Los Angeles Sparks rookie forward Candace Parker grew up in the Chicago suburb of Naperville before starring at Tennessee and getting selected with the first overall pick in April's WNBA draft. Now, for the first time as a professional, she's returning to where it all began.
Parker and the Sparks close their string of five straight road games to open the season on Tuesday night when they meet the Chicago Sky.
Parker has been among the biggest names in women's basketball since her days at Naperville Central High School, where she won two state titles and became the first woman named USA Today Player of the Year twice.
After a successful three-year stint with the Lady Vols during which she won two national championships, Parker has already made a splash in her first four WNBA games, ranking sixth in the league in scoring at 19.2 points per game and first with 11.5 rebounds per game.
Parker's arrival - as well as the return of Lisa Leslie, who missed last season while on maternity leave - have helped the Sparks (3-1) to a strong start despite having played all of their games on the road.
That long stretch of road games comes to a close in Parker's hometown, where the Sparks can register their best five-game start since they were 5-0 en route to the 2003 WNBA finals.
In addition to Parker's return to Chicago, this game will also be the first meeting between the top two picks of the 2008 draft. After Los Angeles took Parker, Chicago selected 6-foot-6 center Sylvia Fowles out of LSU.
Like Parker, Fowles has made an immediate impact, scoring 12.5 points per game on 55.0 percent shooting from the field while ranking third in the league with 9.2 rebounds per contest. She had season highs of 17 points and 12 boards while making eight of 13 shots on Sunday, but the Sky (1-3) lost 75-73 to Connecticut for their second consecutive defeat at home.
"The one thing that changed between Thursday's game, we had much better energy, which was good," said Sky coach Steven Key, whose team has shot 41.0 percent from the field in the back-to-back losses. "But the one thing that also carried over from last game to this game was the poor shooting."
The Sparks are coming off a 70-59 win over Washington on Saturday night. Leslie had 17 points and Parker added 15 points, 11 rebounds and six assists.
"The biggest key to winning the game was getting stops, boxing-out, and grabbing defensive rebounds," Parker said.
The road team won each game as these clubs split their two-game season series in 2007.