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Past articles:
  • Candace Parker's Comeback

  • 2005 WNBA Season wrap-up

  • 2004-05 College Awards

  • Stanford walk-on Markisha Coleman

  • 2004 WNBA Awards

  • 'BEEF' up your shooting!

  • Gball's Players of the Year

  • UConn's two freshmen

  • Gball's 2003-04 All-Americans

  • Leslie repeats as Player of the Year

  • 2002-03 NCAA Awards

  • Sophia Young

  • WBCA All Stars

  • NWBL Draft

  • The Burge Twins

  • 2002 WNBA Successes

  • Title IX's 35th Anniversary

  • The 2002 High School State Champs

  • The 2002 Gball Awards

  • Being Recruited

  • Protecting Your Knees

  • Candace Parker dunks!

  • Michigan Playoff Results

  • WNBA Teen Advisory Board

  • St. Ann's girls' team

  • Leslie Gball's Player of the Year

  • Hitting the last-second shot

  • Scholarships,
    Part I

  • Scholarships,
    Part II

  • Improving Agility

  • candace parker Comeback Candace
    By R.J. Anderson

    She's Baaack! Lady Vol Candace Parker is back on the court. Learn how she returned to the hardwood after a knee injury last year.

    When Larry and Sara Parker dropped off their daughter Candace at the University of Tennessee in August of 2004, they were delivering one of high school basketball's most decorated female players to Coach Pat Summitt and the Lady Vols. A two-time national high school player of the year, Candace also garnered national attention after winning the slam dunk contest at the McDonald's High School Boys' All-Star game.

    Little did Candace and her proud parents know that their daughter's career would be derailed for a full year of challenges. Fresh off a summer spent leading the U.S. Women's Junior World Championship qualifying team to a gold medal in Puerto Rico -- where she led the squad in scoring, rebounding, assists, blocks, and steals -- Candace arrived in Knoxville in 2004 with limitless potential and championship expectations. But when the 6'3" freshman stepped on campus for the start of the fall semester, she did so with a very swollen left knee she had played on all summer.

    While Candace thought nothing of it, the swelling concerned Tennessee Head Athletic Trainer Jenny Moshak, and she had Candace undergo an MRI on Aug. 20. Jenny was troubled by the results, which revealed some degenerative changes and possible meniscus damage. Amid concerns that Candace may have also aggravated an ACL injury she sustained in high school, an arthroscopy was performed four days later to enable the doctors to see inside her knee. Those results were even more discouraging.

    "I remember waking up from my scope and asking what happened three or four times," Candace says. "Everybody was looking so sad. Then Jenny came over and said it didn't go too well and that I was out for the season. At that point, I started bawling."

    Candace's knee had surface damage to the lateral articular cartilage, and her lateral meniscus was no longer completely attached. However, there was a sliver of good news: Her ACL was fine. Still, after surgery, she would be looking at six to 12months of rehab.

    On Sept. 8, Tennessee Team Orthopedist Dr. William Youmans successfully performed surgery to repair the meniscus and cartilage damage, and Candace was fitted for a hinged full-leg brace. She would be non-weight bearing for six weeks and partial-weight bearing for two weeks after that. Despite her limitations, Candace immediately began her rehab and set a goal to return sometime in the middle of the season.

    "When they told me six to 12 months, I told myself that I would try to come back in December, around winter break," she says. "Whether that was a smart goal or not, it made me work hard every day in rehab to get my leg as strong as I possibly could."

    Candace was limited in the first few weeks because the brace was initially set to allow only a little flexion and extension. As a result, despite the work she put in, her leg muscles suffered significant weakening. Nearly a month post-surgery, the brace was released so she could move her leg fully, though Candace remained non-weight bearing for two more weeks.

    Jenny continued the exercises, which by this time Candace was completing with 20-pound ankle weights attached to the brace. She was also doing limited ankle, hip, core, and upper-body work in the weightroom to maintain her overall strength.

    One of the main challenges for Candace during this early stage was simply getting around campus, a feat made significantly harder by the university's rolling landscape. However, she persevered, made it to class, and her schoolwork never suffered. In addition to beefing up her triceps muscles while commuting on crutches, Candace also used this time to bolster her academic average, eventually landing on the Southeastern Conference All-Academic Freshman Team.

