First All-Star Game for Parker, Toliver and Ogwumike
Traditionally, All-Star games are opportunities for leagues and fans to recognize and congratulate the individual talents and accomplishments of players before the second half of the season centers players' focuses on hoisting up the championship banner.
But for the Sparks, the Boost Mobile WNBA All Star Game 2013 is an equal opportunity to celebrate the effort and work of an entire team by sending three players to represent the Western Conference in Saturday's game at the Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, Conn.
Each in a different stage of their career--the seasoned superstar, the experienced player on the rise and the newly minted--Candace Parker, Kristi Toliver and Nneka Ogwumike will each enter her first All-Star experience together, adding special significance to an already prestigious event.
"I am so blessed," Ogwumike said. "[Candace Parker and Kristi Toliver] have every reason to be there. We are all kind of new to it in a sense. I am looking forward to having a good time with them."
Sparks Head Coach Carol Ross appreciates the work the players put in that earned the confidence of others they needed to deserve the achievement.
"One, I am proud of them and two, I am real excited for them; they are all deserving of it," Ross said. "I am glad to see the league coaches thought enough of Toliver and Nneka [Ogwumike] to add them to Candace [Parker], who the fans voted for. It is great for the organization, it's great for them."
Tuesday, Toliver and Ogwumike were two of six players selected by the league's head coaches to join the Western Conference All-Star team as reserves. Four days earlier, Parker was announced as a starter by receiving the most votes in the West and second most overall.
"I am appreciative of that and very excited to go and represent the fans, because this is a game for them," Parker said.
Parker, who is among the top five league leaders in points per game (18.1) and rebounds per game (9.2) this year, was selected as an All-Star in 2011 but was unable to play due to injury.
"In years past, I obviously wasn't able to go and represent the LA Sparks so I am excited I am actually able to participate this year."
Toliver, the 2012 Most Improved Player of the Year, is averaging 14.7 points per game and shooting .400 from beyond the arc this season, her fifth as a professional.
"It is an honor to represent the team. It is basically just a reward for all the work that has been put in throughout the year, I'm proud of that," Toliver said.
For Ogwumike, in just her second season after a breakout 2012 that earned her Rookie of the Year, the All Star selection validates the way she has approached the game.
"I am not a rookie anymore. In my case, I wanted to just continue what I was doing last year and contributing to the team," Ogwumike said. "I try my best to work hard everyday for my teammates and to also be there with my teammates is amazing. I have never experienced any type of all-star game before. I am looking forward to it."
The Sparks are just one of three teams to have three or more players elected to the All-Star Game along with the Chicago Sky and Minnesota Lynx. Because of injury, Connecticut's Tina Charles replaced Chicago's Elena Delle Donne in the Eastern Conference staring lineup.
"To have us represent with three people speaks volumes for our team and our teamwork. Also, it reflects the work ethic and success of our other teammates. It is a really great thing that you can have that many people from one team representing the West and most elite players in the league," Ogwumike said.
"It shows that we have a really strong team and really great players," Toliver added. "It takes a team to do great things and we’re doing great things together and individually. I am definitely proud to have three representatives of the Sparks."
While the Sparks are certainly proud to be so well-represented, Coach Ross summed up the significance of such recognition to an individual regardless of a player's tenure in the WNBA.
"They all three understand that it is a great honor. Anytime you are rewarded with something because of your performance, it makes them proud and shows that their individual hard work is paying off."
To cheer on Parker, Toliver and Ogwumike, make sure to the watch the Boost Mobile WNBA All-Star Game 2013 on Saturday, July 27 at 12:30 p.m. on ABC.
First Half Season Highlights:
Candace Parker: Three-time Western Conference Player of the Week...Scored 25 points against Phoenix on July 18, hitting a career-high 13 free throws in 16 attempts to go along with 16 rebounds... Named Player of the Week for games played July 8 through July 14 for averaging 25.5 points and eight rebounds in two games...Scored 21 points with eight rebounds in the Sparks win over Phoenix on July 14...Scored a season-high 30 points in the Sparks first road win over the Tulsa Shock on July 11, scoring 14 points in the second quarter alone, matching the WNBA season-high for most made field goals in a game with 14, including two threes... Named Player of the Week for games played July 1 through July 7...On July 6, scored 18 points in less than 20 minutes, including 14 in the third quarter alone, and pulling down nine rebounds…Stretched her 20 points or more streak to three with 20 against New York on July 4, with eight rebounds and five assists...Matched her season-high 27 points using three three-point field goals, matching her career-high, in a win against Minnesota, scoring 21 points in the first half, and adding eight rebounds...Recorded her third double-double of the season in a loss to Minnesota on June 28, scoring 17 points with 11 rebounds and matching a season-high six assists...Was 5-for-7 from the field in a win over San Antonio on June 15 for 13 points and matched a season-high six assists...Recorded her second double-double of the year in the Sparks overtime win over the Tulsa Shock on June 8, with 17 points and 13 rebounds....Named Western Conference Player of the Week for games played May 24 through June 2...Scored a season-high 27 points and a career-high 20 rebounds, placing herself second in the Sparks record books for most rebounds in a game and setting a new franchise record for most defensive rebounds in a game with 17 versus San Antonio on June 1.
Kristi Toliver: Scored 25 points against Tulsa on July 11, single-handedly outscoring the Shock in the first quarter with 12 points, finishing 10-for-14 from the field...Scored 29 points against New York on July 4, matching her career-high in points and setting a new personal record with 12 field goals and a season-high five three pointers...Against Minnesota on July 2, matched her career-high in assists with nine....In the Sparks win over Minnesota on June 21, went a perfect 4-for-4 from three-point range in the first half, finishing the game 7-for-13 from the field with 19 points...Hit the Sparks go-ahead basket in overtime in win over the Tulsa Shock on June 8, scoring 21 points in 44 minutes of play...Shot 6-for-9 in the Sparks season opener, finished with 17 points and hitting 2-for-2 from beyond the arc.
Nneka Ogwumike: Matched her season-high with 24 points against Seattle on July 20, making a season-high 10 field goals and pulling down nine rebounds. Scored 10 of the Sparks 21 points in the third quarter...Shot 6-for-8 for 14 points against Phoenix on July 20, finishing one rebound shy of a double-double...Recorded her fourth double-double of the year with 16 points and 13 rebounds, including eight points and nine rebounds in the first half alone...Scored a season-high 24 points in 30 minutes against San Antonio on July 6 for her third double-double, with a season-high 16 rebounds, including a career-high 11 defensive boards and matching her career-high five assists...On July 2 against Minnesota, recorded her second double-double with 12 points and 10 rebounds…Shot 9-for-11 for 18 points and a season-high five assists on June 21...Recorded her first double-double of the season with 13 points and 10 rebounds in a loss to Phoenix on June 14...Had a perfect game in the Sparks season opener against Seattle on May 26, finishing 4-for-4 from the field and 7-for-7 from the free throw line for 15 points and setting a new career-high with five steals.