|Candace Parker has been given the nod ahead of Sue Bird to play this week|
By Paul Nilsen
When UMMC Ekaterinburg had to choose between utilising the stellar talent of either Candace Parker or Sue Bird, it was undoubtedly one of the biggest dilemmas in the history of women's basketball.
Due to eligibility restrictions, the hosts of EuroLeague Women Final Eight had to decide which of these global stars would suit up for the big event, with Parker eventually being given the nod.
And, speaking on the eve of the first game, the forward reiterated that whoever was chosen, it was always something the pair just had to accept.
"That's just the professional aspect of the situation," said Parker.
"We have both played for this club and I don't think there would have been any ill feelings either way.
"We knew they [the club] were always going to make the decision they felt was best and I was always going to support it."
Now preparing to deliver the silverware which UMMC and their fans crave, a relaxed Parker was also quick to dismiss fears the favourites would let any pressure of being hosts affect them.
"We don't really think about it," insisted the 26-year-old.
"This is what we've been waiting for all season. We know EuroLeague Women Final Eight is the big tournament and we don't feel any pressure - the main emotion is one of excitement."
With a decade having elapsed since the clubs' first step to the top of the EuroLeague Women podium, patience may now be running thin from the UMMC hierarchy who continue to demonstrate their eagerness to be crowned champions once again.
But, Parker is adamant that the combination of drawing strength from lessons learned from previous disappointments, along with the teams' vibrant form so far this season, puts UMMC in a good frame of mind.
She said, "You always learn from what has gone before and especially from the three previous Final tournaments.
"We're just ready to take this next step and play the same kind of basketball we have been playing all season.
"This year is the first time I think we have played so well and have not had so many losses.
"We feel really great going into this tournament."
|"We have both played for this club and I don't think there would have been any ill feelings either way," says Parker whose position in the team came at the expense of Sue Bird (above) |
Due to their status as host club, UMMC didn't compete in the play-offs, but Parker was quick to allay any fears that this may have left them a little under-cooked in terms of preparation and focus.
"I don't think it's an issue we didn't compete in the play-offs," she said with confidence.
"Rather than losing any intensity, I think we can turn this around and can say we managed to get some rest.
"Also, our practices are extremely competitive since it's not as if the first team beats the second team or anything like that.
"If we didn't have competitive practices, then I think not playing in the play-off might have been an issue."
Parker has been phenomenal this year, although the assumption that 16.6 points, 9.4 rebounds and three assists a game equates to her best ever season was quickly dismissed by the player herself.
"I don't think it will be my best season in Europe until we win this tournament," she said emphatically.
"Best seasons can only be defined by whether you win the Championship or not.
"However, I do feel good health-wise and also feel good physically - and that's a good sign."
Meanwhile now in her fourth season in Russia, Parker still feels blessed that she is able to continue juggling the roles of being both a mother and an elite level athlete.
"I have a truly amazing daughter," she said with a broad smile.
"She just adjusts to everything. She adjusts to every situation that she is put in and I'm really happy to have such a great support system with my mum and my husband."
"They continue to help me to live out my own dreams, whilst still bringing my family along."
Parker and UMMC tip-off their Final Eight schedule with a match-up against CCC Polkowice.