Bologna, Italy — Naomi Cernina Taius isn’t feeling 100 percent, so she’s resting at home as Virtus Segafredo Bologna and ZVVZ USK Praha take court on a rainy mid-December night. It’s Naomi’s first time with the flu, and while she’s been getting over her bout, some international travel in the weeks leading up to the game has her feeling a little under the weather.
At least that’s what her mom, Cheyenne Sernina Parker, thinks.
During the mid-season Euroleague competition, Parker’s daughter is just over a week away from celebrating her first birthday. Almost everything is still new to Naomi. Much of it is also new to Parker. “It was just the journey of learning to be a mother,” she says.
Parker was selected fifth in the 2015 WNBA Draft by Chicago Sky She played six seasons with the franchise to begin her career. She has spent the past two years with Atlanta Dream. All WNBA The 30-year-old striker’s offseason has blasted all over the world – initially to China, eventually to South Korea and France. The time she spent in Italy this winter, she says, is “very different” from those; She is now a first-time mother. With motherhood comes a changing mindset: “The ball is life, but there is more to life than the ball,” says Parker. “Now that I have that perspective, the pressure will go away.”
Whether or not Naomi realizes it, basketball is already a huge part of her life. She’s spent the summer going to the Dream Games – Parker played in every competition last season, months after she was born on December 27, 2021. During Parker’s time in Italy, she was a regular in Bologna competitions too, both at home and on the road. She is often stationed on the playground with Parker’s mother, Verna Bryant, who has been in Italy helping with her granddaughter’s children as she has since Naomi’s birth.
Parker says she thinks often of the sacrifices she’s made to maintain a high standard on the court, whether it’s being away from her kid for hours at a time to work on her game, or her family adjusting her life. She can live out her career dreams, or the physical and mental toll on her body from breastfeeding and playing at the same time. “But that’s what keeps me going, honestly,” she says. “It’s my fuel. Hearing my teammates give me props or just call me amazing for being able to handle it all. It lets me know, yeah, what I do is hard, even challenging sometimes. But it’s all worth it and it makes it a journey.” Much more amazing that I could share with her one day.”
Parker’s fiancé, Kevin Teus, adds: “She is a strong woman. Not every woman can do what she does.”
Ahead of her December 4 road match against Passalacqua Ragusa, Naomi wasn’t feeling her best and needed to rest. However, Parker needed to start relaxing her muscles. In court, dressed in uniform number 32, she held her baby in her arms and rocked it while she squatted.
In the days that followed, Naomi’s condition worsened (she’s since recovered), so while Parker and her teammates flew to Athens for a two-day trip to play Olympiacos, Naomi stayed home. This was the first extended period of time Parker had been away from her daughter. “It was hard. It was crazy,” she said. “I didn’t know what to do with myself.”
Bologna returned to Italy with a 79-63 win in Greece, but had two more games on the road. Bryant was dealing with her own battle with the flu, and as a result did not travel with the team to Campobasso, a city in southern Italy, and to Szczard, Hungary.
In the Italian league competition, Parker entrusts Naomi to the hands of Angela Gianola, the sporting director of Virtus. Anxiety crept in before the contest about how Naomi would feel while playing. Parker says she tried meditation and prayer beforehand. “I do not know why, [but] It was emotional,” she says. She scored 25 points and grabbed nine rebounds with Naomi alongside Gianola at the end of the bench.
Four nights later, Naomi is asleep when Polonia enters Szekszárd’s arena. When it was time to warm up, I arranged some chairs together and laid Naomi on them, with team manager Roberta Resta watching closely. Once the action tilted, whenever Bologna was at the free throw line (or during other stops) Parker would look down on her baby. Resist the urge to walk, though, because she says, “If I get too close, she’ll want me.”
In juggling motherhood and her career, Parker says it helps that Naomi has “always been very adaptable”—a perk, she notes, that stems from herself. Naomi has started eating pasta with red sauce. Spaghetti is my favourite. I soon made it to the European appointment, and got up two or three times each night to nurse before going back to bed. “I never miss a chance to sleep,” says Parker. “If she’s asleep, I definitely will be.” Unlike guys without newborns, napping with her daughter is “probably my best bet” for any midday rest, she adds.
Her teammates still invite Parker to hang out, and she says she still sometimes goes to dinner with them. The dynamic, though, is “definitely different,” she says—not only is she Virtus’ second-oldest player, but she’s the only parent on the list.
Parker says her daughter is the size of a two-year-old and that Naomi is fond of playing with people. Parker says she made some friends at the games, including the kids of assistant coach Jordan Losey. Her mom says Naomi knows how to throw and pass. Her shooting technique, Parker says, “that’s a little bit backwards at the moment.”
Due to Italian visa rules, Tyus spent the early part of Parker’s season abroad in the United States. He arrived in Italy in mid-December and brought not only more support, but more breast pumps, Tylenol and Pampers. Parker traveled to Italy full of the latter — she also made sure to bring Aveeno Baby lotion and shampoo, and Baby Dove lotion, wanting to use the products she and Naomi are used to — and she picked it up while in the States over the Thanksgiving holiday. Still, she says, motherhood “changes the whole dynamic of just being prepared, being in charge.”
After a full summer in the WNBA, Parker considered sitting out the overseas campaign entirely or playing only half a season as a way to recover and spend more time with her child. I explored the possibility of returning to China, where the season is shorter than in Italy. But with Bologna, she says she has a good basketball prospect and an advantageous financial offer. In addition, you have not been to the country before and heard positive reviews about the city in which you are currently settling.
Against Praha, Parker was tasked with trying to match the productions of the big stars Alyssa Thomas And Breonna Jones, who spend their WNBA seasons with the Czech national team. Tyus, who has played collegiately and professionally overseas, calls out “Lionheart” while Parker is introduced to the audience. He shouts pointers and encouragements from a bench near the team bench throughout the game. Like Parker, he hopes her repertoire will continue to evolve while she’s abroad — she is, after all, there to perform for a team that aspires to be the best in Europe. Making a mark in the Euroleague was primarily another draw.
As Parker entered motherhood, she received advice from her colleagues in the WNBA community. I talked more with Candace Parker, a veteran All-Star and mother of two, offered wisdom on raising a daughter, the snapback process after childbirth and the importance of keeping time with a newborn. Until now, Cheyenne hasn’t been shy about capturing as many memories as possible — in photos and videos. She is also looking forward to one day telling Naomi about the many places she has already visited.
Parker said all this on the evening after her team’s 81-65 defeat by Braha. Along with Tyus, I’m sitting on a bench in the weight room at Virtus’ training facility. Naomi is at home resting with Bryant, who not only helps with the cooking and cleanup around their Italian apartment, but also imparts plenty of advice her daughter might not think of otherwise, like looking for foods before they’re digested because she’s breastfeeding. Naomi’s brief break could also explain Parker’s response when asked if there was anything she wanted to add about being a play parent.
“She’s just the goat,” she says of her mother. “I couldn’t have asked for a better helpful hand.”
Minutes later, Parker and Teus got into their white Mercedes to finally make their way home. Their children’s bedtime is only a few hours away.
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(Illustration: John Bradford / the athlete; Image from left Cheyenne ParkerNaomi Teuss and Verna Bryant: Courtesy of Virtus Segafredo Bologna)