Candace Parker On Her ‘Whirlwind’ Year, Title IX Documentary, And What It Takes To Win An NCAA Tournament

The last 12 months have been quite busy for Candace Parker, who joined the Chicago Sky a year ago, led her hometown team to a WNBA title, and got married to her wife, Anna Petrakova, with the two welcoming their new son earlier this year. All the while, she’s continued her work with Turner Sports on NBA TV and TNT’s coverage of the NBA, and this week, she’ll shift her attention to the college ranks for Turner’s coverage of the NCAA men’s basketball tournament.

On Monday, we got a chance to catch up with Parker about her busy year, why she’s so excited about her upcoming Title IX documentary with Turner, and to break down her beloved Vols and the rest of the teams and players she’s looking forward to seeing as March Madness begins.

First off, how’s the family doing and how are you adjusting to life with a baby around again?

Oh my goodness. Well, thank you for asking. The family is fantastic. We couldn’t be happier. The adjustment is [laughs], it’s a lot. You know, fortunate to have a good amount of help so we’re making it, but babies are no joke. So it’s been a long time since we’ve had a baby in the house but we’re in love. So it’s, it’s going well, thank you.

Good. I mean, if you go back to March 2021, you’re going back to Chicago, and now you’re a champion again, you’re married, you have a new son. What has this last year been like for you personally?

It’s been a whirlwind. I’m fortunate enough to be able to spend a lot of time with family. You know, I think that’s the biggest thing for me, is just during this time of having my son and even before that, like, just being able to spend the quality time over these last few years, I’ve been able to see my daughter grow up and spend time with my wife and just — we spend time with family back in Chicago as well. So, for me, yes, it was. Winning the championship was unbelievable, but it was just as amazing to be able to meet my best friend for lunch, and have my dad come over and fix my blinds, and my mom made me pregame meals, and my parents be at all the games, go see my grandma. So I think those are the moments, like spending time with family and friends, that I really haven’t taken for granted and have really enjoyed.

Absolutely. And now you’re adding producer to that list with with your upcoming Title IX documentary. How did that project come about? And what are you excited for people to see with this?

This is a huge passion project, I would say, for me. This has been years in the making. I can remember the first conversation I had with my agents about trying to put something like this together. Being able to do it with Turner where I’m at as the first real project, it means a lot, because like I said, it is a passion project. It is something that … the reason why I am is because of Title IX. I think it’s definitely being brought to light through my eyes and how I’ve been able to take advantage of the opportunities that are presented because of Title IX, and how it goes far beyond sports. But I think those are the two things that I really want to bring the light and also those that paved the way for us to be able to even have these opportunities and an entire generation that didn’t have these opportunities and the previous generation before that. So I think you know, among other things, those are kind of the the main things that I hope that this documentary is able to accomplish.

Definitely. And we’re seeing the continued push for equity in women’s sports. What do you see from this new generation of athletes who certainly seem to be so confident and so willing to stand up to some of these institutions and call things out? I mean, you think to what Sedona Prince did last year with the NCAA Tournament and posting those videos and all that. Are you proud to see how this new generation continues to push that forward?

I go back to the whole point of Title IX was to create opportunities and I think with those opportunities, athletes have been able to create their own platforms — as a result of social media, as a result of their skills, as a result of their opportunities, as a result of having the skills necessary to stand up for yourself and to understand what is right and what is wrong. And I think a lot of that comes from sports. And so I think now these athletes, being able to have those platforms to stand on, now you’re seeing entire leagues whereas before it was a couple athletes — it was the Billie Jean Kings of the world, right, that stood up and made these statements and backed it up with action and the way that they played and things like that.

However, I feel as though we still have so far to go and I do see the changes. You know, the NCAA versus when I was in school is a lot different. You know, even just small things that have come from acknowledging that the playing field is far from level. You know, the referees being paid the same amount to it actually been called March Madness. You know, ESPN actually putting the women’s bracket as a topic as opposed to just the five minute conversation on SportsCenter that night, because visibility is important. You’ve seen how with March Madness, people that don’t even watch college basketball fill [brackets] out and there’s a tension behind it with men. So we need that same energy with women.

Absolutely. As you kind of shift your focus now going into the men’s tournament with your with your work with Turner, how do you approach this month? Because obviously you go from NBA coverage into NCAA, and I recently talked with Reggie Miller about the same thing, how he navigates kind of living in living in both worlds as an analyst and making sure that you’re keeping an eye on both.

Yeah, it’s really difficult sometimes to shift. I mean, I’m a basketball junkie, so basketball’s always on. But it’s different when you’re covering it the entire year. You know, the NBA, it’s like I’m on NBA TV and I can remember the game from October, November when, you know, the Bucks played the Lakers or whatever. Like I remember those games, and it’s like with college, obviously, I have certain teams that I follow and on Sunday, it’s always on, or on Saturday, it’s always on, but you know, it’s different. And so now shifting your brain to the rules, to the players, to in studio, what are we talking about, things like that. So, I think it’s definitely shift, but basketball is basketball to me. When you see certain teams, you know they either have it or they don’t in terms of making a run. And so in NCAA, I look for those things, and they might be different than what it takes to win an NBA championship, but, you know, they’re still similar.

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Definitely. Who are some of the teams that you’re most excited to see in the next couple of weeks?