    Candace also utilized a number of Lady Vols support services, including an injury support group and a sports psychologist to help her deal with the mental challenges of rehab. "We realize that it's a pretty big bummer when you're on top of your game one day, expecting to come in all-world, then we say, 'You can't play,'" Jenny says. "That had to be addressed, and our counseling services helped us take a very holistic approach to her rehab."

    candace parker
    Having successfully rehabbed from an ACL tear during her senior year of high school, Candace was frustrated at the beginning of her newest challenge. "Candace thought, 'I did the ACL rehab, that chapter should be over, why is it being re-opened?'" Jenny says. "I think that was a big obstacle she had to overcome at first."

    "Sometimes Jenny had to kick me in the behind to get me to go to the counseling group," Candace admits, "but once I got there, I realized those meetings were beneficial. Jenny can get me to do things that I don't necessarily want to do because I know she has my best interests in mind."

    The brace was removed on Oct. 14, and though she would still be only partial-weight bearing for two more weeks, Candace began more functional rehabilitation. Working with Jenny for three to four hours each day, she attacked her rehab, improving the knee's range of motion and strength as well as her overall conditioning.

    One aspect of the rehab Candace enjoyed was working in the water with hydrotherapy. "We did a lot of work in chest-high water where she would run, jump, slide, cut, and so on," Jenny says. "We did that once or twice a week, and she really liked it because she was doing basketball-type moves."

    On Nov. 11, Candace was cleared to return to the court for light walk-through basketball drills, which consisted mostly of shooting. She wasn't allowed to jump, but she could rise up on her toes. At this point, still focused on returning after winter break, Candace upped the intensity of her workouts, spending four to five hours a day with Jenny.

    "The whole time the team was on the practice floor, we were doing stuff on the side of the court and in the weightroom, and sometimes she would come see me after practice and after dinner," Jenny says. "We got to know each other very well."

    During November and into December, Candace began to notice dramatic improvements and her goal seemed more and more reachable. "Fortunately, she has a physique that responds to intense training," Jenny says. "As she saw that response, it motivated her even more."

    It also helped that Candace had a partner she could share the rehab experience with. During preseason, fellow freshman Alex Fuller tore her ACL and meniscus and was beginning her own long road back. Alex, also a high prospect in high school, had surgery a month after Candace and had already been redshirted for the 2004-05 season.

    Because of their similar situations, Candace says she and Alex share a special bond. "I would never wish an injury on anybody, but if we both had to be injured, it was better that we were injured at the same time," she says. "We worked side by side and really pushed each other. Because of that we will forever have a button we can push on each other to light a fire or pump the other one up."

    "It was a good combination," Jenny adds, who routinely matched Candace and Alex up in weightroom contests to keep things lively. "They were doing the same exercises, but because Alex had her surgery later, she was a little behind Candace in the amount of weight she could lift.

    "Having them together was also really good for me because I didn't over-analyze what one of them was doing," Jenny continues. "I could give them some autonomy and stand back and be a cheerleader instead of sitting there counting every rep."

    Eventually those reps paid off and Candace worked up to drills like mini-tramp jumping and box jumping. "It was all about landing soft," Jenny says. "We also did a lot of sidewinder exercises with a resistive rubber band on the ankles, working on defensive stance, strengthening, and explosive speed work in controlled settings."

    Gaining proficiency in those drills, Candace quickly built strength and confidence in her left leg. After a physical examination and an MRI on Dec. 20, Dr. Youmans cleared Candace to practice with her teammates after their winter break on Dec. 26.

    Candace was understandably excited. "I viewed Dec. 26 as my Christmas," she says. "That was the day I had been awaiting for four months -- I was going to start playing college basketball."

    Restless with anticipation, Candace hardly slept the night before that first practice. "I was a little tired coming into practice, but everything went well," she says. "I didn't favor my knee at all, and I even dunked. Then we did our weight workout and my knee started feeling a little stiff. I couldn't get the amount of flexion and extension that I wanted.

    "That night I iced it," she continues, "and when I woke up the next day, my knee was huge." The swelling remained the following day, and Candace was restricted to participating in halfcourt drills with no running. Even after backing off, the knee continued to swell, so Dr. Youmans and Jenny decided that Candace should shut it down for a while.

    "Candace understood what wouldn't allow her to play: swelling, sharp pain, and lack of range of motion. And when her knee swelled, she knew we had to pull her from playing," Jenny says. "So we regrouped, and she began shooting for another goal: returning for the postseason."

    After three more weeks of rehab, Candace realized it was probably in her best interests to call it a season and redshirt. "I told her we gave it the old college try, but we needed to pay attention to what the knee was telling us," Jenny says. "I said, 'We're only doing this once -- we're not going back six months from now and revisiting the surgery.'

