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Basketball star Candace Parker's high school coach discusses her WNBA retirement

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

After 16 years, three pro titles and two MVP awards, one of the biggest names in basketball has called it a career. Candace Parker announced her retirement this week. But, you know, long before she was ever a WNBA star, long before her NCAA championships at the University of Tennessee, Parker played at Naperville Central High School, just outside Chicago, where her team won two state championships. Her high school coach was Andy Nussbaum. He's been there since 1988. He is still coaching, and we are so honored to have him on our show. Coach Nussbaum, welcome.

ANDY NUSSBAUM: Thank you, and I love talking about those days.

CHANG: Thank you so much for being here. So tell me, do you remember the first time you saw Candace play? What was that like?

NUSSBAUM: You know, Candace's brother Anthony, who is the general manager of the Orlando Magic, is 11 years older than Candace. And I have done our public address announcing for our boys' team, you know, probably 35 years. So after the games are over, you know, this little first grader would come out and kind of dribble the ball up and down and all around. And just the - you know, the thought was like, I think she's going to be pretty good - but of course, having absolutely no idea how...

CHANG: Really? Just watching her dribble as, like, a 7-year-old, you saw something?

NUSSBAUM: Well, she's obviously extremely athletic and always has been. The fact that Anthony was the very best player on our team, and Larry, her father, played at Iowa - you kind of looked at it with a little bit of an optimistic lens.

CHANG: Yeah.

NUSSBAUM: You know what I'm saying?

CHANG: Totally. I mean, apart from just her raw physical talent, even back then when she was a teenager, what - how would you describe her attitude about the game? Did you have to kind of shape the way she thought about basketball?

NUSSBAUM: Not at all. She loves basketball, and she's a hard worker, and she's talented. I mean, those three things - that was true when she was 15 years old. It couldn't have been easier with Candace Parker. You know, let me just give you an example.

CHANG: Yeah, yeah.

NUSSBAUM: OK. We're playing in the Final Four her junior year. And we win the game, and they interview her on TV after the game. And the reporter says, well, now everybody's got what they want. You know, it's Erin Lawless against Candace Parker in the championship game. And Candace goes, no, it's not. It's Fenwick against Naperville Central. She's 16 years old when she's saying this.

CHANG: Yeah.

NUSSBAUM: She had a very clear understanding of the game and that it was a team game. And of course, I mean, there were a lot of times where I'm like, the most - my most important job is to open the door and get out of the way.

CHANG: Do you have any favorite moments from watching her play professionally, like, after she left high school?

NUSSBAUM: You know, the real big one was winning the championship in Chicago because I was there. And even as a fan in the stands, you're looking at the game as a coach. And with about 10 minutes to go, I already had my postgame, we-lost-but-we're-still-in-it speech...

CHANG: Yeah.

NUSSBAUM: ...Mentally prepared. And they just came roaring back, and it was so fantastic. For them to win it at home, for them to win it in Chicago...

CHANG: You didn't need that speech.

NUSSBAUM: ...And for - yeah, no, no, no. That speech got trashed pretty quick.

CHANG: (Laughter).

NUSSBAUM: It was just really gratifying to watch her play.

CHANG: I am curious - what do you think of all the attention that women's basketball has gotten this year?

NUSSBAUM: Well, there's a part of me that says it's about time...

CHANG: (Laughter).

NUSSBAUM: ...You know, because...

CHANG: Yeah.

NUSSBAUM: ...These kind of things have been going on all along. And even now with Caitlin Clark - and I'm watching her play. I think it was the game against LSU, and I'm like, she's taking shots from, like, 10 feet behind the line. Some of the things that we're seeing are impressive, and I think people are finally starting to say, hey, this might be something we need to look into. And my feeling is, it's about time.

CHANG: So Coach, any advice for Candace as she's stepping away from the court now?

NUSSBAUM: Oh, man, I - you know, she's going into an area that I haven't gone into yet - that area called retirement...

CHANG: (Laughter).

NUSSBAUM: ...You know? She says she wants to own a WNBA team or part ownership or - I'm like, do whatever you want to do, man, because you're pretty good at it. There was one time in her career where she'd been kind of shortchanged, I thought. And I said to her in two different texts - the first one says, you don't have anything to prove to anybody. And then about 10 minutes later, I said, but if you want to, feel free, you know?

CHANG: 'Cause she could.

NUSSBAUM: Yeah. Yeah. That's probably my advice to her. You don't have anything to prove to anybody, but if you want to, feel free.

CHANG: I love that. That is Andy Nussbaum, who was Candace Parker's high school basketball coach at Naperville Central, just outside of Chicago. Thank you so much, Coach.

NUSSBAUM: OK. Well, thank you. The pleasure was mine. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Ailsa Chang is an award-winning journalist who hosts All Things Considered along with Ari Shapiro, Audie Cornish, and Mary Louise Kelly. She landed in public radio after practicing law for a few years.
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