Girl Meets Game: Candace Parker
Candace Parker grew up in a family full of basketball nuts, but for a long time, she wasn't convinced the hardwood was all it was cracked up to be.
Growing up in Naperville, Ill., Parker was intent on blazing her own trail, and she set out on the soccer field to do it.
Convinced by her dad, Larry, who played basketball at the University of Iowa, and her two older brothers, Anthony, who played professionally, and Marcus, she finally picked up a basketball in eighth grade. It didn't take long for her to ditch her cleats for high-tops.
"I instantly had a love for the game," said Parker, who in 2008 became the first player to be named the WNBA Rookie of the Year and MVP in the same season, with the Los Angeles Sparks. "I just couldn't get enough of it once I started playing."
Her dad was her first coach, and he saw from the very beginning that she was a rare talent.
"I learned a lot from my dad," Parker said. "We would go to local parks and the school to work out, pretty much anywhere I could dribble a ball."
Parker remembers being sold on the game in middle school when she first saw her name in print in a magazine that listed the top players in Illinois. It gave her that initial taste of what it might be like to be a superstar, and she wanted more.
"I remember being extremely excited that a national magazine had recognized me and that just motivated me to work harder," Parker said.
From then, she began to dream of rising in the basketball ranks. Whether she was at the gym shooting with her dad, getting up early and traveling to tournaments all over the state, or watching the Chicago Bulls on television, the game enraptured her.
By the time she became the first female player to dunk in a high school game and made national headlines, no one who knew her was surprised.
"It was something my father had challenged me to do and I had done it a couple times in practice," she said with a laugh. "But my main motivation really was to dunk before my brothers, and when I did, I was so excited."
While her dunking prowess grabbed her many headlines as a young player, she was most influenced by the training that took place behind the scenes.
"I have learned a lot about life working in a team setting," she said. "It gives you the ability to understand that you are going to have adversity, and it's about continuing to work hard and get better to win the next game."
Indeed, the game has given her the chance to travel the world and play at the highest level, but she says that doesn't get in the way of remembering where she came from.
"That love for the game has been there since I started in eighth grade," she said. "To be honest, some of that kid is still there every time I step on the court to work out or play."