Top talent, top pick

Los Angeles Sparks Coach Michael Cooper didn't commit to taking Candace Parker with the first pick – Bill Laimbeer needled him for sandbagging – but it seemed pretty clear from the coaches and analysts that the Tennessee All-American was the prize of the WNBA draft.

The draft will be held next Wednesday, the day after the national championship game in Tampa, and Candace Parker and her Tennessee teammates hope to be playing next Tuesday evening at The Forum.

First, the Lady Vols must face SEC foe LSU in a Sunday semifinal game. UConn and Stanford meet in the other semifinal. The winners will play Tuesday for the 2008 NCAA title.

The players expected to go one, two in the draft, Parker and Sylvia Fowles of LSU, will have their collegiate games on display in Tampa.

The best news for Lady Vols fans this Wednesday was that Parker's injured left shoulder is no worse, and Pat Summitt expects her to play against LSU. Parker dislocated the shoulder twice in Tuesday's regional final win over Texas A&M in Oklahoma City.

Jenny Moshak, the chief of sports medicine, put the shoulder back in place and wrapped it in a protective sleeve.

Parker finished with 26 points, five rebounds, two blocks, two steals and an assist – to Alexis Hornbuckle, who hit a 25-footer to secure the game – in the 53-45 win.

Summitt gave the team the day off from the court Wednesday – it's likely Moshak's training room was busy after the physical brawl with the Aggies – and the players will return to practice Thursday afternoon and then leave for Tampa by charter flight.

"She seems to be doing well," Summitt said during an NCAA teleconference with the media Wednesday. "She seems to be feeling a lot better today overall."

Summitt said Parker was very sore, "but I feel really good about" the likelihood that she will be able to play Sunday. "I am very confident she will be ready to go."

Four coaches, Bill Laimbeer of the Detroit Shock, Michael Cooper of the Los Angeles Sparks, Steven Key of the Chicago Sky, and Marynell Meadors of the Atlanta Dream participated in a media teleconference Wednesday to discuss the WNBA draft.

"I think it is such a deep and strong draft that everybody is going to be able to get some quality players that are going to be with them for seven, eight, nine 10 years," Meadors said. "I think these are 10-year players and we go very deep into the second round, I think, before it starts tapering off a little bit.

"For an expansion team like the Atlanta Dream, I think that we are going to have the opportunity to pick up a couple of players that are going to be pretty good franchise players for us."

The Sparks have the first pick followed by Chicago, Minnesota, Detroit, Houston, Washington, New York, Atlanta, Connecticut, Sacramento, Detroit, Connecticut, Phoenix and New York in the first round. Two additional rounds follow for a total of 43 picks.

None of the coaches expressed any concern with Parker's injury. The 6'5 forward, who has played on the U.S. Senior National team, is the presumptive top pick for Los Angeles, though Cooper didn't commit.

"I don't see any concern with it," Cooper said of Parker's draft status after the dislocations. "Obviously, with the number one pick we're evaluating at least the top five players, and Fowles and Parker are definitely up there. I don't think that will be a problem, but if it is, she still certainly will be a number one pick because that young lady can definitely play basketball."

"I would agree," Key said. "The talent doesn't go away just because it's an injury. It's not dealing with something that's really devastating to them. The talent is definitely there. That is not going to change."

"I think you have to look at the toughness that she showed last night," Meadors said. "When that shoulder popped out like that, that's very painful and I just thought that it showed a lot of toughness on her part."

"We'll take her at four," Laimbeer said.

"I'll take her anywhere," Meadors said.

"I wish I could get up there and trade with LA, and get the number one pick, but he won't let me do that," Laimbeer said.

Laimbeer playfully needled Cooper during the teleconference for being so cagey about who he was picking first.

When a question was asked about marketing Parker in Los Angeles and what impact she could have on a franchise – her nickname in Knoxville is "The Franchise – Cooper asked, "Was that for me?"

"It's Candace Parker, Coach, you know you're taking her, so come on," Laimbeer said.

Cooper didn't take the bait, but he did outline the organization's draft philosophy.

"I think Candace is definitely an impact player," Cooper said. "Already she has changed the interest in the WNBA because in Los Angeles we're hearing a lot of people talk about how they would come see her no matter what team she's on. That's one of the joys about this draft is that there are a lot of players that are going to do that. Hopefully we can get some of those single guys that only watch the NBA to come watch the WNBA. I think Candace will be a big reason for that.

"We're looking at all our options. She's definitely high up on the list for us, but Sylvia Fowles is playing tremendous basketball. We're not going to take the best player. We're going to take the best player for our organization. With Lisa Leslie at this stage where she probably has a year or two left, we have to pick a player that is gong to be able to fill her shoes and someone that we can build our team around and still be successful in the years to come."

That would hint at taking Fowles, a 6'6 center with the pick and the Chicago Sky seems willing to work a deal, but the prognosticators and analysts seem to think Parker is simply too good to pass up.

Hornbuckle, a senior guard for Tennessee, also could go early in the first round.

"I think she's going to be a high draft pick," Laimbeer said. "We like her size, we like her defense and rebounding and she's an outstanding three-ball shooter. She fits our mix pretty well. We like big guards; we like rebounding guards that play defense. With our strong inside post game we need perimeter shots so she's definitely a candidate.

