Candace Parker issues statement

Candace Parker emerged from the locker room Wednesday looking for Dean Lockwood. She wanted to get in some extra work after practice. That work ethic typifies the attitude of Parker, who will participate in "Senior Night" activities next week, signaling the end of her Tennessee career.

Candace Parker, a redshirt junior who will graduate with her class in May, has told Coach Pat Summitt that she wants to join the other seniors, Nicky Anosike, Alexis Hornbuckle, Shannon Bobbitt and Alberta Auguste, in the traditional farewell to family, friends and fans.

"I think all along she had this plan," Summitt said. "She is not the type of person that is going to do a spur-of-the-moment thing, and she talked to all the people she wanted to talk to."

Summitt had said last October before the season began that Parker was likely to leave after this season – she is a senior academically but had another year of eligibility on the basketball court if she wished to exercise it – so the decision was not a surprise to the coach.

"I thought all along she would," Summitt said. "I support whatever Candace wants to do. I've said all along the college years are the best years of your life, but she has things mapped out that she wants to do."

Parker is expected to be the top pick this spring of the WNBA's Los Angeles Sparks – where she would join center Lisa Leslie in a formidable pairing in the paint – and will help lead the USA national team in its quest for gold at the Beijing Olympics this summer.

"There are a lot of people that want a piece of Candace Parker," Summitt said. "I just want her to keep her focus right now and enjoy the college game and where she is."

That doesn't seem to be an issue with Parker. Minutes after the players received their 2007 national championship rings, Parker popped out of the locker room looking for Lockwood, an assistant coach.

The two headed to Pratt Pavilion, where Parker wanted to shoot free throws and refine the shots she expects to attempt in Thursday's game against Alabama in Tuscaloosa.

"She wants to be as good a player as she can possibly be," Lockwood said. "She wants to be a great player. To me talk is one thing; actions are another. Candace is somebody she puts in the time. There are always things all of us can do better. We've talked about how defensively that can separate her from being a great player to a great, great player.

"One thing I will defend about Candace is she always is willing to come in and do extra work. She's always willing to get in extra shots and put in extra time. That speaks to a work ethic and it speaks to her desire to be as good as she can be."

Summitt said Parker's work ethic is unparalleled on the team.

"She's worked on her game more than anyone on our team, day in and day out, as far as getting in the gym," Summitt said. "I respect her for it. I really do."

Summitt was wearing her new ring moments after they were distributed in the locker room. Total bling covers the top, and one side says "NCAA Champions" while the other has each coach or player's last name. The versions for the players are twice as big as the coaches' rings.

"They're smiling. They're excited. They're proud," Summitt said.

The ring ceremony after practice was a boost for a team grinding out the last two weeks of the regular season.

"I call February the dogs days," Lockwood said. "I don't care how you slice it. You've been practicing since October and workouts since September and it's still not postseason and the dogwoods haven't bloomed yet.

"It's still the dog days of winter, so to speak, and this is the last stretch. Right now I would say it gives the kids a great boost to get those rings and especially the kids that don't have them."

One of the players primarily responsible for those rings grabbed a ball off the rack and headed to Pratt. Parker's collegiate career may be winding down, but it's clear she does not intend to go quietly.

"We're proud that we've had her here, and the impact she's had on the program has been tremendous, and I wish her the very, very best," Summitt said. "We've got some work to be done before she leaves."

The news about Parker hit the news outlets late Wednesday and Thursday with ESPN and CNN running breaking news crawls about her decision. It also was published nationally in USA Today.

For those who had followed her career closely, the decision was not a surprise. But the confirmation from Parker provoked a news reaction across the country. Parker issued a statement Thursday through the Lady Vols office.

"This was the most difficult decision I've ever had to make, but my family and I think this is the best choice for me," Parker said. "I greatly appreciate the opportunity that the University of Tennessee and Pat Summitt allotted me during my four years in college.

"I've been blessed with great coaches and teammates, an outstanding education and the best women's basketball crowd support in the country. I will miss Tennessee, but I am eager to take this next step in my career."

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