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"Throughout my career, I've always been pushed," says Parker. "Sometimes when my good is other people's excellent, (my dad) still isn't satisfied."
D. Clarke Evans/NBAE/Getty Images
On Friday, Los Angeles Sparks forward Candace Parker was named the WNBA’s Rookie of the Year and Most Valuable Player. The honors cap off one of the greatest individual years in the history of women’s basketball.
In 2008, Parker won her second NCAA Championship with the University of Tennessee, was the No. 1 pick in the WNBA Draft, won an Olympic gold medal in Beijing, and led the Sparks to the brink of a berth in the WNBA Finals.
Parker also joined some elite company on Friday as she became the first women’s basketball player and only the third basketball player ever to win Rookie of the Year and MVP honors in the same year – joining Wilt Chamberlain (1959-60) and Wes Unseld (1968-69).
WNBA.com’s Brian Martin sat down with Parker on Friday to discuss her reaction to winning the WNBA’s most prestigious award and her reflections on the incredible year she had in 2008.
WNBA.com: What was your reaction to winning not only Rookie of the Year but Most Valuable Player in your first season in the WNBA?
Candace Parker: "I was definitely in shock to receive this award. It was a goal that I think I set at the beginning of the year; everybody has to have individual goals. My coach set it at the beginning of the year and told me what I was capable of. I'm very excited especially to win it with this caliber of talent around the league. It was a huge honor, it really was."
WNBA.com: What was your family's reaction when you told them you won MVP?
CP: "My family was so excited for me. My brothers, you would have thought that we had won the lottery (laughs). They were so excited; just because they realize how hard I've worked this year and how much of a tough year it's been and how it's been filled with ups and downs. I was unsure if I was going to be able to play after college because of my shoulder. To do that, then going to the Olympics, it's been such a long year, so they were just super excited."
WNBA.com: So does this give you bragging rights over your brother and your fiancé?
CP: "I don't think so. I think I was super excited to make it out of the first round of the playoffs because my brother has never made it out of the first round of the playoffs. But he's been Euroleague MVP, so he'll rub that in my face. They were just very excited for me."
WNBA.com: Is it bittersweet to win these individual awards, but not have your team here in the finals?
CP: "It definitely is tough. To be here, I kind of equate this to my freshman year in college when we lost in the Elite Eight and I had to come to the Final Four and do all of that stuff and we weren't there. It just kind of gets me fired up for next year and to be back here (in the Finals). It gets me motivated for that."
WNBA.com: So Rookie of the Year and MVP in your first season, what do you do for an encore?
CP: "(Laughs.) Win a championship."
WNBA.com: How important were Lisa Leslie and Coach Cooper in your progress this year and how much of a role have they played in helping you to improve?
CP: "They meant a lot to my progress. Obviously, Coach Cooper pushed me to be the best that I could be and set goals for me at the beginning of the year and pushed me to achieve them and I think that's the reason why I was able to accomplish what I accomplished this year. It's because of him."
WNBA.com: Have you had a chance to put this year into perspective with everything you've accomplished this year, from winning the NCAA title all the way to winning the WNBA MVP?
CP: "I've been able to put it in a little bit of perspective with us having some time off. But it's only been a couple days that I've known, so it hasn't really truly set in yet, and I don't think it will for a while. It's just the whole season, I've had a chance to really reflect on how blessed I am and what a great year it is. I'm ready to come back next year."
WNBA.com: How tired are you right now after everything you've done this year?
CP: "I'm exhausted. I'm so tired. I'm just ready to go to sleep (laughs) and not set an alarm and all that. But this year has been truly a blessing. It truly has."
WNBA.com: What are your plans for the offseason? Do you plan on having shoulder surgery?
CP: "I haven't decided yet. It's something that my family and my agent and I will talk about. So that will impact whether or not I go overseas."
WNBA.com: Is there any particular moment from this year that stands out above the rest?
