Lady Vols Land Nation's No. 1 Prospect

A remarkable Tennessee Lady Vol recruiting class was upgraded to incredible today with the addition of Naperville, Ill., guard Candance Parker, a four-time USA Today all-American and the nation's top-rated player.

The consensus among coaches and talent scouts is that the Class of 2004 is the best in terms of depth and talent of any in women's basketball history. With the addition of the nation's No. 1 player from that highly touted group, the Lady Vols are scheduled to sign four of the top five players during this month's early signing period.

The 6-foot-3 Parker averaged 24.1 points, 14.5 rebounds and four blocks per game as a junior, earning Naismith High School Player of the Year honors as well as being selected USA Today Player of the Year and first team Parade All-American. Parker, who has been called "the female LeBron James," was the first junior to ever be named USA Today National Player of the Year.

From the first day colleges could begin recruiting her, Parker has received an average of 55 to 60 pieces of mail a day from schools seeking her services. UConn and Tennessee were both strong contenders in the beginning, but she eventually chose the Lady Vols over Duke. Parker reports that she received weekly hand written notes from both UConn's Geno Auriemma and UT's Pat Summit and that she had three different phone numbers where she could reach Summitt.

Parker tore a knee ligament in the spring participating in the Maine West Observational Shootout in Chicago and had to sit out this summer's round of basketball camps. She is making a full recovery and expects to return in time to help Naperville defend it's state title and earn her third straight Illinois Ms. Basketball award.

A hit since the first day she stepped on the high school hardwood scene, Parker averaged 21 points per game as a freshman and 22.3 points and 15 rebound per game as a sophomore.

Parker wears No. 32 because it was the number her father, Larry Parker, wore at the University of Iowa. Her brother, Anthony, played in the NBA and is currently playing in professional basketball in Italy.

She compares herself to LSU's Seimone Augusta in terms of style of play and considers former Lady Vol Semeka Catchings as her favorite player. She has scored 2,175 points and collected 1,316 rebounds in her first three years at Naperville.

She first gained national fame in high school for twice dunking a basketball in games. She has since added a left-handed dunk to her repertoire, but Parker is more proud of the fact she carries a perfect 4.0 grade point average.

Parker credits the support she gets from her family as a key to her success. Her father is also her AAU coach and provides his progeny with sound guidance and continual inspiration.

"I am a daddy's girl and we are very close," Parker said in a recent interview. "On the court, it is all business and we both realize that. But off the court…that's another story. It's "Daddy, I want to go here, or I want this…" and he's always like, "okay." So I am definitely a daddy's girl.

"My father shows everything in his actions. I think that looking at him and seeing how he tore his ACL his senior year at the University of Iowa and just seeing him coach me, Anthony, and my other brother, Marcus, and instilling in us that you never know what will happen tomorrow is the most important advice he's ever given us. He looks at me in the eyes all the time and says, "Gosh, I would do anything to just play…" because his knee is still hurting. He wants the best for me and I listen to him more than anyone because he's been here before. My father has so much passion for the game and I will always respect and listen to him first. He's an amazing person, both of my parents are, and I am just very thankful that I have them even when basketball is over."

With all the high honors and national acclaim Parker has garnered over her career, there is one that is most meaningful to her.

"I think probably the MVP of my team because it was voted on by my teammates and it's not just about who scores the most points, or who's the tallest and most versatile player in the country, or who has the name most people have heard of," she said. "It's not about that at all. It's about who works hard in practice when nobody's watching and who is a good teammate and person to be around. I really pride myself on being there for my teammates and being a motivator and pushing them to try hard so I think that's the most important."

Friendships she has developed with two other Tennessee commitments, No. 1 point guard Sade Wiley-Gatewood of Lynnwood, Calif., and No. 1 shooting guard Alexis Hornbuckle of Charleston, W. Va., helped the Lady Vols to land Parker.

Undoubtedly, Parker is the most acclaimed prospect the Lady Vols have committed since Chamique Holdsclaw and, on paper, this is the best clas ever put together by a women's program.

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