TAMPA, Fla. — As the top teams in women's college basketball prepare to face off at Amalie Arena for the Women's Final Four this weekend, a group of younger girls are honing their skills through a team coached by WNBA star Candace Parker's brother.
"I have three daughters, and when we moved to this area, and I just didn't see the same seriousness about basketball and opportunities for girls in this area as for my sister when we were in the Chicago area,” said Marcus Parker. “My sister is one of the best players in the world and provides some access and support, and so it seemed like a good opportunity to create something for the girls."
Parker started the Tampa ACES a few years ago and has teams for girls in second through fifth grades.
"They're more than just your teammates. It's like a family,” said player Olivia Fuller.
On top of polishing their skills on the court, girls who participate gushed about how the program sharpens their critical thinking and discipline skills.
"It teaches you (that) you have to work hard to go to where you want to go in life,” said Nini Davenport.
Marcus Parker’s oldest daughter is also in the league and said her choice to pursue basketball was a natural fit because she’s been surrounded by the gamne since birth. She said starting at age 4, her dad had her dribbling a basketball around the kitchen.
“That was before I really realized my aunt is Candace Parker. I realized that around 5 or 6,” said Naomi Parker, 12.
As for her relationship with her WNBA and NCAA champion aunt: “We’re tight. We’re cool. We go and do stuff all the time,” Naomi said. “It’s fun being able to also meet some of the other players that I look up to that also play in the game of basketball.”
Naomi said she hopes to not just follow in her famous aunt’s footsteps, but she wants to surpass her. “It was definitely an inspiration to kind of go after it. Kind of a challenge to be better than her,” she said.
These are exactly the types of aspirations Marcus wants the Tampa ACES girls to be able to achieve.
"When Candace was their age, there was no WNBA. Women's basketball wasn't covered degree that it is now,” he said. “It ends up being a great opportunity for them to see that they can go and play basketball at the same level and have the same experience as the men."
Marcus also highlighted the role basketball plays in creating common ground between those who might never interact.
"Basketball is the great equalizer. Anybody with a hoop and a ball can play,” he said. “It has brought my daughter into meeting people of all different races, all different backgrounds, all different socioeconomic levels. And to me, that's a great experience."
Emerald Morrow is a reporter with 10News WTSP. Like her on Facebook and follow her on Twitter. You can also email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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