Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Candace Parker returns home as No. 3 Tennessee visits 15th-ranked DePaul

Candace Parker is finally coming home to play.

Parker expects to have close to 60 people in attendance Wednesday night when the third-ranked Lady Vols visit No. 15 DePaul.

"I'm excited, this will be my first trip home to DePaul,'' said Parker, who is from a Chicago suburb. "We've played at Notre Dame before. I'm excited at the chance to play in front of family and friends. This will be the first time both of my grandmothers will see me play, so I am really excited.''

Pat Summitt has always tried to give her Tennessee players a chance to play near their home before they graduate.

Earlier this season the Lady Vols visited West Virginia, allowing senior Alexis Hornbuckle to play in the same arena that she won four high school state championships.

It was special for Hornbuckle to get a chance to play in front of her hometown fans.

Summitt can only hope that this isn't the last season she'll get to coach Parker, who is from Naperville. Parker is set to graduate in May, but still has a year of eligibility left after redshirting her freshman year. The star is undecided on whether she'll come back or go to the WNBA.

"I always tell her, let's just enjoy this season,'' Summitt said. "If you're ready to move on in April, then move on. I've said this before, that the college years are some of the best years of your life.''

Parker is putting aside talk about her future for now and is just happy to be playing near her home.

"I've learned to live in the moment and not look too far ahead,'' Parker said. "I will graduate from the University of Tennessee in May, 2008. I've played my college career and gotten my education. I'll cross that (WNBA) bridge when I come to it but I'm living in the moment right now.''

The spotlight has been on Parker ever since high school, when she led Naperville Central High School to state titles in her junior and seniors year. She was the two-time high school player of the year.

Parker really jumped onto the national scene by winning the McDonald's High School All-American Game slam dunk contest in 2004. She beat five male competitors for the prestigious title, including champion Josh Smith and future 2005 NBA Slam Dunk contestant JR Smith.

"Being part of the growth of women's basketball, I understand that any attention is good attention. Whether it is the dunk or whatever my game brings. I remember my first big article,'' Parker said.

"I remember how excited I was. I remembered this could be something different. It was the first time I realized I could use basketball for opportunities.''

DePaul (11-1) has a chance to use Wednesday's game as an opportunity to showcase its talent.

"They're the defending national champions with the best player in the country,'' DePaul coach Doug Bruno said. "This will be a measuring stick for us.''

The Blue Demons are coming off their first loss of the season to Texas on Friday night in the Maggie Surf 'N Slam Classic.

"It's an important game because it will help to see where you are,'' DePaul guard Allie Quigley said. "We are playing the national champions at our place and it will be great.''

The Lady Vols (10-1) have had a target on them all season that comes with being the defending national champions. Tennessee lost its first game of the season on Dec. 22, falling in overtime to Stanford.

"I know that it is important to play well together as a team after a loss,'' Parker said. "We know we need to focus and bounce back.''

While the Lady Vols hope to recover from their first loss, Parker knows that whatever she decides down the road, the future is bright for her.

"WNBA wise, I am excited to have the opportunity to play at that level and to play for the Olympics, which has been a dream of mine forever. To play overseas and travel is what I see in the future.''

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