Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Family Keeps Parker Grounded

Candace Parker wasn’t your normal, run-of-the-mill Chicago-land eighth-grader.

She was a star in the making.

Everyone knew it, including Parker when she first saw her name in print of the Chicago Tribune.

“It was the first time I realized I could use basketball for opportunities,” Parker said.

Eight years later, the University of Tennessee junior is a full-fledged star in the world of women’s basketball.

She’ll get a chance to show the hometown folks how far she has come when the No. 3-ranked Lady Vols (10-1) visit No. 12-ranked DePaul (11-1) tonight (TV: ESPNU, 9 p.m.).

“I’m excited. This will be my first trip home to DePaul,” Parker said. “I’m excited at the chance to play in front of family and friends.”

After all, these are the people who keep Parker grounded.

Anytime she starts believing the hype — maybe listening a little too closely to the talking heads calling her the best women’s player of all time — all she has to do is chat with her family.

“We don’t always tell each other what we want to hear, but what we need to hear,” Parker said. “I’ve had two great role models with my brothers.

“They keep me grounded, motivated and hungry, and they challenge me. I respond best when someone tells me I can’t do something, and that is what my brothers do for me.”

Anthony Parker is averaging 10.6 points per game as a guard for the Toronto Raptors. Marcus Parker is a doctor.

“They’ve been successful and driven,” UT coach Pat Summitt said of Parker’s family. “They all keep each other in check.

“Her brothers are always on her and her parents coached her. She has enough people to tell her what to do.”

Lately, it seems like everyone is trying to tell Parker what to do with her future.

She has one year of eligibility remaining at UT, but she hinted once again this could be her farewell college tour on her climb to the WNBA.

“With me getting my degree in May,” Parker said, “things are looking like I won’t be at Tennessee next year, but we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it.”

As usual, Parker will rely on family and friends for guidance. She expects close to 60 of those family members and friends to make the trip to a sold out McGrath Arena at DePaul tonight.

The defending national champion Lady Vols find out for the first time how they react to a loss.

Stanford knocked Tennessee from the ranks of the unbeaten with a pre-Christmas overtime victory in Palo Alto, Calif.

Ever since, Summitt has tried to light a fire in a sometimes lackadaisical, young group of Lady Vols.

UT has shown a tendency this season to lose early leads and try to coast to the finish line of games.

“At Stanford, I was disappointed in the team’s inability and lack of commitment to close out the first half,” Summitt said. “We were up by 11 points, but at halftime had only a six-point lead and that was costly for us.”

Similar disappearing leads have occurred against UCLA, Middle Tennessee State, West Virginia and North Carolina.

“We know we need to focus and bounce back,” Parker said.

Series History: The Lady Vols lead the all-time DePaul series 16-0.

Tennessee won a 96-89 overtime decision the last time they played the Blue Demons in Chicago (2003).

The previous season, Summitt claimed her 800th career coaching victory, 76-57, against DePaul.

Mismatched Milestones: DePaul just celebrated its 600th win in 34 years as a program with a 111-64 romp past Appalachian State on Dec. 30. In her 34th year as head coach at UT, Summitt has 957 victories and counting.

Warlick Back: UT associate head coach Holly Warlick returns to the sidelines after missing the West Coast road trip to UCLA and Stanford. Warlick has been recuperating from a blood clot which formed after she suffered a broken foot Dec. 7.

Frosted Vols: The Lady Vols have been in Chicago since Monday and will stay a couple of more days before heading to South Bend, Ind., for a nationally televised (CBS and WVLT) Saturday afternoon game against No. l6 Notre Dame. The high temperature expected today is 18 degrees.

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