Return of Candace Parker takes big step forward

Candace Parker remains out of practice because of swelling in her knee, but there's finally some reason for optimism. <p> The swelling has shrunk – and best of all it's not getting worse after rehab sessions – which means Parker could get on the court as early as Thursday during shoot-around before the South Carolina game.

That is obviously a best-case scenario. If not Thursday, it could be back home in Knoxville on Friday or this weekend. It all depends on the swelling in her knee.

"When the swelling goes down, day to day," said Jenny Moshak, associate athletics director for sports medicine, after practice Wednesday and before the team departed for Columbia, S.C. "The only good part is we're looking at brighter days. It could happen tomorrow at shoot-around."

This is the first time since Jan. 3 – the last time Candace Parker practiced before swelling sidelined her – that the word "optimistic" has been used about Parker returning to practice, albeit on a very limited basis this time.

"Swelling is going down," coach Pat Summitt said Wednesday. "They worked on stretching her some and did her rehab. Jenny seemed a little more optimistic."

Summitt won't even think about a return date and has made it a point not to specifically ask.

"I'm just leaving it up to Jenny," Summitt said. "Last thing I want to do is put any pressure on anybody. I don't want her to feel like we're rushing anything, just make sure we're watching it on a daily basis and see how she does."

For now Parker will continue rehab and eye a return to the court. She has said all along that her goal is to play this season, and nothing has changed that.

"We haven't missed a beat in the weight room, which is the absolute key," Moshak said. "The stronger you get the muscles around the knee, the less pounding the knee takes. So we haven't missed a beat there and all of a sudden the swelling is really starting to respond and go down. It's not completely down, but it's a quarter of what it was before."

Parker had knee surgery in September and was cleared to practice after Christmas. She was only able to complete a few sessions because of swelling issues and had to be shut down. This time, her comeback on the practice court will be staggered.

"We're going to plan on getting her into very light and controlled practice settings and decrease some of the other rehab aspects," Moshak said. "Right now we're lifting Monday, Wednesday, Friday so Tuesday, Thursday we do other type things – sidewinders, body weight stuff, steps. We're going to back that off and use practice – very controlled practice – half-court warmup, shooting drills, warmup routine as her rehab and see what that does so we're not doing too much rehab on top of trying to put her into some practice situations. We're not stopping the weight room."

If her knee can withstand those abbreviated sessions without swelling, her practice time will be increased.

Summitt knows Parker would make an immediate impact even if she doesn't return until late this season. There are only 10 games remaining in the regular season, and the SEC Tournament is March 3-6 in Greenville, S.C.

"Whenever she's healthy and good to go, her presence will be felt," Summitt said. "There's no doubt about it just watching her in practice (earlier) and having watched her over her career."

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