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Parker Looks For Her Spot In Tennessee History

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CLEVELAND (AP) _ At Tennessee, greatness is measured only one way _ national championships.

Candace Parker longs to be a part of that.

``I want my legacy to be that we hung banners during my career,'' Parker said Monday, a day before Tennessee was to face Rutgers in the women's national title game. ``All the greats at Tennessee hung banners. All of us came to Tennessee to win a national championship. We haven't done so since '98.''

The last nine years have been an eternity for Tennessee fans who celebrated six titles between 1987 and 1998. And the versatile All-American knows all her awards, records and game-redefining dunks will mean nothing without that championship.

Still, the 20-year-old sophomore insists she feels no outside pressure.

Growing up in a basketball family, Parker recalls days at the park with older brothers Marcus and Anthony, now with the Toronto Raptors, and her father, Larry. They wouldn't let her in on their blacktop games of ``21'' until she was 7 or 8.

``They blocked my shots and took the ball from me,'' she said.

Parker, who idolized her brothers, wanted nothing more than a backward cap on her head and a basketball in her hands. It was her father who pushed her and was the first to challenge her to dunk.

``I remember being at the gym with my father when I was 14. He said, 'Candace, the way you jump, I think you can dunk.'''

She didn't believe him.

``I went up there and touched the rim and dunked a tennis ball,'' she said. ``Within a couple weeks I was dunking a ball.''

Parker has dunked six times for Tennessee, the most of any female collegiate athlete. It's the type of exposure the women's game welcomes, but it sometimes makes Parker uncomfortable.

``It bothers me. I'm not going to lie,'' she said. ``When I feel like we've had a great team effort and all the highlights are of me on ESPN, I'm like dang!

``Our team however, doesn't focus on that because they know that's not me and that's not what I'm about.''

Parker, who averages 19.7 points, 9.9 rebounds and 2.8 blocks per game, scored just 14 points on 3-of-12 shooting against North Carolina in Sunday night's semifinal. After two early fouls, the sophomore found herself on the bench, where she did all she could to motivate her team and agonized over every missed opportunity.

In the second half, she had 10 points with 10 rebounds, two steals and a block.

``There's nothing that she can't do,'' Rutgers coach C. Vivian Stringer said. ``I think everybody's always impressed with the beautiful athlete, the beautiful body. I mean she can rebound, dunk, shoot the ball, play the point. I mean, how many players in this world can do that? None.''

She's not perfect, though, and her teammates are the first to let her know it.

Junior forward Nicky Anosike openly challenged Parker to elevate her defense this season.

``I told her we needed her on both ends. I challenged her to earn everyone's respect on defense,'' Anosike said. ``Being a huge presence in the paint, people don't want to take it in there anymore.''

Tennessee coach Pat Summitt has seen the change in Parker and the rest of the team after losing to North Carolina in last year's regional final.

``In the offseason they went to work,'' Summitt said. ``And I think that they respected Candace at a different level because Candace has changed her work ethic.''

When Parker chose Tennessee over a list of schools that included Duke, Texas and Maryland, Summitt told her that her class was capable of ``cutting down nets.''

``I know I followed the program since I was a little kid and know the history behind the program,'' Parker said. ``If you don't win a national championship at the University of Tennessee, then it's deemed a failure.''

To be mentioned in the same sentence as Lady Vol greats Chamique Holdsclaw, Tamika Catchings and Bridgette Gordon, Parker knows she must fulfill Summitt's vision.

``I feel like all the personal accolades can be disputed, but you can't take away a national championship,'' she said.
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