Dime Q&A: Candace Parker Talks Russia, Sparks & Ron Harper

Mother of Lailaa; wife of Shelden; sister of Anthony. Candace Parker goes by many titles these days, but we all know her as arguably the best female athlete in the world. While she’s not in L.A. lighting it up for the Sparks, the 6-4 forward spends her offseason playing basketball overseas for UMMC Ekaterinburg in Russia. In between her motherly duties and obligations to her Euroleage team, we were able to catch up with Candace to talk Sparks championship hopes, playing ball post-pregnancy and her idolization of Ron Harper.

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Dime: During the WNBA offseason, you play basketball overseas for UMMC Ekaterinburg in Russia. What has that been like for you so far in your second season?
Candace Parker: The adjustment this season has been a lot easier this second time around because I knew what to expect coming to a foreign country. Russia is very cold, but it is neat to visit different places and experience a new culture. Basketball wise, I have a lot of great teammates and UMMC is a first-class club that makes sure I feel at home while abroad.

Dime: What’s a typical day look like for you?
CP: My daughter wakes me up in the morning and we have breakfast together before I head off to morning practice. Morning practice consists of shooting and weightlifting. Afterwards, I come back and take Lailaa outside to play for a bit before putting her down for her nap. Evening practice is usually around 6 p.m., and after that it’s dinner and bedtime. Very simple day, but extremely tiring with a toddler!

Dime: What are some of the major differences playing in Russia compared to playing in Los Angeles?
CP: The major difference is the style of the overseas game. The WNBA and FIBA are two completely different styles. FIBA is more about the pick and pop game and extremely physical. The WNBA is more about athleticism, defense and getting to the basket.

Dime: How does the competition compare to the WNBA?
CP: The WNBA is the most competitive women’s sports league in the world from top to bottom. With that being said, Euroleague and FIBA are extremely competitive. My team here in Russia definitely could compete in the WNBA.

Dime: Be honest: What’s life really like in central Russia? Any crazy stories?
CP: The language barrier is an issue, but nothing crazy. Obviously, they realize when my family and I walk around that we are not from Russia. It’s funny to see the little kids run up and touch Lailaa’s hair and stare at us. But, Russia has been extremely welcoming, and despite frigid temperatures, quite enjoyable.

Dime: Where would you rank winning the Russian Cup to say a gold medal in the Olympics or an NCAA title with the Lady Vols?
CP: Winning the gold medal in the Olympics definitely trumps all accomplishments. I do feel the Olympics is the greatest stage for any professional woman to play in and win. As a child, I grew up dreaming and aspiring to play in the Olympics.

Dime: In 2009 you had Lailaa, and as a result missed a portion of the WNBA season while on maternity leave. How has being a mother changed how you prepare for a game? Your dietary regimen?
CP: After I became a mother, I grew up and matured, thus becoming a better basketball player. I prepare better now because I am on a schedule. I get more rest – if Lailaa allows – and I eat scheduled meals because I have to cook dinner for my daughter. And knowing that I am playing for her makes me want it that much more.

Dime: Do you feel athletically like you’re the same player pre-pregnancy as you were post-pregnancy?
CP: I feel as though I came back better. Post-pregnancy, I was forced to focus on my core and improving certain regions of my body. I allowed my body to rest and truly heal, which allowed me to come back more explosive.

Dime: What are your predictions for you and the Sparks this season?
CP: I am really excited about the upcoming WNBA season. I am back fully healthy, and with the new additions, I think we should be a fun and successful team to watch.

Dime: Is winning the WNBA championship (the Sparks’ first since 2002) in the cards?
CP: I do believe that this team definitely has the parts, but we have to put them together correctly and gel. The WNBA is extremely competitive and it will take a talented team to win. I have fallen short both of my experiences in the playoffs and have definitely had that on my mind – it will be used as motivation this upcoming season.

Dime: Your husband, Shelden Williams, got traded to the New York Knicks this year. Was that a big shock for you guys as a family? When did you hear?
CP: The NBA is a business and we have learned to expect the unexpected. The change is always difficult midway through a season, but you just keep going. Lailaa and I were overseas when that occurred, but Shelden handled it well and has played well for them thus far.

Dime: On the road as much as you two are, how often do you manage to see each other?
CP: We see each other as much as possible. Obviously, while I am overseas from January-May it is tough, but for the rest of the year, during the WNBA and first part of his NBA season, we are together.

Dime: With both her parents playing professional basketball, are there any expectations for Lailaa to follow in your footsteps? (I mean, she does have the genes for it.)
CP: Lailaa can do whatever she chooses. Obviously, she is completely surrounded by basketball, but Lailaa will be exposed to other sports and activities as well.

Dime: Do you manage to keep in touch with your brother at all? What’s a typical conversation like between you guys? Is there any sibling rivalry?
CP: We talk all the time. We have a great relationship and manage to keep in touch on two separate continents and time zones. We are super supportive of one another and we keep up on the Internet with each other’s games.

Dime: Which NBA player would you compare yourself to?
CP: I really do not know.

Dime: Who did you grow up watching?
CP: I lived in a suburb of Chicago and grew up idolizing the Bulls. I loved Michael Jordan, of course, but my favorite player was Ron Harper.

Dime: What type of kicks are you rocking on the court these days?
CP: The adidas ACE Versatility. I love them. They are the best shoes I have ever played in. Comfortable and lightweight, yet stylish and well designed.

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