Saturday, April 05, 2008

Parker needs to add to legacy

Candace Parker helped UT win it's first national title in 10 years, but is that enough?

There isn't much debate about Candace Parker's talent.

Parker is probably the most talented female to ever play the game of basketball. Pat Summitt has said she's at least the most talented player she's ever coached. That's a list that includes seven retired jerseys and names like Chamique Holdsclaw, Tamika Catchings and Holly Warlick.

No matter what happens this weekend, I think we can all rest assured the No. 3 jersey will go on to join that group of retirees.

But talent isn't the only thing that defines a legacy. For the seven-time national champion Lady Vols, it's about titles and those singular moments of over-arching willpower that ultimately bring banners to Thompson-Boling Arena.

Parker has won just one national title. There aren't many places where last year's national title is "just one" a year later, but Tennessee is one of them.

That killer instinct puts Taurasi and other similarly clutch legends a notch above Parker at this point.

Connecticut coach Geno Auriemma summed up sensation Diana Taurasi's importance with stunning simplicity during her time as a Huskie.

"We have Diana, they don't."

UConn won three straight titles on the back of Taurasi. Yes, they had other All-American caliber players, but there's no mistaking Taurasi was a complete assassin, all killer.

She willed those teams to victory on many a night, often times over Tennessee. That killer instinct puts Taurasi and other similarly clutch legends a notch above Parker at this point.

Parker has not shown herself to be that type of overwhelmingly dominant force that many expected her to be. She's a great player, but just one of many other great players this year.

Case in point: LSU's Sylvia Fowles was the SEC Player of the Year -- not Parker. As talented as the Lady Vols superstar is, there is no excuse for any other player to have a legitimate argument to win an award like that.

Sometimes, when I watch Parker I notice a bit of a knowing smile as defenders seemingly half her size try to guard her on the perimeter. She's more athletic, more talented and more versatile than anyone else the other team throws at her every time she steps out onto the court.

She knows it. I know it. And that's why I expect so much from her.

Maybe I just want to see her dunk over someone like LeBron, but I can't shake the feeling that there's more to her greatness than what she's shown so far.

Parker reached the career 2,000-point club at UT this year, a mark that only Bridgette Gordon, Catchings and Holdsclaw have reached before. Had Parker opted to return next year, she could have challenged Holdsclaw's Lady Vol scoring record of 3,025 points.

However, I don't blame her for opting to go pro. She has an opportunity to play for the Sparks with Lisa Leslie and former Vol Sidney Spencer. Los Angeles would also bring her closer to her long-time boyfriend, former Duke star and current Sacramento King Shelden Williams.

On top of that, she can focus her energy on the Olympic games this summer. Even Summitt agreed, it was a fitting time for her to end her career at Tennessee.

I prefer to say could be a fitting end to her career, depending on whether she can win a second consecutive national title.

If not, the 2007 title she helped win will remain lonely and serve as an oddly bitter sweet reminder of a greatness not totally realized. Her career would remain fantastic, yet slightly disappointing.

That's why this weekend is so important, not just for the program.

But for Parker's lasting impression on the college basketball world.


Pat Summitt has coached 19 Kodak All-Americans on her way to seven national titles, but only five players have had their jersey's retired. Parker could be next.

The five

No. 32, Daedra Charles, 1988-1991: Became the first SEC player to win the Wade Trophy and led Tennessee to two national titles.

No. 22, Holly Warlick, 1976-1980: The first Tennessee athlete of either gender to have a jersey retired. The three-time Kodak All-American led the UT to the Final Four.

No. 30, Bridgette Gordon, 1984-1989: Led UT to four straight Final Four appearances including two national titles.

No. 23, Chamique Holdsclaw, 1995-1999: Naismith Player of the Century Award winner, and four-time Kodak All-American. Led UT to three straight national titles.

No. 24, Tamika Catchings, 1997-2001: UT's second four-time Kodak All-American. Helped lead Tennessee to the 97-98 national championship.

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