Candace Parker on the Mend, Looks for Healthy Return in 2011

NBAE/Getty Images
Have WNBA fans truly seen a healthy Candace Parker?

Sure, there was the 2008 Rookie of the Year and MVP season where Parker played in 33 of the season�s 34 games, posting up 18.5 points per game and hauling in 9.5 rebounds per game in the process. Even then, the rook out of Tennessee was playing with a shoulder injury that would only require surgery as her career carried on.

Then there was 2009, a season in which Parker played in only 25 games as she and husband Shelden Williams welcomed their daughter Lailaa into the basketball family. Despite being �healthy� in every sense of the word upon her return, Parker had to play her way back into shape and shake off some of the rust that comes with missing time away from the court.

When the 2010 season tipped off, it was a chance for a healthy Parker to finally show off her skill set. Even with the aforementioned shoulder injury, there was little indication that it was holding Parker back. That much was evident over the span of the first 10 games of the 2010 season, where Parker averaged a career-best 20.6 points per game, 10.1 rebounds per game and tallied a league-leading seven double-doubles.

During that time, the Sparks� 3-7 record was hardly a representation of the real threat that Parker packed in L.A. With a little time, the players would learn to gel and work under the newly-acquired Jennifer Gillom�s coaching scheme with the hopes of making a legitimate playoff run.

Unfortunately, in that tenth game (and win) against the Minnesota Lynx, that time was cut short.

�It was [discouraging] because I saw our team was headed in the right direction,� said Parker, who suffered a season-ending shoulder injury on June 13. �One thing that we point out: I would say we needed, under the new system of our head coach, we needed to play together more and then we would start to gel as they did later in the season.�

Eventually the Sparks did find that chemistry, albeit later in the season, but still with enough time to make a postseason push. Behind the veteran leadership of DeLisha Milton-Jones, Ticha Penicheiro and Tina Thomspon, Los Angeles finished fourth overall in the west and advanced to the playoffs before losing to the Seattle Storm in the first round.

Through it all, Parker remained on the sidelines to cheer on her teammates and provide whatever help she could while recovering from shoulder surgery.

�I�ve sat on the sidelines obviously with my pregnancy and then also being injured and it�s no fun,� said Parker. �It really isn�t. But I will say that I�ve learned a lot. I think that sitting on the sidelines and also going overseas and playing has taught me a great deal about basketball and has grown me as a player.�

A major area Parker feels has been enhanced during the time away from court and playing overseas is in the area of shooting, admitting it�s repetitious but also a good way to work on her range.

After the Sparks wrapped up their 2010 season, Parker found herself back on the mend all over again in early September after opting to have a procedure done on her left knee to repair torn meniscus. It was a decision Parker shrugged off.

�My knee was just as a, �Well, I�m hurt with my shoulder, so I�m going to need to fix it eventually, so I might as well fix it now� type thing,� she said.

Parker is currently rehabbing both injuries at the same time with the hope that she will be cleared to play in December, just in time to join her UMMC Ekaterinburg teammates Svetlana Abrosimova, Sandrine Gruda, Crystal Langhorne and Cappie Pondexter overseas in Russia.

The slower-than-usual pace of Parker�s recovery is a liberty she can afford to take. She continues to rehab every day in workouts that consist of some light running and fundamental basketball activities, while also making the most of her time with Shelden, currently with the Denver Nuggets, and Lailaa.

�Lailaa and I are actually in Denver most of the time with my husband since he�s been there,� Parker said. �We�ll be back and forth to L.A. when he goes on road trips and stuff like that, but we�ll be in Denver most of the time because we�re away for four months.�

Through all the rehab and conditioning Parker is going through, it would appear as if the experience of missing the remainder of the season and having to work to get back on the court has somewhat rekindled her already overwhelming love for the game.

�I�m really excited about playing basketball again and I think sometimes everybody in their career needs that kind of time where you don�t have it and you come back eager to play and eager to perform,� she said.

�A lot of people have said that I�m injury prone and things like that but really I just played with the injury for so long I never got it fixed,� she added. �It was the same injury, but I just never took the time to get it fixed.�

Looking ahead, Parker remains confident in not only her ability to bounce back, but also the Sparks� ability to pose as a big threat to the rest of the league in 2011.

�I think we�re going in a positive direction,� she said. �I believe that I�m going to be older and much more mature and I think that I�ll be willing to step up more in a leadership role. That�s one thing I need to do better at is demanding a lot more from myself and from my teammates. I think going overseas has helped me a lot in that aspect, in not only leading with the voice but also leading with the actions and how hard you play.�

Parker will look to perfect that role upon her tentative return to the court in late December, early January.