Candace Parker is the best female basketball player to step on the hardwood ever. Through high school, college and the WNBA to this point, she has accomplished more than any other woman in the game: back-to-back Gatorade High School Player of the Year titles, two-time Wooden Award winner, Naismith Award winner, WNBA Rookie of the Year, WNBA MVP and AP Female Athlete of the Year.
If you're a guy clinging to your over confidence and still not respecting Candace's game, thinking "Girls can't compete in a guy's game," well, prepare yourself for an inconvenient truth. Meantime, we'd love to hear all about the last time you dunked with authority twice in one game. Candace did it as a redshirt freshman at Tennessee.
Candace was blessedwith height and tremendous athletic ability just like her biggest role models, her older brothers—Anthony, a starting guard for the Cleveland Cavaliers, and Marcus, once a standout athlete now following his lifelong dream of becoming a doctor. "They were at every game I played," Candace recalls. "And they used to take me out and show me different things on the court…and then Marcus would take me back inside and help me with my homework. When I would struggle with something, I would go to them and ask, 'Can you help me with this?'"
Candace credits her brothers with teaching her now-patented "inside-out" offensive move, but they did more than just offer one-on-one instruction. They also introduced her to the so-called "guys'" game by bringing her along to the blacktop. "As a female athlete, going to a pick-up court and playing for the first time, you're going to get looked at," she says. "Initially, [when] I would go, [I'd] get picked last. Then they kind of figured out that I could play a little bit, so I ended up being picked first. I think I improved a lot by playing against them, because of how physical the game is and because of the speed and quickness of the game."
Candace played herself up to the point of picking her own team on most occasions. She ruled the playground, but overconfidence dies hard. Some fools still doubted whether she could battle an elite male player—until one day when she teamed up with her brothers at the park to take on, and quickly extinguish, a rising star. "I don't know who would allow us to all play on the same team," she says with a chuckle. "But they had no idea who Anthony was, [since] at this time he was playing overseas. We were all over 6'4", but they all let us play on the same team. I remember this guy was yelling from the side of the court, 'Yeah, this is the best sophomore guy in the Chicago area!' And my brother was like, 'You got him.' So, they were just throwing him the ball and clearing out. And I was just going to work on him. Everyone was around the court laughing."
By learning to "man"-handle some of the best talent around, Candace began to develop into a ridiculously skilled and athletic player Even at her height, she can move and elevate better than much smaller players in the WNBA—an ability she lists as one of her biggest weapons, along with basketball intelligence. But the development she is most proud of as a female athlete took place off the court and brought to life the words inked across her left wrist: To whom much is given, much is expected. "I know it's a responsibility to continue to work hard and to be a great role model," she says. "It was great the first time I saw someone in my jersey. It really brings a smile to your face when someone admires you and looks up to you … I'm just a generation removed from my mom not being able to play basketball in high school or college, so I feel very blessed. And now having a daughter, I'm playing so that she can play in these professional leagues and so that she can have everything that my son would have."
Although Candace was blessed with athleticism, her continued success in the WNBA—and pretty much any court she steps on—is rooted in her devotion to off-season training. Her focus is on building more lower-body power, quickness and strength. Whether you are a guy who now believes, or a female basketball player, the following exercises will help you improve your court quicks and hops, so that some day you can punish the rim like Candace.
Speed Ladder With Sprint
* Sprint full speed for five yards toward ladder
* Without slowing down, perform specified drill down length of ladder
* Sprint out of ladder for five yards
Sets/Reps: 2-3x7-8 foot patterns
Coaching Points: Perform forward, backward and lateral foot patterns // Move feet as quickly as possible
Candace: The ladder helps with balance and quickness by making you do everything you would do with your feet on the court. Look at basketball; it's all about change of speed and change of direction—going from facing sideways to running forward, or going from running backwards to turning around and sprinting back on defense.
One-Step Box Jump
* Assume athletic stance with box few feet in front
* Take one step with left leg, gather and explode up and onto box off both legs
* Step back down slowly; perform jump after stepping with right leg
* Continue alternating steps for specified reps
Sets/Reps: 2-3x20 total
Coaching Points: Use arms to help generate explosion // Land on box softly with bent knees // Do not jump back off box
Candace: A lot people will tell you to just stand and jump, but I prefer the one-step jump because it's more basketball-like. Very rarely are you ever jumping from a standing position.
* Begin in athletic stance holding dumbbells at sides
* Step forward to comfortable distance and lower into lunge position until back knee is just above ground
* Drive back into start position by pushing through heel of front foot
* Repeat with opposite leg; continue alternating for specified reps
Sets/Reps: 3x20 each leg
Coaching Points: Do not allow lunging knee to shift left, right or out past toes // Keep torso upright throughout // Do not step past comfortable distance // Do not use back leg to assist in returning to start position // Perform each rep in one fluid motion
Candace: I really enjoy doing lower body exercises, and this is one of my favorite ones, because it hits pretty much everything. I really feel it in my hips, quads and hamstrings.
Single-Leg Balance Reach
* Arrange three cones in triangle, each about one yard apart
* At first cone, balance on right leg in athletic stance with knee slightly bent
* Maintaining balance, squat down, fold at waist and reach right hand across body to cone in front and left
* Return to start with control; repeat but reach left hand across body to cone in front and right
* Continue in alternating fashion for specified reps
* Perform set on left leg
Sets/Reps: 3x20 touches each leg
Coaching Points: Keep balancing knee in line with ankle // Keep opposite leg engaged to assist with balance
Candace: This teaches your body to react to different ways that you would land. That's one thing I learned to understand—how important [it is to] land properly. You can really challenge yourself by closing your eyes and varying the placement of the cones each set. You'll really feel this in your hamstring and quad after awhile.
Med Ball Core Circuit (Watch video of Candace Parker's core training for basketball)
* Holding med ball with arms extended in front of chest, perform Med Ball Crunches for specified reps
* Immediately perform Sit-Ups with ball at chest, while rotating ball to right hip and lift hip at top of each rep
Sets/Reps: 2-4x50 each exercise
Coaching Points: Start with light ball // Keep arms straight for Crunch // Get full rotation in each direction on each Sit-Up
Candace: I do the Crunch and Sit-Up With Rotation together, because I don't think other exercises can hit as many core muscles all at once. A strong, tight core helps with changing direction fast, jumping and staying low. It also helps me deal with contact.
Ankle Band Series
* Place band around ankles
* Assume athletic stance with hips low and tension in band
* Shuffle left for specified steps
* Shuffle right for specified steps
* Step forward with each leg for specified steps
* Step backward with each leg for specified steps
Sets/Reps: 3x20 each direction
Coaching Points: Keep tension in band throughout // Do not allow hips to rise // Keep knees behind toes
Candace: This is something I dreaded in college; it was my main exercise to recover from my knee injury. It puts a lot of burn on your legs. I turn to this after lifting heavy…It's my blowout at the end of the workout. Training your body when you're tired teaches you how to play when you're tired, when you need to find the energy to finish a game.
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