WNBA Notebook: Parker and Delle Donne Bonded by More Than Just Basketball
By ROB KNOX (@knoxrob1)
There’s no truth to the rumor that WNBA superstars Candace Parker of the Los Angeles Sparks and Elena Delle Donne of the Chicago Sky helped James Naismith nail the peach bucket to the wall in 1892.
It just seems that way as Parker and Delle Donne have been a household names in women’s basketball since they essentially were in middle school.
The two transcendent talents grew up knowing that playing in the WNBA was a reality. They watched it on television and attended many games.
Parker and Delle Donne share many bonds from eating Taco Bell together during Delle Donne’s University of Tennessee recruiting visit to winning league MVP and Rookie of the Year honors to being the faces of the league.
The undefeated Sparks (3-0) are off to their best start since 2003 after edging the New York Liberty in overtime last Saturday. Meanwhile, the Sky are 1-2 after losing Sunday in Atlanta.
Understandably, the focus will be on the matchup between Parker and Delle Donne, a pair of versatile players that perform with an elegant grace who are tough to guard and fun to watch. They can score from anywhere on the court.
They have been rock stars in women's basketball at every level.
“This isn’t a matchup between me and Candace,” said Delle Donne during a conference call with reporters on Monday afternoon. “It’s a matchup between the Sky and Sparks.
"It should be a really fun game for us. The Sparks are playing some incredible basketball right now. They've got great depth, they've got really bright players who are making great reads, so defensively they pose a lot of problems.”
Parker, a gold medal winner in 2008 and 2012, was shockingly omitted from the Team USA roster that will compete in the Olympics in Rio, while Delle Donne will be representing her country for the first time.
It’s still possible that Parker could be added as a late injury replacement for somebody. During the conference call, Parker wasn’t asked at all about the perceived Olympic snub.
She and Delle Donne are part of the bridge to the WNBA’s glorious past and positive future.
Parker entered the league learning from Lisa Leslie.
Meanwhile, Delle Donne came into the WNBA after a circuitous but prosperous journey from the University of Connecticut to the University of Delaware in which she took a one-year hiatus before leading the Blue Hen program to unprecedented heights.
“Candace was one of my biggest role models,” Delle Donne said. “Candace has truly inspired me. She took me under her wing on my college visit (to Tennessee).
"We went to Taco Bell. She gave me advice to work on my versatility. That was a special moment for me and a huge opportunity for me. Versatility has been in the league for several years now, starting with Candace.”
Parker, who recently turned 30, appeared on magazine covers as a teenager and won a national championship at Tennessee under legendary coach Pat Summit.
Entering her ninth season with the Sparks, Parker is excited and focused on winning a championship.
“Being at training camp since day one, we set the tone on what the expectations were,” Parker said. “I was really excited and anxious to get the season going.
"Many of our players got in early and put their touch on things. Right now, we’re winning and spirits are going to be high. Our culture, chemistry and comradie is the best I’ve been a part of.”
Parker opened the season with a 34-point performance in a 30-point win against Seattle. So far, her scoring touch hasn’t traveled east in games against Washington and New York.
It hasn’t mattered as the Sparks have gotten excellent support from a committee of contributors.
Parker is one of three L.A. players averaging double figures with a team-leading 18.7 point per game average.
Though she’s a few years older than Delle Donne, Parker appreciates the Delaware native’s gifted game.
Delle Donne is averaging 22.0 points per game after dropping 28 against Minnesota and 16 against Atlanta.
“Her size and her versatility, and her ability to create shots is something that is second to none,” Parker said during the conference call. “She's tough to guard for a guard, because obviously she can post you up and shoot over you. She can move and use her quickness against bigger players. She’s also a great scorer and has been that way for her size.”
Another similarity with both players is they both consider Chicago home. Parker grew up in Naperville (Ill.) while Delle Donne is beginning her fourth year with the Sky after growing up in her native Wilmington where she was the national high school player of the year competing for Ursuline Academy.
“I love Chicago,” Delle Donne said. “It has quickly became a second home for me. The fans have been so welcoming. I love everything about this city especially since I grew up as a huge fan of the Chicago Bulls.”
Parker has enjoyed the extra time in Chicago this week.
“I’ve had a chance to see my family and friends,” Parker said. “It’s always special to come home and eat familiar food. It means a lot to come back to Chicago and see everybody who has grown with you.”
Both players understand how special it is to be part of the WNBA’s 20th anniversary season.
They have been blessed to watch players like Leslie, Cynthia Cooper, Ruthie Bolton, Dawn Staley, Teresa Weatherspoon, Sheryl Swoopes and Tina Thompson lay the foundation of excellence for the WNBA.
Now, Parker and Delle Donne are excited to be part of the players that help deepen the footsteps of the league and continue opening doors for the next generation of girls.
“It’s amazing to be part of the 20th anniversary,” Delle Donne said. “There are lots of great things happening and a lot more media interest. It’s been a great season, visibility-wise. It could be a great year that we capitalize on. There’s been incredible women who inspired us that helped make this league strong. Our role is to continue to grow (the league) for the kids who are looking up to us.”
More Phone Call Tidbits
Though Parker came into the league giving up a final year of college eligibility -- she missed her freshman season due to injury -- she was not seriously considering even coming a year earlier when rumors were suggesting the possibility.
Asked who the faces of her Mount Rushmore of her sport would be, Parker responded, "You're putting me on the spot. Legends in the sense who I grew up watching. Cooper, Leslie, Thompson, Swoopes.
Asked about Uconn graduate Breanna Stewart, who is getting the arrival acclaim that she and Delle Donne received from draft night on, Parker noted: "Breanna is a great player and had a great career in college.
"She’s campable of domoinating and changing the way the game is played. It happens in waves in the NBA. That’s following to step away and are able to shoot the ball."
As for her coach Brian Agler, who came to Los Angeles last year from a long stint in Seattle that included a WNBA title, Parker said, "I have a great relationship with Brian and very detailed and I like to operate that.
"He’s a basketball mind and we talk all the time. He doesn’t sugarcoat things and hes very straightforward and what’s expected. My role can change from game to game and I can be a scorer but I need to be more of a facilitator. it depends what the team is going to do from game-to-game."