    "Sometimes elite athletes think they're invincible, but Candace is a very mature athlete and she understood," Jenny continues. "Looking back, she's very pleased with the decisions we helped her make and that we cared enough about her to not let her play on a swollen knee."

    Candace says that big-picture approach didn't come easy, but she's glad she didn't push her knee's limits. "What if I had come back and played the remaining 10 games and the NCAA tournament, then found out in the offseason that I had to have another knee surgery?" she asks. "That kind of stress on my knee could have taken years off my career."

    Still, sitting on the bench watching her teammates battle night after night was no easy chore for Candace. She attended every game and made every road trip, while continuing her rehab. The toughest part was watching her teammates struggle. "She would get very frustrated when we'd lose to Duke by two points or have an awful road trip," Jenny says. "She'd say, 'I can help this team, I know I could have made a difference.'"

    Candace wasn't the only one anxious for her return. Coach Summitt admits that the season could have ended much differently had Candace been in the lineup. Instead of losing to Baylor in the national title game, Coach Summitt wonders if Candace could have been the missing piece to a seventh national championship banner hanging at Thompson-Boling Arena.

    "Obviously Coach Summitt would have been thrilled to have her at any point in the season, but she has never questioned a medical decision I've made," Jenny says. "And she did a wonderful job in keeping Candace and Alex in the system -- having them watch film and making sure they felt like they were part of the team."

    Knowing that she would have a full year of recovery under her belt before returning to competition, Candace worked even harder throughout the spring and stayed in Knoxville for two summer sessions. And even though Candace was probably strong enough to run and play, Jenny asked her to adhere to a non-pounding approach and not play any basketball until the fall. "Why beat it up when you don't have to?" she told Candace. Instead, the remainder of the rehab was focused on controlled speed, agility, and quickness drills.

    Candace returned home to Naperville, Ill., about a month before school started. Wary that she would be tempted to join a pickup game during that time, Jenny had a heart-to-heart talk with her star patient. "It would be unfair for you to try and play basketball without me being the first to see you play," Jenny told her. "Given the amount of time and energy I've put into you, this is what you owe me. You'll have plenty of opportunities to play."

    candace parker
    As she had been throughout her rehab, Candace listened to Moshak's request, and she returned to campus in August feeling stronger than ever. "I'm not rehabbing anymore, I'm strengthening," Candace said after a preseason practice. Adding 10 pounds of muscle to her frame, she also tacked another two inches onto her already impressive vertical leap. From a standing start, she can now reach 10 feet, seven and a half inches.

    Jenny says that the Lady Vols opened preseason practices with Candace back as her old dominating self, dunking virtually at will. Wearing orthotics but no knee brace, Candace has only one limitation imposed by Jenny and Coach Summitt: No dunking in traffic during practice -- yet.

    Jenny credits Candace's tireless work ethic and desire to be the best as the biggest reason for her improvement. "She did the things outside of our rehab time that it took to win this battle, and she was always asking, 'What else can I do at home?'" Jenny says. "She really put in the extra effort."

    Candace gives Jenny much of the credit for her return. "She's definitely a great motivator and was there for me every day, pushing me through rehab. And she was there as a shoulder to lean on when I needed somebody to talk to," Candace says. "Jenny and I are really, really close."

    Candace also appreciates how Jenny continually looked out for her future. "I'm so thankful she recognized the problem and turned a potentially career-ending injury into just a season-ender."

    Having basketball taken away for a year has also given Candace a new perspective on the sport, which she says will keep her from taking her talent and opportunity for granted. You won't find Tennessee's newest star complaining about an early-morning practice, even if she has to stay up late studying the night before.

    "I remember those times I was sitting on the sideline praying that I could just do a shooting drill with the team," Candace says. "I do a lot of writing. Sometimes I look back on my journal entries from when I was injured, and they motivate me to bring it every day in practice and be thankful that I'm able to play basketball again."

    Candace's debut was on Nov. 20, when Tennessee opened the regular season vs. Stetson, and she has made the most of every opportunity. She has started all 19 games, averaging 29.9 minutes per outing. Parker tops the Lady Vols in scoring (15.1 ppg.), rebounding (8.2 rpg.) and blocks (42), and is second in field goal shooting (.555) and in assists (53).

    So far, the expectations have been more than satisfied. And when the season is completed, Candace will certainly be a candidate for National Rookie of the Year, and will garner some All-America recognition. She has also helped Coach Summitt tally her 900th win, and hopefully we'll see a dunk in a game from "Comeback Candace" soon.

    R.J. Anderson is an assistant editor at Momentum Media.

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