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Candace Parker to return Sunday

The Sparks star will end her maternity leave and rejoin the lineup as the team hosts Phoenix. She will be used off the bench.

July 04, 2009|Mark Medina

She's back.

Candace Parker, last year's most valuable player who missed training camp and the first eight games of the season while on maternity leave, will play an undetermined number of minutes off the bench Sunday when the Sparks host the Phoenix Mercury.

"Obviously I'm still rusty and I'm still not where I was," Parker said after Friday's practice. "But I didn't expect it to be that way."

Neither did Coach Michael Cooper. But after her doctor this week cleared her to participate in team practices, Parker did the rest. Her performances in drills on Wednesday and Thursday and four six-minute scrimmages on Friday convinced Cooper she was ready.

Parker, who also was the league's rookie of the year last season, agreed though she acknowledged her life is now a juggling act since giving birth May 13 to daughter Lailaa.

For example, after Tuesday's practice, Parker raced home to feed Lailaa before quickly darting off to a team event with the Jenesse Center, which redecorates apartments for domestic violence victims. She then went to UCLA to pick up her godbrother, Kenny, who was visiting Parker and her husband Shelden Williams, who plays for the Minnesota Timberwolves.

"It's been really tough balancing being a mom and trying to compete at the highest level," Parker said. "I'm getting a little schedule of how long it takes for me to get out of the house. That's the biggest problem. But once I get here, it's nice. My mind is clear and I play the game I love, one I've been playing forever."

Because Parker has not played competitive basketball in about 10 months, Cooper says he wants to move cautiously and get her into the Sparks' lineup without "disrupting our chemistry." That lineup also has been without Lisa Leslie since the three-time MVP sprained her right knee June 19 against Phoenix, but at least three players scored in double digits in each of the last three games.

Parker's return coincides with the Sparks' only home game this month before beginning a six-game road swing.

"We want to give our fans the first treat of her coming back," Cooper said. "I honestly believe had she not been able to play this game, we would've waited. It would've been tortuous on us because she would've practiced. But we would've much rather waited and let our fans experience her comeback as opposed to her being on the road."

Leslie isn't worried about Parker's ability to return strong.

"When the lights go on at Staples Center and the adrenaline gets going, she's going to be even better," Leslie said. "Every day she's looking better and better. I'm pretty confident that she'll be fine."


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