Top basketball players of the century: Girls No. 1, Candace Parker of Naperville Central
Andy Nussbaum got his first cellphone because of Candace Parker.
"The reason I got a cellphone was to take the burden off of our math department secretary," said Nussbaum, the Naperville Central girls basketball coach the last 32 seasons, "because she was fielding every call from college coaches for Candace, and I think I must have cut her work in half by getting my own cellphone."
For four seasons ending with her senior year of 2003-04, Parker dominated Illinois girls basketball. No other player attracted crowds, media and college coaches to her games like Parker did.
"It was phenomenal," Nussbaum said. "I would say it exceeded my expectations in almost every way. In terms of excitement. In terms of dealing with the media. In terms of statewide and national reach. In terms of just the pure enjoyment of coaching the game.
"It was awesome."
Parker is the all-time leading scorer in Naperville Central history with 2,753 points, averaging 22.8 over 121 games. She averaged 11.5 rebounds a game as a senior, 14.2 as a junior.
Naperville Central won the final 58 games in which Parker played. She won the Gatorade Illinois Player of the Year Award three times and twice won the USA Today, Naismith and Gatorade national player of the year awards.
As a sophomore Parker became the first Illinois girl to dunk in a game, believed to be only the second in the nation.
Parker tore an ACL the summer before her senior season, having knee surgery in July 2003. Five months later she was back on the court.
The following spring she led Naperville Central to a second consecutive state championship. And then, eight months after ACL surgery, she won the dunking contest at the McDonald's High School All-American Game, beating five boys, including future NBA players J.R. Smith, Josh Smith and Rudy Gay.
After leaving Naperville Central Parker played college basketball at Tennessee, where she won two national championships, the John Wooden Award twice and became the first woman to dunk in a game.
She was the No. 1 overall pick in the 2008 WNBA Draft by the Los Angeles Sparks, for whom she still plays at age 34. She won two Olympic gold medals, one WNBA championship and two league MVP awards.