Q&A with Candace Parker: The WNBA star on her offseason activities, the Sparks and more
Since December, fans of Candace Parker have had a chance to see the WNBA star and former Tennessee All-American on the screen as an analyst for Southeastern Conference games. In addition, after the 2015 WNBA season ended, she has participated in a successful USA Basketball tour of Europe and promoted college women’s basketball as a Capital One Cup* ambassador.
Next up for Parker is an analyst assignment on Sunday, January 17 when Georgia visits Alabama at 5 p.m. ET, a game that will be televised on the SEC Network. This week Parker took some time on Thursday afternoon to answer some questions about her activities this offseason and what she expects for the Sparks in 2016.
Since you are not playing overseas this offseason, what have you been doing to stay on top of your personal game and fitness?
I have really been taking a different approach. I focus on things other than basketball. I’ve been focusing on stretching and I did a couple yoga classes. I focused on boxing last year and just getting my core strong while doing something other than basketball, which it [boxing] also improves foot speed. And just rehabbing and doing things that I just started on the court – so, I’ll do on-the-court things now. It’s really about just getting my mind, my body a rest before starting this WNBA season.
Is taking the offseason off going to be a regular thing for you especially since your daughter is in elementary school now?
It will be. I think I’ll be not playing more than I am playing. Right now, it’s important to be at home and spend time with my family. I had a great six year run, but it’s difficult to balance that. I’ve played a long time and I’m very thankful for those opportunities, but right now it’s about figuring out life after basketball.
Last season the Sparks started off slow but you were a primary catalyst in helping the team have a very good end of the summer. What can fans expect from the Sparks this summer?
I’m very excited about this upcoming WNBA season. I think that we are going to be as good as we want to be, and as good as we’ll work to be. Every year we talk about a championship and that’s our ultimate goal, but I think along the way…we’ve never been first in the West record-wise. So I think that’s still a goal that we’re working toward.
What did Brian Agler bring to the Sparks that helped the team perform so well in the latter part of the season?
Well, coach Agler is a great coach. He’s an X’s and O’s type of guy. He relates to his players. It’s never one of those things where you don’t know what he’s thinking. He is always going to communicate. I think he’s one of the best-communicating coaches I’ve had.
Who are your frontrunners for the top picks in the WNBA draft?
I definitely think Breanna Stewart is a great player and she’ll go number one for sure, hands down. After that, I think it’s kind of up and down. Tiffany Mitchell from South Carolina, she’s an amazing talent. And she’s one of those players that will make an impact her rookie year.
You have been an analyst this college season for SEC games, how has the role of commentator changed in any way your perspective of the game?
You definitely learn a lot when you see something from a different point of view and that’s what commentating has allowed me to see it from. I see it in more of an analytical point of view, in the sense of kind of taking a step back from the game and seeing it from the sidelines. Things that I do as a player that, now as an analyst, I can reevaluate. And it’s given me a chance to see if this is something I can do after my playing days are done.
You have had a chance to see up and coming teams like Florida shake up the SEC this season, what are your thoughts on parity in the conference and in women’s college ball in general?
Florida, I think, took to heart the fact that their coaches at the beginning of the year predicted them to finish 12th. You know, sometimes you use that as motivation. Also add that to the fact that they didn’t finish as well last year as they wanted to. So, I think a little motivation. And the SEC’s the best conference in the nation from top to bottom. I feel like every night there could be an upset and that’s basically how it’s always been.
Many of the big upsets that have happened across the country will impact a variety of postseason activities including the awarding of the Capital One Cup. What matchups are you looking forward to that you think may end up in upsets and significantly affect polls and award standings?
I think from a SEC point of view, there aren’t AP teams in the [Capital One Cup] top 10, but I look to South Carolina. If we’re able to get some SEC teams in the Final Four, and they win the national championship, they’d get 60 points toward the Capital One Cup. My competitive juices are flowing, obviously wanting an SEC school – if not the Tennessee Volunteers – definitely would want another SEC school to win the Capital One Cup. And South Carolina is talented from top to bottom. So, I just hope than an SEC school will put up competition for the Capital One Cup.
What does Tennessee need to do in order to close out the season on a high note to solidify a good position in the SEC tournament and NCAA bracket?
I think everybody looks at losses as the end all. Obviously it affects your rank and you definitely have to be careful in the games that you let slip away. But it also could be looked at as a learning experience. They’ve lost one SEC game and hopefully, going forward, they’ll understand how talented this conference is and how they have to bring it every night. Really, it’s about growing and being your best when you get to the postseason. I think that they’re going to do that and it starts with this regular season and going into the SEC tournament. I mean, if they have a good SEC tournament run, there’s no reason why they can’t be a top 2 seed.
What are your predictions for teams that will end up in the Final Four in Indianapolis?
Tennessee, of course – I always pick them. Connecticut, South Carolina, and my sleeper team – it’s not really a sleeper – but I like Texas. I think Texas is a good team.
*The Capital One Cup is awarded annually to each of the best men’s and women’s Division I college athletics programs in the country. Points toward the Capital One Cup are earned and tracked throughout the year based on final standings of NCAA Championships and final official coaches’ polls. One winning men’s and one winning women’s program will be crowned after the completion of the final NCAA spring championships. Capital One will award a combined $400,000 in student-athlete scholarships and the Capital One Cup trophy to the winning schools at the ESPY awards in July.