"We've watched her very closely. I wish she would try to score a little bit more but I understand they have Parker there and I would try to feed her the ball a lot."

Laimbeer said the Shock would take Hornbuckle, Stanford's Candice Wiggins or Rutgers' Matee Ajavon at the fourth spot.

"There are three guards to go high in the draft: Matee Ajavon, Alexis Hornbuckle and Candice Wiggins," Laimbeer said. "Wiggins has been outstanding in the tournament so far. It's one of those situations of, ‘Who will be available at No. 4?' Conventional wisdom says Wiggins will be number three. I'll believe it when I see it. Our first pick will be used for one of those three guards."

Tennessee could have another pick in the first round in 6'4 center Nicky Anosike. Teams like physical post players, and Anosike fits that bill and then some. Her worth doesn't always show up in a box score, but coaches notice.

"She has a great pro body for the WNBA, and it's not just her size but the ability to move that size," said analyst Carolyn Peck, who provided commentary at Tennessee games this season and coached in the SEC at Florida during Anosike's time as a Lady Vol. "I was as shocked as anyone that she did not make the All-Defensive team for the SEC, because I think that she is one of the better defensive players in that conference.

"I have seen from watching her on both sides of the floor, commentating and coaching, Nicky Anosike defends every position on the floor. She can be at the front of a press and guard a point guard, she can go out and defend on the wing, and also defend down low. And she has stepped up to the challenge and continued to improve her rebounding for Tennessee.

"She has a nice bounce and a nice nose for the basketball and going after it. Especially for a team that is guard-oriented and or have shooters to shoot from the perimeter, to have Nicky Anosike inside to clean up, I think, would be a definite plus."

Peck said Anosike compared favorably to Rebekkah Brunson, who was drafted out of Georgetown in 2004 and plays for Sacramento. The 6'2 forward averaged 15.0 points and 6.3 rebounds per game in 2007.

"In talking to several GMs, I think that the potential for her to go late first round would be a strong possibility or early second," Peck said. "I think it goes back to the size that she brings and the strength. She's a very strong player and also her agility. If you remember back to Rebekkah Brunson, she was a strong rebounder, not really known for her offensive production, and that came along with her experience in the WNBA, and I think that Nicky Anosike has that kind of upside."

The teleconference ran out of time before the coaches or analysts could be asked about Shannon Bobbitt's draft potential. She compares favorably to LSU's Erica White, who the analysts expect to be drafted.

Peck correctly noted that Parker wasn't leaving early – she has been in school for four years after playing for three – and said WNBA rules allow her to leave with her class and be drafted. Parker will graduate in May.

Peck saw no reason for Parker not to go pro.

"A player like Candace Parker will go from playing in the Final Four to going into the WNBA," Peck said. "She just finished playing with the world championships and then would go play with the Olympic team to potentially win another gold medal. What is left for her to do and accomplish? She's already won a national championship at Tennessee. She's in the Final Four so she has the potential to win two.

"Playing with the world championship team (last September) and then going to the Olympics, I think a player that has that much of a resume of her accomplishments I don't know that you would manage (to have) another player to come along anytime in the near future."

Peck said UConn freshman Maya Moore had the potential to enjoy as much success. Analyst Doris Burke said Parker is clearly the top pick and after listening to Cooper she thought Chicago should try to make a play for Parker.

"If I were Chicago, I could maybe give up No. 2 and an asset to get Candace Parker," Burke said. "I might be so inclined.

"Parker has proven already that she can dominate on a basketball court with the best basketball players in the world. If you go back to the (FIBA America's Championship), every player that played in that tournament and every coach that participated would tell you that for long stretches she was the best player, and I am including the 10-year veterans in the league, Tina Thompson, Lauren Jackson. Name a great player and Parker was as good or better than any of them for long stretches.

"For me it's a no-brainer. I don't know whether Michael Cooper is trying to keep us guessing or not because when he's talking about replacing Lisa Leslie, that's a center position. I know Candace likes to operate at the three. I think she's a better four than a three. I think her perimeter skills will continue to get better and she can be a great three and four. Sylvia is not a bad pick (for the Sparks). It's interesting for me to listen, but Candace has already proven her value at that level."

Peck backed off a remark she made earlier in the season that Parker doesn't like contact.

"I did say that, yes," Peck said. "She did not like the physical contact, but she has developed into that and really now has started, especially in the SEC Tournament, she initiated a lot of the physical contact."

She also agreed that while Fowles was an intriguing choice, especially if the Sparks want a center, Parker should be the top pick.

"I could see where there would be an interest in trading to getting a Fowles, but when you have an opportunity to take a Candace Parker, I think you have to take her," Peck said.

Cooper dropped hints but he remains noncommittal. He wasn't concerned about Parker's knee surgeries, and noted how much basketball she had played since the surgery her first year, when she sat out as a redshirt in the 2004-05 season.

"She's played a lot of basketball," Cooper said. "That young lady hasn't had a real good time to rest and there's no rest for the weary because when you play for a championship you've got to do what you've got to do.

"But I'm like Coach Meadors; she showed some toughness by coming back into the ball game and playing under a very painful injury. Bill would take her at four, Marynell would take her at eight and hopefully, she's the player we pick at number one."

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