This can happen at the Final Four, or maybe any “big event” that finishes your season-long coverage: You might overlook the most obvious story because it is so completely obvious.
Such was almost the case in Tampa in 2008 as I was tossing around ideas for what to write as the championship-game preview. Then I realized, 0f course, that the story was Candace Parker and Candice Wiggins, the two seniors who had led their teams to this Final Four and had been largely responsible for ending different types of “droughts” in their respective programs during their careers.
Parker had, in 2007, helped end a nine-year “dry spell” between NCAA titles for Tennessee, which had won the last of its previous championships in 1998. Wiggins in 2008, meanwhile, got Stanford back to its first Final Four since a heart-wrenching 1997 trip that had ended with a semifinal loss to Old Dominion.
So there they were in Tampa, with Parker trying to repeat as a national champion and Wiggins attempting to get the Cardinal its third NCAA title overall and first since 1992. Parker, of course, would end up prevailing, and then be taken the next day with the top pick in the WNBA draft. Wiggins would go third.
For whatever reason, a few weeks ago, I thought of that “Ace vs. Ice” column that I wrote in April 2008 and looked it up to read it again. I remember during their college careers being very interested in the perceived similarities and differences in regard to Parker and Wiggins, both of whom had been so important to their programs, their college head coaches and women’s basketball as a whole.
And, as I read my column from ’08, I knew I had a different perspective now on Parker. That made looking back on it even more reflective. Parker while at Tennessee didn’t always really appear to be enjoying herself. It was more like victories were simply expected, and that she was visibly annoyed at anything that didn’t go perfectly.
Meanwhile, Wiggins – even though she’d dealt with the tragedy of losing her father before she’d ever gotten a chance to know him _ was a player who radiated sunshine. Wiggins’ “baseline” emotion always seemed to be cheerful, and even when things got her down, she would quickly spring back up.
Parker back then seemed to not just avoid smelling the roses, but in fact, choose to ignore them _ as if really celebrating was kind of a contrived thing for her. Life appeared always about the next goal she was supposed to accomplish. Wiggins, on the other hand, seemed to have a type of un-extinguishable joy.
In fact, in 2008, someone I had recently befriended _ who very rarely watched women’s hoops _ had viewed the ’08 semifinals and sent me an e-mail saying, “How come that one Candice looks so happy, but the other Candace pretty much looks grumpy?”
Again, in retrospect, I think Parker was playing through a lot of pain and with the weight of huge expectations, which understandably could have projected as “grumpiness.” In talking to her before this WNBA season, she indicated that she wished she could have enjoyed her college accomplishments more, but that she’d been very caught up then on goal, goal, goal.
Her marriage, having a child and becoming a professional player in Los Angeles have helped give Parker a better perspective on how to be more able to enjoy “the moment.” And maybe a lot more spectators see her now the way Tennessee fans saw her all along. I always found her very interesting to interview, but _ at least to me _ she definitely seems to be a warmer and more engaging person who lets her natural charisma come through more. Which is great for her and for women’s sports.
Meanwhile, Wiggins had performed well in her first two seasons with Minnesota, but the Lynx as a team didn’t make the playoffs. And Wiggins’ optimism surely took some hits. However, the positive energy she generates just keeps coming.
So …. then this WNBA season, Parker was the centerpiece of the Sparks in the post-Lisa Leslie era, and Wiggins – who had to recover from meniscus surgery that delayed her start – was one of the most important on-court and emotional leaders for the Lynx.
But now Ace and Ice are out for the season. Parker’s previously problematic left shoulder requires surgery, having been injured for the latest time against the Lynx on June 13. And then Tuesday, Wiggins ruptured her Achilles’ tendon in a victory over New York.
The hope, of course, is that with both shut down for a while, they will completely recover and extend the longevity of their careers. Parker is 24, Wiggins is 23, so there is a lot of basketball left. But having them both on the sidelines for the majority of their third season as pros? It’s a real shame.
*-CHAT TODAY: I was traveling the last two Thursdays, but will be back for a chat today on ESPN.com. Normally, I go at 2 p.m. Eastern time, but Tina Charles is on then. So I will go around 2:15.