Sparks’ Candace Parker discusses NCAA Tournament, upcoming WNBA season

Bruce Yeung/Icon Sportswire

The 2015-2016 women’s college basketball season is nearing its end as the NCAA Tournament starts this weekend, but Los Angeles Sparks forward Candace Parker’s season is just about to gear up.

During the offseason, Parker has teamed up with the Capital One Cup to promote the women’s side of the national tournament.

The Capital One Cup is awarded each year to the best men and women’s Division 1 basketball programs in the country. The winner is calculated through final coaches polls and NCAA Tournament standings, and the teams receive their awards at the ESPYs. Additionally, the winners take home over $400,000 worth of scholarships.

While many might believe UConn would be favored to win, the Huskies hold only nine points in the poll. Penn State, Nebraska, Duke, Texas and Florida are currently the top five teams in the standings.

Parker said Texas might have a good shot at winning the Capital One Cup, and the Longhorns are the No. 2 seed in the Bridgeport region. If Texas can make its way up and win a national championship, the 60 points that comes from winning would boost them into position to succeed.

When it comes down to the NCAA Tournament overall, Parker said she always puts her alma mater Tennessee in the championship circle, unless it’s a serious situation.

“If I’m betting my house, I’d have to go with Connecticut,” Parker said. “What they’ve been able to do over the past four years, their 69-game win streak, and they have the best player in the country — you definitely have to catch UConn on a really bad day for them to lose.”

Parker said come tournament time, she’d like to see Tennessee push its way as far as the Elite Eight to face No. 1 seed and conference rival South Carolina.

Aside from her partnership with Capital One, Parker’s offseason from the WNBA has been mellower than she’s used to, as this year marks the first year she really took an offseason from play. Parker played in the playoffs in China for three weeks, but aside from that, she took on a commentating role with ESPN to see if it’d be something she’d want to pursue after her professional career.

Coming into the regular season, Parker enters her eighth professional campaign while the WNBA marks its 20th season.

“I remember when it first started,” Parker said. “It was an opportunity for women to pursue basketball after college and have a league of our own. It means a lot to be a part of the 2oth season.”

The Sparks finished fourth in the Western Conference last season and had their playoff run abruptly halted by the Minnesota Lynx. With the opportunity to grow the team, Parker said she hopes the Sparks will add some defense and role players to the lineup to give the team some balance, but whatever they decide she’s confident in what they’ve acquired through free agency.

Although it’s the 20th year of the WNBA, this year’s season will be cut short with a break for the Olympics. For the third time, Parker has qualified for Team USA, which will be looking for its sixth straight gold medal at the 2016 Rio Olympics in August.

“It means a lot to represent your country,” Parker said. “Anytime you put USA across your chest you feel a type of responsibility to represent your country in the best way. “

But before the Olympics, Parker and the Sparks will tip off the 2016 WNBA season at home on May 15 against the Seattle Storm.

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