Games we play: Parker honored by AP with year-end award

More than just a star on the court, Parker has become the face of the league.

parker 88 (photo credit: )
parker 88
(photo credit: )
It's been a whirlwind year for Candace Parker. She led the University of Tennessee to a second straight college basketball championship, was the first pick in the WNBA draft, took the league's MVP and rookie of the year awards, and helped the US win a fourth-straight Olympic gold medal. Now Parker has been selected female athlete of the year by members of The Associated Press. "Wow, that's amazing," the 22-year-old Parker said. "It's been a great year from so many standpoints. I haven't really had a chance to sit back and let it all sink in." Her selection on Tuesday ended a five-year run in which a golfer (Annika Sorenstam, then Lorena Ochoa) won the award - the longest streak of any sport. Parker's accomplishments weren't lost on Tennessee coach Pat Summitt. "Talk about hitting all the high points of one's life. She enjoyed an incredible run of back-to-back national championships, Olympic gold and all of her individual accolades," Summitt said. "It was an exceptional year for an exceptional athlete and person." Parker received 36 votes from members of the AP, barely edging Ochoa, who had won the previous two years. Ochoa won seven times on the US LPGA Tour, including her second major at the Kraft Nabisco Championship, and led the money list for the third consecutive season. Ochoa finished one vote shy of becoming only the fourth three-time winner of the award. Rounding out the top five were American Olympians, gymnast Nastia Liukin, swimmer Dara Torres, and gymnast Shawn Johnson. Liukin took home the biggest prize in her ongoing rivalry with Johnson, edging her Olympic village roommate for the all-around title and gold medal in Beijing. The 41-year-old Torres won three silver medals at the Olympics. Johnson won four medals, saving the best for last. After getting silvers in the team competition, all-around and floor exercise, she finally won gold on balance beam, the last event. More than just a star on the court, Parker has become the face of the league. Her jersey was the WNBA's top seller and being a role model to so many young fans is important to the young star. "It means a lot to me and is a huge responsibility," Parker said. "You want to continue to carry yourself in a positive way. I was lucky to have Pat Summitt as a coach and she taught us how to be role models." Parker's already had a busy offseason, getting married to Sacramento Kings forward Shelden Williams. She also plans to head to Russia next month to play overseas.