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Naperville’s Candace Parker, Sky’s Sylvia Fowles share long connection

Candace Parker who helped U.S. women wgold medal Beijing will be playing her second Olympic tournament. | Juan Ocampo~Getty Images

Candace Parker, who helped the U.S. women win the gold medal in Beijing, will be playing in her second Olympic tournament. | Juan Ocampo~Getty Images

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Updated: August 17, 2012 6:51AM

Naperville native Candace Parker and Sky center Sylvia Fowles always seem to be connected. Their pro careers began in 2008, when they were taken 1 and 2 overall in the WNBA draft and were the most heralded players in women’s basketball. But their history together actually goes back to childhood.

“Syl and I have grown up together, and we started playing against each other when we were 13,” Parker said. “It was always about this kid Sylvia Fowles. I heard a lot about her through AAU and the Nike and Adidas camps. There was always a connection between us.”

Parker, a forward for the Los Angeles Sparks, and Fowles are coming full circle as they embark on their second Olympic tournament, which begins July 28 in London. They were the only rookies at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, in which the U.S. team won the gold medal.

“With her being healthy, she’ll bring a lot to the table,” Fowles said. “But we have so many great people on that team, it’s not going to matter because everyone can contribute. From what I know of Candace, every time it’s something big, she’s going to step up.”

Fowles downplays how the two have been intertwined for most of their careers.

“Connection? I never think about stuff like that; it’s odd to think about,” Fowles said. “She’s one of the great basketball players.”

But while Fowles has had a relatively smooth and healthy WNBA career, Parker’s road has been rougher.

Since Beijing, Parker had to miss part of the 2009 season when she gave birth to her daughter, Lailaa, and last season she injured her right knee and played in only 17 games.

And there was also Parker’s left shoulder. Parker said she injured it before Beijing but didn’t get it surgically repaired. In 2010, Parker reseparated the shoulder and had to have surgery, missing more time.

The injuries and her age — Parker is 26 — have put athletics in perspective. This time around, Parker plans to enjoy the Olympic experience, and that will include sightseeing — she wants to see Big Ben — and events that aren’t men’s basketball.

Parker’s life isn’t nearly as chaotic now, either. As a senior at Tennessee, Parker led the Lady Vols to their second consecutive NCAA title. Then she was drafted and moved to Los Angeles.

“The Olympics got lost in the shuffle, and [life] went from one thing to the next,” Parker said. “I have a different perspective now. Back then, I didn’t know what to expect. I was really young, and now I’m more mature, and I know how truly special this experience is. I didn’t truly grasp how big it was.”

Parker said she wants to have more children but still sees herself playing for a few more years. Even though she wouldn’t discount this being her last Olympics, she realizes she can’t keep playing 20 years from now.

The only thing Parker hasn’t won is a WNBA championship. Parker won back-to-back state titles at Naperville Central, two NCAA titles and an Olympic gold medal. Her career won’t be complete, though, without that WNBA crown.

And before Parker leaves for London, she might have to let out a secret about Fowles.

“She likes to knit,” Parker said. “Here’s this big athletic woman who knits. She’s really good at it, too.”

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