Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Candace Parker leads All-America squad

Candace Parker helped Tennessee win a national title and the United States qualify for the Olympics. Now there's one more honor to add to this run the last few months: a unanimous choice for the preseason All-America team by The Associated Press.

The Tennessee junior was joined on the squad Tuesday by Oklahoma's Courtney Paris, Stanford's Candice Wiggins, LSU's Sylvia Fowles and Maryland's Crystal Langhorne.

Hall of Fame coach Pat Summitt of Tennessee already knew Parker could score. It's the other aspects of Parker's game that impress her.

"If there is one thing to separate her out, it's her commitment to defending," Summitt said. "Her intensity on the defensive end is so much better. She's also much better attacking the basket."

Parker sparked the Lady Vols to their seventh national title last April and the national team to a spot in the Beijing Games. She was the top scorer on the U.S. team that won the FIBA Americas tournament in September.

Parker was on every ballot of the 50-member national media panel. The only other previous unanimous selections were Chamique Holdsclaw, Diana Taurasi, Alana Beard and Seimone Augustus.

"That's a special group," Parker said. "I wouldn't be who I was without my teammates or coaches support."

Paris came close to a unanimous selection, getting 48 votes. Wiggins drew 43, Fowles 41 and Langhorne 28. Paris and Parker were All-Americans last season. Langhorne, Wiggins and Fowles earned second-team honors.

Summitt saw Parker, Paris, Wiggins and Fowles play with the U.S. national team this fall.

"I thought just watching them play, they are impact players on their respective teams," she said. "They did some amazing things for the U.S. team."

The four have known each other for years, playing on various U.S. teams. Their friendship was evident in a discussion with the AP at the national team training camp.

"We've been friends for a long time," Wiggins said. "I've know Courtney since freshman year in high school and I've know Candace forever and Syl, too."

When they aren't facing each other on the court, the four always check out how the others are doing.

"I'm a fan of our game," Paris said. "It's hard not to follow everyone's career. The media does such a good job. It's easy to pop on the TV, or open up the newspaper and follow them."

The 6-foot-4 Paris was third in the nation in scoring at 23.5 points and second in rebounding with 15.9 last season en route to becoming AP Player of the Year. Oklahoma coach Sheri Coale has seen a change in the junior's ability to move without the ball.

"Her greatest strides have been what she does when she doesn't have the ball in her hands," Coale said. "That's always the last part of a game to develop. She's already thinking. She's wiser and is always looking to expand her game."

Maryland coach Brenda Frese marvels at Langhorne's ability to score.

"She's the best finisher in the game and her explosive quickness makes her very hard to guard. ... There are very few players like Crystal," Frese said.

Langhorne became the third player in NCAA history to lead the nation in field goal percentage two straight seasons — no player has done it three years in a row. She shot .707 last season, the sixth best mark ever.

"With all the great players in the country, I'm honored to have been chosen among such elite players," she said. "I have to credit my teammates and coaches because they've been a big part of my career and my development."

Fowles has carried LSU to three straight Final Four appearances, and with new coach Van Chancellor hopes to get the elusive championship.

"That's always the goal," Fowles said. "Just putting the work in 24-7 definitely plays its part. With coach we have a new system coming on. Whatever he wants to do to change the system will do to win a championship."

Wiggins led Stanford to the another Pac-10 title, then came a second-round loss in the NCAA tournament to Florida State. The 5-11 guard averaged 16.9 points last season. She had a busy summer winning gold medals for the U.S. on the under-21 and Pan American teams.

Paris, Parker, Langhorne and Wiggins were all preseason All-Americans last year.

Said Paris: "That kind of stuff never gets old. ... It's really cool."

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