Friday, October 19, 2007

Parker's focus on present

Busy off-season left behind as Lady Vol takes aim at another title

Candace Parker plucked three basketballs off the ball rack and put on a juggling act Thursday afternoon at Stokely Athletics Center.

The Tennessee All-American's performance was a nifty sideshow at the Lady Vols media day. It was not a warm-up for something more daring.

Parker made it clear she wouldn't try anything comparable with her thoughts about USA Basketball, her engagement to Atlanta Hawks player Shelden Williams and her attention to UT hoops.

"No no, no. None of that; none of that,'' Parker said. "It's all about college basketball right now."

No wedding planning. Parker said the wedding date hasn't been set yet. No indication whether this season will turn out to be the redshirt junior's final season at Tennessee either.

"I'm looking at it one day at a time,'' Parker said. "I'd rather leave it at that. If you get caught up in the future, your mind gets to wandering."

It's hard to ignore her future after another successful stint with USA Basketball last month and with the Olympics looming next year. And then there's the impending nuptials as well.

Earlier this week, UT coach Pat Summitt considered Parker's crowded agenda and said, "All indications with where she (Parker) is, the timing of everything, there's obviously a good chance we'll see one more year from Candace."

Regardless, Parker is putting together a strong case for playing in the present. She sidestepped a directive last week advising more rest after playing the five-game Olympic qualifying tournament in Chile and returned to practice on Saturday.

"I think if I'm going to watch practice, I might as well get out there and play,'' she said. "A few more days really weren't going to help me. My knees are fine."

At Thursday's practice, she showed off an improved perimeter jumper, a skill she polished during the summer by shooting with, among other people, her brother Anthony, who plays for the NBA's Toronto Raptors.

"I've been working a lot on my shot this summer,'' she said, "making it more consistent, more reliable."

In effect, Parker was working on the only semblance of a juggling act on her docket for this season. Along with playing at power forward, she will be utilized at small forward.

Parker's dual role will be part of a larger strategy, namely deploying a bigger lineup.

"I think we have a unique opportunity to go big this season,'' Parker said. "I think this team has a unique opportunity to take advantage of some mismatches."

Parker is embracing her expanded duties with a degree of caution. During practice, she'll remind the coaches to get her some reps at the four - hoops vernacular for power forward. On Thursday, she addressed playing both positions by saying, "It's a challenge. I like playing the four."

It's an interesting perspective from someone who, two seasons ago, seemingly couldn't wait to get to the perimeter. She fudged on her 6-foot-5 height so as not to be thought of exclusively as a post player.

It's a more mature perspective, Dean Lockwood said. UT's assistant coach said that he sees a lot less "fluff" in Parker's game. Fewer fade-away jumpers and more ruthless efficiency.

"To me, she's a little more cold-blooded,'' Lockwood said. "She's going to think about how she's going to cut you up. She knows what she's good at. She's going to go right to that."

Parker was awfully good at power forward last season, averaging 19.6 points and 9.8 rebounds per game and receiving two national player-of-the-year awards - the Wade Trophy and the Wooden Award.

"She knows when things get tight, with her at the four, unless people are coming with double- or triple (teams), there aren't a whole lot of folks who can stop her,'' Lockwood said.

Summitt said Parker's small-forward duty will depend on how games play out. Wherever she's playing, Parker wants to make the most of the opportunity.

"I think one thing I did learn this summer is it doesn't matter how you score, it doesn't matter the way you score, it's doing what the team needs you to do,'' she said. "I know my natural position is the four, but I'm willing to play whatever position my team needs."

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