Parker ready to play for Lady Vols
If Duke is a sure thing at No. 1 in ESPN.com's preseason top 25, then Tennessee is an easy pick at No. 2.
Despite losing three key players (Shyra Ely, Loree Moore and Brittany Jackson) who led Tennessee to four consecutive Final Four appearances, the Lady Vols are loaded this season -- although the biggest piece of the Lady Vols' title aspirations still hasn't actually played college ball yet. Redshirt freshman Candace Parker, the national high school player of the year two years ago, sat out last season because of lateral meniscus and lateral articular cartilage knee surgery. Now, Parker is finally healthy. Need proof? In a pickup game last week, Parker dunked over Ryan Childress, a 6-foot-9, 248-pound freshman on the Tennessee men's basketball team.
Parker is expected to be the team's leading scorer right away, and her coaches believe she will change the way women's basketball is played. Like Julius Erving, Parker is expected to take the game above the rim. She could play every position on the court at some point during the season, but will start at small forward.
The backcourt will consist of Alexis Hornbuckle, Shanna Zolman and Sa'de Wiley-Gatewood. Hornbuckle is a very quick guard with excellent scoring ability and Zolman is the team's best outside shooter and leading returning scorer (12.5 ppg). Wiley-Gatewood, who is nursing patellar tendinitis, is the instant offense off the bench, and could assume the starting role at some point. She is a pass-first point guard with scoring ability.
Post Tye'sha Fluker gives Tennessee much-needed vocal leadership, something that was lacking last season.
The front court will be solid, as well. In addition to Parker, Nicky Anosike and Tye'sha Fluker will play in the post. After a season in which she was awful shooting the ball (36.8 percent accuracy from the field), Anosike worked tirelessly -- her work ethic has been compared to that of former Lady Vols star Tamika Catchings -- in the offseason to improve herself. Anosike is fearless under the boards and is projected to be breakout player this season. In fact, her given name, Nkolika, means "All's well that ends well" in Nigerian.
Fluker will provide the team with some much-needed vocal leadership, something that was a weakness last season.
This will not be a rebuilding year for Tennessee. The Lady Vols will go 11 deep this season and use rotations much like they did in 1997-98, when Tennessee went 39-0 and won its last national title. Substitution patterns will be very similar to lines in hockey, when 3-5 players are changed at a time. This team is going to come at you in waves. And they are waves of solid players.
All this and no mention of the coach? Pat Summitt starts her 32nd season with an NCAA-record 882 wins. Last season's Lady Vols were the worst shooting team (41.6 percent from the field) of her coaching career, and Summitt spent all offseason waiting for the pieces to fall into place. Injuries took a team that had 15 scholarship players on opening day down to just nine at the end of the season. Everyone should be healthy when Tennessee opens 2005-06 at home against Stetson on Nov. 20, and the offense Summitt built for last season might now become a reality.
Candace Parker, redshirt-fr., 6-3
Lindsey Moss, fr., 6-1
Alex Fuller, redshirt-fr., 6-3
Shyra Ely, 14.0 ppg, 7.4 rpg
Brittany Jackson, 8.3 ppg, 2.1 rpg
Loree Moore, 5.1 ppg, 4.6 rpg
G -- Alexis Hornbuckle
G -- Shanna Zolman
F -- Candace Parker
F -- Nicky Anosike
C -- Tye'sha Fluker