June 8, 2023 

Cheyenne Parker’s breakout season defined by motherhood and mentality

‘By any means’ guides the veteran’s season

ATLANTA — When Cheyenne Parker puts on an Atlanta Dream jersey and steps on the court, she’s acutely aware of who’s watching her. Throughout the game, during a dead ball, between free throws, or on the bench, Parker glances over to the sidelines. And in those moments, she catches glimpses of her one-and-a-half-year-old daughter Naomi’s face. 

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In those moments, everything changes for Parker. The fire, perspective, and motivation all ignite.

“[My life]’s changed quite a bit. She’s now the forefront focus. But it’s also been a great addition to my life,” Parker told The Next. “Now I have more of a reason for whatever it is I’m doing in life. She’s my reason now.”

Naomi was born in December 2021, allowing Parker to play the entire 2022 season. And although she was a massive addition to the Dream both on and off the court last season, she was still getting her legs back after pregnancy.

“This year my mindset is ‘by any means.’ Last year, I was just getting back from having a baby so it was a little bit more giving myself a little bit more grace because I was obviously recovering still,” Parker said. “This year it’s no no excuses. Just get it done.”

And, much to her goals, Parker has popped off the page this season. She’s a force in the paint, with stellar footwork and an unstoppable low post-game. She ducks and dodges, leading to guaranteed looks at the rim.

She’s averaging 17.2 points and 7.6 rebounds per game in fewer than 27 minutes per contest, and is an anchor of the offense and defense, leading the Dream in moments of stagnant play through sparse wins.

“CP is is just so talented. I have so much belief in who CP is and her game and what she offers our team, but also the league,” head coach Tanisha Wright told press. “I think she’s somebody who’s slept on a little bit in terms of her skill set and what she can do. CP is somebody who down low is super efficient, can do a lot, can score in a variety of ways, and can also step out in scoring that way.”

Her teammates call her a “beast,” and explain their pride in her for the growth she’s had. And with the numbers she’s putting up, Parker looks like a likely All-Star candidate, her first appearance in a lengthy nine-year career. 

“It would mean more than words,” Parker said. “That is something that I’ve always had dreams of doing as a professional. It’s always been a goal of mine. So it would mean a lot.”

Wright cites consistency as her biggest area for growth, something the coaching staff has worked on over the past years. Parker is playing to the best numbers of her career but will need to keep this steady production to become one of the league’s best players, Wright says.

But what has kept Ms. Parker, as the Dream DJ refers to her, in the league and adds to her presence in the low post is her flexibility and coachability.

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Parker started playing basketball at six years old. The sport surrounded her: her brothers played, and her father played in college, so her mother soon put her in the sport. She attended high school in Georgia and North Carolina, and started just down the road at mid-major High Point University.

In her own words, she came in underdeveloped, simply a shot-blocker. In college she saw her game explode, finishing off averaging over 18 points a game. After her junior season, she transferred to Middle Tennessee, sat out a season due to then-transfer eligibility, but was dismissed during February of her senior season.

But this tumultuous transition makes Parker the adaptable player she is now.

“I would say the biggest thing that I learned was just stay adaptable, and be ready for any type of coaching,” Parker said. “I had about four or five different coaches during my whole career of college and I had to really be adaptable and coachable.”

One of the ways Parker’s adaptability adds to the Dream now is her willingness to play the five. Both Wright and Parker admit that CP, as she’s referred to, would probably prefer to play out on the perimeter more, but due to the Dream’s personnel, she’s a staple of the paint and learned to take on the role.

“It’s a battle sometimes with Tanisha, but I’m always gonna be coachable and a team player,” Parker said. “She needs post dominance and I’m gonna do it to the best of my ability. The chances I get out there I’m gonna take.”

Parker plays with an ‘I get to’ mentality, putting in perspective the hard work necessary. She credits her mental outlook as the greatest evolution of her game, only compounded by motherhood. And this is what drives her leadership.

“Cheyenne is Mama Bear. She brings that motherly type energy but she’s also a dog,” teammate Monique Billings told The Next. “That toughness aspect, Cheyenne has that. So I feed off of her just her energy, her hype. She’s very encouraging, positive.”

Parker says that it’s all about leading by example.

“Just show them that, yeah, I was up all night with my baby, but I came here early to make sure I got my work in to get better for y’all,” Parker says.

Wright explains that she’s in the gym constantly. In her ninth year she continues to work on her game, take extra shots, and putting in the work, all as her teammates watch.

And even though those days are extraordinarily challenging, Parker credits God and her spirituality for allowing her to work long hours and be a leader for her teammates and her family. And her teammates are obviously watching; Billings credits Parker for the incredible balance she shows, and her juniors bring her name up immediately when asked about leadership.

If Parker can consistently keep up these numbers and team impact, she’ll be part of the All-Star conversation, a special feat this late in a player’s career. And if she makes it to Vegas for the showcase, Naomi will be close by.

Written by Gabriella Lewis

Gabriella is The Next's Atlanta Dream and SEC beat reporter. She is a Bay Area native currently studying at Emory University.

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