Friday, November 09, 2007

Parker repeats as preseason player of the year

Two seasons was all it took for Candace Parker to lead Tennessee to a national title.

Now, she's back for her junior season and looking to lead the Lady Vols to back-to-back championships for the first time since 1997-98.

Parker already has one double sewn up: her second straight honor as's preseason player of the year.

Parker was the unanimous choice among contributors Mechelle Voepel, Graham Hays, Kara Lawson, Beth Mowins and editor Melanie Jackson.

Two years ago, the Parker punch line was all about her dunking prowess. Last season, we focused on her versatility and the fact she can play all five positions on the court. Now?

"Don't worry about figuring out what position she plays; she's the best at all of them," Hays writes. "The debate is whether she's the best women's player in the world right now."

Yes, at 21 years old (she redshirted her freshman season, 2004-05, as she recovered from a pair of offseason knee surgeries), Parker already has established herself as a key part of USA Basketball's senior national team. By this time next year, she might be able to add "Olympic gold medalist" to her résumé.

In the meantime, how has all her time with Team USA helped Parker's game?

"Her patience as an offensive player is improved from a year ago," writes Lawson, an ESPN analyst and Parker's USA Basketball teammate. "She is more composed handling double teams and the attention that comes with being the nation's premier player. The most notable addition to her offensive repertoire is a more consistent perimeter jump shot."

"Although you would love for Candace to develop and expand her game, against collegiate competition her biggest advantage is her ability to score around the basket," Lawson continues. "A more mature Parker understands that it isn't necessary to showcase all of your abilities offensively if a team has trouble stopping just a few of them. In other words, keep doing the same thing until someone proves they can stop it. "

In 2006-07, Parker averaged 19.6 points, 9.8 rebounds, 2.8 blocks, 2.4 assists, 1.8 steals and shot 53 percent from the field. Her skills and natural ability are obviously impressive, but Parker's game has evolved way past raw athleticism.

"Parker understands the game and anticipates things the way the greatest athletes do," notes Voepel.

Parker already has accumulated an impressive list of accolades. Last season, she became the first junior to win the State Farm Wade Trophy and Wooden Player of the Year award. The Kodak All-American also garnered the Honda Award for basketball player of the year, was the Basketball Writers Association national player of the year, voted a first-team Associated Press All-American and was the NCAA Final Four MVP.

The only major honor she hasn't won yet is the Naismith Award (Duke's Lindsey Harding won last season).

But this might be Parker's last chance at a sweep -- she'll be eligible for April's WNBA draft and could be bound for Los Angeles. The Sparks have the No. 1 overall pick.

Parker, of course, could have left after last season. But Parker's decision to possibly leave early is something she and coach Pat Summitt rarely discuss.

"I want Candace to just enjoy the moment," Summitt told Voepel recently. "I think the feeling is that this is her last year -- and if she can arrive at that decision, she's got a lot of things going on. With the WNBA, and with USA Basketball, wanting to make that Olympic team next summer. The main thing I want her to do is what's best for her."

And we're looking forward to enjoying our front-row seat.

"Her defensive impact is always felt clearing the glass or blocking shots," Lawson writes. "Her ability to use her length and athleticism to control the game on that end could tilt the scales in Tennessee's favor for a repeat run."

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