Well, of course, I would be remiss if I did not mention my Tennessee Volunteers. Tennessee, I thought deserved a higher seed. You know, they got the 3-seed, which to me, if you’re gonna have a conference tournament and kind of see where everybody’s at — I understand like the entire resume of the year matters — but also how you finish matters, too. I think what I’ve been most impressed about Tennessee is their ability to continually get the ball to the third side. And that is underestimated in how important it is even in the NBA, even in the WNBA, how important it is to be disciplined enough to get the ball on offense to the third side, because you’re making the defense shift two to three times. And so having players that are disciplined and not taking a shot before that, I think Tennessee just put that on display an SEC tournament. I’m excited to watch what [Josiah]-Jordan [James] is going to do. [Kennedy] Chandler, obviously, high IQ coming in, can create, can make plays. If Tennessee is knocking down the three ball, I think that they can go far, even winning this thing, to be honest with you.

You mentioned the the differences in what it takes to win an NCAA Tournament compared to an NBA championship and so much of that is format considering you need to win six games to win an NCAA Tournament, you need to win 16 to win an NBA championship. What are the things that you look for in a team, just generally speaking, when it comes tournament time and the formula to make that run to a second weekend and to a Final Four?

I would almost argue with you that it’s harder to win the six games because you can’t lose you have to be 6-0 whereas —

Oh, I was just saying different. Not easier or harder. Just a different format.

Yeah, yeah, a different format. Okay. With the NBA format, you have to get 16 wins, but at the same time, you can have 12 losses. The format [is harder] in terms of always having to be on top of your game. I think for me, it comes down to three things. It comes down to being able to play both ways, meaning fast teams really struggle NCAA Tournament, because the game is going to slow down. So you have to be able to play fast and you also have to be able to play in the halfcourt. I think that’s one thing.

You also have to be able to defend and match up well in multiple positions defensively. I think when you have guys that are fours and fives that can guard multiple positions, you’re at an advantage, so that athleticism and things like that. And the third thing is you have to have great guard play. You have to have guys that can come down get you into sets, and go getters, people that can create. Create for you, create for the team, because everybody’s gonna be able to scout by game three or game four. They’re gonna know exactly what you want to do. But the team that’s disciplined enough to continue to stick with it is going to be the team that successful. So those, to me, are the keys to trying to win a championship.

I think it’s interesting this year because a lot of the talk, at least at the top of the draft this year, is about big guys — you got Chet Holmgren, Jabari Smith, those guys. But who are the guards that you look at and think could be difference makers. Jaden Ivey, obviously, is the standout for Purdue, but who are some of the guards that you think could be the ones that can carry a team in one of those close games, in those late game situations and maybe lift their team to a deep run?

I mean, you look at Gonzaga, and you look at even what Jalen Suggs was able to do last year just even knocking down shots — and I know it was a three pointer at the buzzer, whatever. But at the same time, he’s able to get you into position, and I look at Andrew Nembhard kind of the same way. He’s a guy that when you need to make a play … and I think everybody thinks plays are always at the end of the game. And it’s not, like, you sometimes need a big run going into the second half, or you need to be able to sustain a run from the other team, or you need to come down and you need to know when you’re going to get in your sets. So I think Andrew Nembhard has done that. Like, he’s been the guy that shoots well from beyond, from the field, he is able to create for others. I just want to see him be able to match up against the physicality of other conferences, to be able to match up with the physicality and the speed and quickness that he’s going to face him into a tournament.

If you were to look ahead, we’ve had a day now with the bracket, as you map this thing out, who is your Final Four and what are the matchups that you think we are gonna see?

So I haven’t settled on my Final Four yet. I’m one of those where I’m going to take until that Thursday to fill out my bracket. Just because I’m like, I want to measure everything and I’m still gonna be wrong, like everybody’s gonna be wrong.

For me, I picked the darkhorse of Loyola Chicago. I just like the way they play, I like the way that they spread it around. However, I have it coming to an abrupt halt when they play Tennessee in the Sweet 16. So I look at that matchup as a little bit of redemption — a couple of years ago, I think Sister Jean had something to do with the ball hanging on the rim and going in for Loyola Chicago. I look at that matchup. I would say I do like the matchup — I know this is probably second round — but Houston-Illinois to me is really cool, if Illinois can get past Chattanooga. Going to school in Knoxville, of course, I paid attention to Chattanooga, and the way that they play is so fun to watch, but I just want to know if they can do that and play that fast and with that much high octane in the NCAA Tournament. I would say, let’s see, I think Arkansas-Connecticut is another one that I look at in terms of the second round that could be really intriguing. But again, I think you’re right. I don’t know if I’m gonna have, more than one or two 1/2 seeds in the Final Four. I think this year it’s it really is wide open. Like we could see another VCU, we could see another of those types of teams that are able to get deep into this.

I live in Chattanooga now. And yeah, they are a fun team.

They are so fun to watch! And they have size.

Well, that’s the thing, like Silvio De Sousa’s a beast.

Yeah you usually see teams like that and they don’t have that size.

Yeah, I went to Georgia State so we did not have a fun draw. I’m gonna be honest with you, I’m not even looking forward to watching. We have like one guy in the rotation who’s over 6’8, and we have to play Drew Timme and Chet Holmgren, like, cool. Cool cool cool cool cool.

Yeah, it’s gonna be tough. I think Timme will do better. But anytime for me, my knock on Chet is when people get into him, he struggles against guys that are shorter and stockier than him. So I want to see him play against the 6’6 posts that’s got a little size.

You know, I appreciate the optimism.

You’re welcome.

I needed that. Well, I appreciate you taking some time, Candace. Always a pleasure, and enjoy the next few weeks of the Tournament and hopefully it’s as exciting as it looks because, yeah, it does look like we could have some chaos.

Yeah, it’s gonna be fun. It’s gonna be a lot of fun. It’s never what you expect, right? You go in with so much like promise with your bracket and then you’re just ripping it up no matter what. And you’re just like, how could I not have predicted that, but you can’t predict it.

Hindsight’s so much easier.

Yeah it is.

I’m a much bigger fan of hindsight than predicting.

[laughs] Me too.