CP: "My first game really stands out because it was the first time I played in the WNBA and it was a tough road win against Phoenix. And it was a great game."
WNBA.com: And you didn't have a bad stat line that game either (34 points, 12 rebounds, 8 assists)?
CP: "(Laughs.) Yeah."
WNBA.com: Do you look at how you are impacting this league in an overall sense and not only the league but the sport of women's basketball?
CP: "I look at that and I definitely love to impact the league, that was my goal coming in. Every year I think the league has gotten better and I think this year we did the same thing. I think that this rookie class had a huge impact on the reason why the league got better. You know it's part of my job."
WNBA.com: Are you comfortable being the face of the game? Are you OK with the "face of the league" status that you have?
CP: "I think it's a situation where it's something that I have to embrace and have to accept. I've had this happen before in college basketball and to some extent in high school, so it's a great opportunity and I think that I've had great examples, especially on my team. That's the situation I'm in right now. I just have great role models and people that are willing to help me. And it's not just me, you look across the league and there's Diana Taurasi, there's Lisa Leslie, there's all these fantastic players."
WNBA.com: When you think about all of the great players in the league, is it like 'Wow, they named me the top player among all of these players?'
CP: "It is like that. It hasn't truly set in yet. I think it will eventually, but it hasn't set in yet. I've watched all of these players play and all of these players dominate the league for several years and it's a huge honor for them to name me (MVP) in my first year. It also raises the bar for what people expect next year (laughs)."
WNBA.com: What was the reaction of Lisa Leslie and your other teammates when they heard about you winning MVP?
CP: "I actually haven't spoken with her about this. I don't know if she's heard about it. I think she's on vacation. A lot of my teammates have called and congratulated me and all that."
WNBA.com: Was this not only an individual goal, but a team goal as well?
CP: "It was Coach Cooper and I that talked about it. It was a goal that he set for me. I would never set that goal for myself (laughs), but he set that goal for me. It was something that they all helped and had a hand in by pushing me hard in practice and they all had a hand in this."
WNBA.com: Would you not have set this goal for yourself if Coach Cooper had not done it?
CP: "I think that I was taken back at first. In my head I was thinking there's no way I can do that, it's never been done before and to some extent, no, it wasn't on my to-do list. Not quite yet. In my head I had years to do it."
WNBA.com: But it does put you in some rare company when you look at the list of players that have done this. It's only the third time it's been done in basketball and the first time in women's basketball. What does that mean to do something that has never been done?
CP: "Throughout my career, I've always been pushed. My father pushes me like crazy. Sometimes when my good is other people's excellent, he's still isn't satisfied. He won't be satisfied until my excellent is my excellent. And I think through high school, through college... every year he's expected so much of me and that's the reason why I think I've been able to accomplish the things that I have. It's because you reach for your goals, you set goals that are distant. Then if you fall even close to it then you've accomplished something. Fortunately that's something that I've accomplished this year. It's just people pushing me to achieve that."
WNBA.com: Speaking of your father, I remember speaking with you earlier this year and you mentioned that after your first game, he still called you and was wondering why you missed your free throws.
CP: "(Laughs.) That's so true. He's so hard on me, but he loves me and after this he called me and told me how proud he was of me and how I had a fantastic year and he was very proud. He knows how much I hurt after we lost and how upset I was that we aren't in the Finals. But he definitely told me how proud he was of me and then he was like, 'OK, now I've said that, next year you've got to win a championship' (laughs).
"He's very proud of us, but that's how he's been with all of us. We love him to death because that's just who is and that's the reason we are the way we are. My oldest brother played basketball. And when things were rocky for him, my dad continued to stay on him and now he's back in the NBA. My other brother didn't really like sports, so my dad tried to push him in sports and he was like, 'No,' but he's a doctor. I think that's the reason why we are like this, is because he says if you decide to do something, do it and do it to the best of your ability and don't let other people be your measuring stick."