Candace Parker returns home for the 20th anniversary of Naperville Central’s State Championships

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It’s been 20 years since Candace Parker led Naperville Central girls basketball to a second consecutive state championship. On Saturday, Jan. 27, the future Hall of Famer returned home along with her teammates and other Redhawk alumni to celebrate their historic seasons on the hardwood. 

Candace Parker reflects on Naperville Central’s anniversary celebration

“It’s crazy,” said Naperville Central alum Candace Parker. “20 years later, just seeing everybody with their families and friends and reconnecting with people that we won a championship with, it’s so special.”

The idea for the anniversary celebration started when two-time state champion and 2006 graduate Erica Carter was selected to Naperville Central’s Athletic Hall of Fame Class of 2024. That ceremony was held on Friday, Jan. 26.

“At some point, I said, ‘You know we have an open day on (January) 27th, and Erica’s already going to be here, wouldn’t it be great if we could get the state championship girls back,’” said Andy Nussbaum, head coach of Naperville Central girls basketball since 1988. “We talked to Candace about it, and she said, ‘Well, maybe my daughter’s team can come out and play.”

Parker’s daughter Lailaa Williams and Campbell Hall square off against the Redhawks

Parker was joined by her son, Airr, and many of her family, friends, and key members from the state team like Tiffany Hudson, and Rachel Crissy. But what also made the day so special was watching Parker’s daughter, Lailaa Williams, and Campbell Hall High School face off against Naperville Central.

Although she didn’t play because of injury, it was not her first time on the NCHS court.

“It means a lot because my daughter knows where I come from,” said Parker. “She came to the Naperville Central camp and she was bummed she couldn’t play today because she hurt her knee. But it was just amazing to see everybody that came out to watch her team and Naperville Central play.”

Williams attended a Naperville Central basketball camp in the summer of eighth grade while her mom was with the Chicago Sky. She even met some current Redhawks with whom she still keeps in touch.

“I met my friend Trinity here, we’re still close, and we still talk,” said Williams. “I met some other friends here too, so I’m sad that I couldn’t get to see them because they had basketball. But it was amazing to see where my mom won it.”

Despite Williams’ injury, Campbell Hall pulled away from Naperville Central in the second half to win the game, 65-55. At half-time, former Redhawks were honored spanning from the class of 1979 to the present day. The highlight was of course recognizing both the 2003 and 2004 state championship teams.

From a magic carpet ride to working in the coal mine

“The 2003 team is the first one to win a state championship, and I usually say that was like a magic carpet ride. You know, everything was awesome, everything went right,” said Nussbaum. “Then, the 2004 team was more like working in the coal mine and never seeing the light of day until the championship game was over because, you know, nothing short of winning it again would have been successful.”

What might’ve got them out of the coal mine and into the light was a little motivation from an all-time great sports movie.

“The movie Miracle came out in 2004 and we went to see it as a team, said Nussbaum. “You know, Herb Brooks’s actor says ‘Their time is over, this is our time.’ I told our girls, ‘Well, let me tell you something, that’s what everybody else is saying, but this is still our time.”

From Naperville Central to the WNBA – Parker wins at every level

It was still their time indeed, as Naperville Central girls basketball didn’t need a Miracle, just one of the best high school basketball players of all time. During Parker’s junior and senior year, Nussbaum says that the Redhawks went 59-0 in games she played. 

Parker has continued to win at every level she has competed in, including two National Championships at Tennessee and three WNBA championships, most recently in 2021 with her hometown Chicago Sky and in 2023 with the Las Vegas Aces.

Although times change, people grow up, and the style of basketball keeps evolving, most of the former Redhawks from Saturday night can share something in common. That’s Andy Nussbaum leading the charge of the Red and White, who has been at the helm since 1988.

“Nuss is like the best human, I just love him,” said Parker. “We keep in contact and, you know, he always checks in on me and I do the same with him. It’s amazing to be able to come back and see that he’s still coaching and still loving what he does.”

“It’s also amazing to see how much he cares, Parker added. “I mean, he knows everybody and everybody loves him. He sang the national anthem today, so it was super special. But I just love Nuss, I really like him as a coach, but I just love him as a human, you know what I mean? So I’m just happy he’s in my life.”

For more prep sports stories, visit the Naperville Sports Weekly page!