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By Dick Patrick, USA TODAY
WASHINGTON — There was good news from Candace Parker after her fourth day in camp Monday with the U.S. women's national basketball team.
"From a player standpoint, I feel like I'm back," said the 6-4 guard-forward-center, who led Tennessee to two NCAA titles and was a key player for the 2008 Olympic team that won gold in Beijing.
Parker gave birth to a daughter May 13 and by July was playing for the Los Angeles Sparks, averaging 13.1 points during the regular season and 18 in the playoffs. Now she's part of a 13-player U.S. national team headed to Ekaterinburg, Russia, for a Friday-Sunday tournament.
"I feel like I'm back to where I was," says Parker. "If anyone sits and doesn't play 5-on-5 basketball for nine months, they'd be rusty regardless of what my body went through to have the baby. Obviously there was some rust from that. Obviously, I needed to get my body back to where it was. There were timing issues, rhythm."
Parker's weight problem is keeping pounds on. She's at 175, down five to seven pounds from last year.
"Nursing will do that to you while playing," said Parker, 23, married to Shelden Williams of the Boston Celtics.
Parker feels she can be stronger than ever and not just because she plans to spend a lot of the offseason in the weight room: "I'm a lot healthier. I'm eating better because I'm eating for two. The vitamins and all the stuff I'm taking — pre-natal pills, iron, calcium — had made my body feel healthier. I eat less fried food.
"Giving birth has made a difference in more ways than one. It changed my life and changed the way I look at my body and what I need to do to help it perform at the highest level."
Parker is bringing daughter, Lailaa, 5 months, to Russia and will get child-care help from her mother.
"It's tough," said Parker of combining the newborn and international team travel. "Fortunately, I've been blessed with a very good baby. She is so just 'go with the flow'."
Team roster: Parker is part of a 13-player roster, named after a six-day camp in Washington, D.C., ended Monday, that will play a Friday-Sunday tournament in Ekaterinburg against European club teams. The event is the first step in the buildup to the 2010 world championships and 2012 Olympics for national coach Geno Auriemma, who also has coached Connecticut to seven NCAA titles.
Thirteen players are making the trip. The only healthy available player in the 19-player camp not going is UConn junior Maya Moore, who told USA Basketball beforehand she would not be traveling because of class commitments.
The team: Bird (Seattle Storm), Swin Cash (Seattle), Tina Charles (Univ. of Connecticut), Shameka Christon (NY Liberty), Candice Dupree (Chicago Sky), Sylvia Fowles (Chicago), Lindsey Harding (Washington Mystics), Asjha Jones (Connecticut Sun), Crystal Langhorne (Washington), Angel McCoughtry (Atlanta Dream), Renee Montgomery (Minnesota Lynx), Candace Parker (Los Angeles Sparks), Candice Wiggins (Minnesota).
Also in the national team pool but currently injured: Jayne Appel (knee), Stanford; Seimone Augustus (knee), Minnesota Lynx; Alana Beard (ankle), Washington Mystics; Kara Lawson (quadriceps tendinits), Sacramento Monarchs; Lindsay Whalen (eye), (Connecticut Sun).
Four players were unavailable because of their participation in the WNBA finals: Cappie Pondexter, Diana Taurasi, Phoenix Mercury; Tamika Catchings, Ebony Hoffman, Indiana Fever.
The 23-player national pool includes eight 2008 gold medalists: Parker, Augustus, Bird, Catchings, Fowles, Lawson, Pondexter and Taurasi.