female Basketball Player of the Year Award in 2003 and 2004. In 2004, she was named Gatorade Female Athlete of the Year, WBCA All-American and McDonald’s All-American. She participated in the 2004 WCBA All-America Game where she scored 9 points. She was also a consensus pick as player of the year in Illinois in 2002, 2003, and 2004, and was a four-year member of the All-State first team.
On December 27, 2001, Parker dunked for the first time in competition as a 15-year-old sophomore at Naperville Central High School, this is believed to be the first slam dunk by a female athlete in Illinois.
On July 11, 2003, Parker tore her ACL in her left knee in a summer league game. On November 11, Parker announced her commitment to Tennessee on ESPNEWS, becoming the first women’s player to announce the oral commitment live on ESPNEWS. On December 29, Parker returned to action for Naperville Central and a few months later, led her team to its second consecutive state title.
In August 2004, Parker led the undefeated USA Junior World Championship team to a gold medal with 16.6 points and 8.8 rebounds per game. While training, Parker had a relapse of knee pain and was required to undergo surgery both the lateral meniscus and the lateral articular cartilage in her left knee.
Parker entered the University of Tennessee in the fall of 2004. On February 17, 2005, Tennessee announced Parker would redshirt her first season due to a knee injury.
Parker started for the Tennessee Lady Vols during the 2005-06 season. On March 19, 2006, in an NCAA tournament first-round game against Army, she became the first woman to dunk in an NCAA tournament game, then became the first woman to dunk twice in an NCAA tournament game. She was the SEC Rookie of the Year (Coaches and AP) and helped the Lady Vols win the 2006 SEC tournament championship. With 17 seconds remaining in the SEC tournament championship game against LSU, Parker hit the game-winning shot. She was named tournament MVP and was named to the 2006 Kodak All-America team, making her one of the few to ever receive the award as a freshman. However, in the NCAA tournament regional finals against North Carolina, Parker got in early foul trouble and was out of the game for much of the first half, Tennessee ultimately lost the game.
On January 28, 2007, in an away game against Alabama, Parker scored her 1,000th career point as a sophomore, making her the fastest player in Lady Vol history to do so. She did it in 56 games, beating Chamique Holdsclaw‘s mark of 57 games and Tamika Catchings‘s of 58 games. On March 1, at the SEC tournament in Duluth, Georgia, Parker was named the 2007 SEC Player of the Year. On April 3, she led the Lady Vols to their first National Championship victory since 1998, beating Rutgers 59–46, Parker finished the game with 17 points and earned the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player honor.
Parker announced on February 21, 2008, that she would forgo her final season of eligibility at Tennessee in order to focus on the 2008 Olympics and pursue a professional career in basketball. She graduated with her incoming class in May 2008. A sports management major who had a 3.35 grade-point average as of December 2007, she was named University Division I Academic All-American of the Year in women’s basketball for 2008 by the College Sports Information Directors of America.
On April 8, 2008, Parker led the Lady Vols to their second straight NCAA women’s title, the eighth championship for Tennessee, and the last for legendary coach, Pat Summitt. She was also named the Most Outstanding Player for the second consecutive tournament, joining Cheryl Miller, Chamique Holdsclaw and Diana Taurasi as the only female players to have done so. She won the honor despite suffering a dislocated shoulder during her team’s regional finals win, but returned and led the Lady Vols to the title.
While at Tennessee, she compiled a record of 100 wins and 10 losses and averaged 19.4 points, 8.8 rebounds, 2.6 assists, 1.9 steals and 2.4 blocks per game.