Candace Parker Thinks This NCAA Tournament Is the Craziest of All Time

We talked to Tennessee and WNBA legend Candace Parker ahead of this weekend's Final Four to get her predictions and reaction to what's been a crazy NCAA Tournament.

Candace Parker Turner 2018 NCAA Tournament

Candace Parker Turner 2018 NCAA Tournament

Candace Parker Turner 2018 NCAA Tournament

Candace Parker has been here before. In fact, she’s been here twice. During her three years at Tennessee, Parker led the Volunteers to back-to-back NCAA championships, including Pat Summit’s final title when Parker took home the tournament's Most Outstanding Player award. Parker remembers the wins but not as profoundly as the moments she shared with her college coach.

“Pat was giving an interview and I ran by behind her and hugged her and they caught it on tape," says Parker. "It’s a memory that I have and I’ll always hold because she was so happy and so proud of us. It was like everything that we’d been through, it was all perfect and worth it at that moment.”

Now she’s back in a new context. She's a first time analyst for Turner during its March Madness coverage while gearing up for her 11th WNBA season—which is only a month away—and still finding time to take her daughter on spring break.

We caught up with Parker before Saturday’s Final Four (6 pm ET, TBS) to find out what it’s like to switch from player to analyst, if she thinks Loyola-Chicago can go all the way, and what she hopes to accomplish this year with the Los Angeles Sparks.

(This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.)

How did you prep for March Madness while at the same time getting ready for your own season to start?
I’m a basketball fan so basketball is always on in my living room. So, I think the biggest thing was just learning the smaller teams because you know, Duke is always on, Kansas is always on, Gonzaga. So it was just kind of prepping for the smaller teams but it was just watching basketball, reading up on them.

What’s it like in the studio when the cameras aren’t on? Do you all watch the games together?
We have a separate viewing room with TVs so we can watch multiple games at once so that’s where we watch. Then when we have to be back on set we’ll come in there and of course there’s some TVs in there. But yeah, we watch them together and we joke around and have some keys for what we want to talk about. Or if there’s a play we can pull it, it’s really cool.

Has commentating changed how you watch games now? Are you more sympathetic when you hear people commentating your own games?
I think I’m more sympathetic when I see people commentating on draft pro days and things like that and I’m like they’re really pulling stuff that they have to talk over and it’s so difficult because when there’s a lull you have to fill it in with information so that’s all time spent prepping and learning about what you’re gonna talk about. So I think from that aspect I have more appreciation. I also just have more appreciation for the time. I didn’t realize when I was watching March Madness all these years that these people were at the studio for as long as they were and had to know as many teams as they did. So I think just an overall appreciation when I’m watching now, they really know their stuff.

How do you think this March Madness measures up to those of the past?
I think this is the craziest, honestly. I thought it was crazy when Arizona went down and then obviously when Virginia went down. And just the story of Loyola, even though my Volunteers were in the path of them, it’s still absolutely remarkable. My bracket was shot from probably Day 2, but this tournament has been really special. Just the different stories that have developed because that’s what it is in basketball, it’s about the stories and people coming together. You have Isaac Haas at Purdue who broke his elbow and is still trying to play, you have Sister Jean, you got Mariah Musselman so you have all these people and this is what the NCAA kind of created.

What are your Final Four predictions?
You know with Loyola-Chicago, I would say I probably picked them one time and that was the game against Kansas State. Like I thought Nevada would do well against them, but they proved me wrong yet again. So, after they beat Nevada I was like they’re going to go to the Final Four. So, Loyola vs. Michigan, I mean Loyola plays pretty good defense and Michigan is more of a 4-out 1-in cutting offense. Loyola moves the ball unbelievably so if they’re hitting their shots which, they hit 40 percent from three and the game isn’t super high scoring...Loyola might be in the championship game. I think Villanova is too good for anybody there so I think Nova is going to win the championship. They were actually in my championship game against Arizona but we all know how that went.

On the women’s side, do you see anyone who could upset UConn?
It’s hard for me to chalk them in because I’m a Volunteer. I like to look at all the possibilities, obviously they’re the favorite to win but I would say Mississippi State would like another crack at them. In terms of it being an exciting championship game I just hope it is and I hope it comes down to the wire. But, whether Mississippi State can hang in there is to be determined.

What’s your favorite March Madness memory?
You know what I think it is? I think it’s when we won our first championship and Pat Summitt was giving an interview and I ran by behind her and hugged her and they caught it on tape. It’s a memory that I have and I’ll always hold because she was so happy and so proud of us. It was like everything that we’d been through, it was all perfect and worth it at that moment. It was that and realizing that we had won the championship that were two of the moments that stick out.

Which of the prospects coming out of college this year are you most excited to see make the jump?
Well, Aja [Wilson] was a recruit at Tennessee. I think she actually came on her recruiting visit when I was there getting my jersey retired or something like that. I got introduced to her then and everything so it would be cool to see her in the WNBA just because I met her when she was 16 years old and watched her throughout college so it’s going to be a lot of fun to see how she develops.

The WNBA is just about a month away from the preseason, the last two seasons have seen your Sparks and the Lynx split in the Finals, are we going to see a rubber match?
We’re going to try and do our part. To me the toughest part is to get to the Finals. I think people underestimate how well you have to play in the regular season to get there. The last two years we’ve put ourselves in positions to have a bye in the first round so we’re always playing a series instead of that one and done game. We want to put ourselves in a position to do that and build from there. If we’re swinging for the fences with the Finals from Day 1 then we’re gonna be in trouble so my goal this year is to finish the regular season No. 1. We’ve never done that since I’ve been a part of the Sparks.

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