Historic Slams: Parker’s Dunks Are Heard ‘Round Women’s Game

By Ann Killion
Updated: March 20, 2006

DENVER— Tara VanDerveer had just walked out of a meeting room Sunday morning when she heard her assistant coach Amy Tucker scream.

Tucker wasn’t the only one. There were screams, gasps and high fives all around the sites of the NCAA women’s tournament Sunday.

Tennessee’s Candace Parker had just dunked.

She didn’t just do it once. She did it twice.

She didn’t dunk as a gimmick. She dunked in the flow of the game.

She didn’t need a clear lane and a huge windup to accomplish the feat. Her first one-handed jam was on a breakaway. On her second, she rose up through traffic from the baseline.

It was historic, and ESPN milked the moments throughout the day with constant replays. Although three other college women have dunked in games, no one had done it since 2000. And no one had done it in a tournament game.

“I was glad she got a good throwdown and it didn’t ricochet off the back of the rim,” VanDerveer said. “I think it’s great buzz. It’s great for the women’s game.”

On a weekend when a fabulous new generation of women’s basketball players is being showcased, it was an exclamation point on the change in the game.

“A lot of players in our class can do things that others can’t do,” Stanford sophomore guard Candice Wiggins said.

Wiggins is “Ice” to Parker’s “Ace” (nicknames based on the spelling of their first names). They are such good friends that, before the junior world tournament in summer 2004, they did the ultimate act of female friendship bonding: They got their tongues pierced. Parker went first (and added a belly-button piercing for good measure), so Wiggins had to follow through.

She’s not surprised that Parker went first again Sunday.

“I’ve been expecting it,” Wiggins said. “I knew she could do it.”

We all knew Parker could do it. After all, she won the McDonald’s slam-dunk contest when she was a senior in high school — competing against boys.

“It’s pretty cool to bring it out in the tournament,” said Oklahoma center Courtney Paris, who also played with Parker on junior national teams. “I remember being pumped up as a teammate when she did it. If I could do it, I’d do it all the time.”

But not everyone can do it. Though Parker’s dunks felt like earthquake tremors shaking the women’s game, in truth the landscape won’t change that much. There aren’t going to be suddenly hundreds of girls arriving in the NCAA with the hand size to palm the ball or the vertical leap to elevate above the rim.

Paris, the freshman whom some are calling the best player in the country, last tried to dunk in her freshman year in high school. A newspaper account described her as “barely missing a dunk.”

“I left it at that,” she said. “Just a putback layup that helps my team is fine.”

So what exactly is Paris’ vertical leap?

“Really high,” said Paris, arching her eyebrows. “We don’t want it be scouted, so we don’t talk about it.”

Paris’ coach, Sherri Coale, isn’t pushing her star to leap higher. Though she gave Parker credit, she’s not in love with the dunk.

“I’ve never been enamored of it,” she said. “Just like in the men’s game, I think `Great, you dunked. You got two points. Just like the point guard that laid it in.’

“But maybe people will tune in and watch because they hear about this. And that’s a great thing.”

The interesting subtext of Parker’s dunk is that many inside women’s basketball believe there’s a healthy competition going on between Tennessee’s Pat Summitt and Oklahoma’s Coale over who has the best freshman in the country.

Paris and Parker are both dubbed “CP3” — with identical initials and jersey numbers.

There’s some speculation that Summitt, already peeved over Tennessee being slighted with a No. 2 seed, may have unleashed Parker, a redshirt freshman, to get the spotlight away from Paris.

If so, that’s not a bad thing. Two dominant players are always more interesting than one. And a healthy rivalry for four seasons between Paris and Parker could be a great thing for the game. Add in other fantastic young players like Wiggins, Louisiana State’s Sylvia Fowles and Rutgers’ Essence Carson and the women’s game appears to be in terrific shape.

“I’m excited to be part of this generation,” Brigham Young’s Ambrosia Anderson said. “Good for Candace.”

Amid the screams and gasps that Parker caused, there were undoubtedly some groans. Some fans of women’s basketball may lament the fact that their game is creeping closer to the men’s — where individuality is more important than teamwork.

But the young players here in Denver were unanimously excited about Sunday’s earthquake.

“Maybe I’m a little less old-fashioned than Coach Coale,” Paris said, “but I think it’s cool.”