Since her first year playing basketball at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, some 16 years ago, Candace Parker (’08) has been a shining example of a true Volunteer. In 2008, she led the Lady Vols to a one-point win over LSU in an NCAA semifinal game while working through the pain of a shoulder she had dislocated twice in the previous game. That victory set up a final-game win over Stanford that secured Coach Pat Summitt’s eighth and final national title.
On October 17, at age 35 and in her first season with the Chicago Sky, Parker led the team to its first WNBA championship—her second—with help from two other former Lady Vols: teammate Diamond DeShields and assistant coach Tonya Edwards (’90). For Parker, who grew up in the Chicago area, the season was a homecoming after 13 seasons with the Los Angeles Sparks.
Parker’s achievement as a leader has a monumental feel. The Sky were an underdog, 16–16 in the regular season and the lowest-seeded team to win a WNBA title. In the title game against the Phoenix Mercury, the Sky came from 11 points down in the fourth quarter. Parker had 16 points, 13 rebounds, and four steals. Afterward she said, “I know Pat’s watching.”
Last year, working with a muralist on the design for the outdoor basketball court at Knoxville’s Cal Johnson Rec Center, Parker included the Summitt quotation “Left foot, right foot, breathe.” This philosophy of toughness has helped Parker in playing through considerable pain.
The shoulder she dislocated in 2008 eventually required surgery. She has had seven knee surgeries. She sprained her left ankle early in the season, and in her moments on the bench she gets treatment for a herniated disc in her back.
Parker often remembers Summitt in pivotal moments. In 2016, when Parker won her first WNBA title and tournament MVP award, she said, teary-eyed, “This is for Pat.” This season, after the Sky clinched a spot in the finals, she said, “I want to always bring honor to Pat. In these moments, I always remember her.”
Said Parker’s friend Justine Brown (’10), a Lady Vols manager from 2006 to 2010, “The reason Candace continually pays homage to Pat is the impact Pat had on her life and her understanding of Pat’s values and what she was trying to teach all of us at such a young age.”
Parker, who graduated with a degree in sport management, will be returning to Knoxville in November to serve as UT’s Homecoming grand marshal.
Brooks Clark (firstname.lastname@example.org, 865-974-5471)