You go, girl (and don’t kick my butt)

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Here’s a sign of the times. Tennessee’s all-everything sophomore Candace Parker says she will not enter the WNBA draft on April 4. “I’m definitely going to be at Tennessee next year,” she tells USA Today’s Dick Patrick.

That anybody is speculating about a women’s basketball player says much about the WNBA, college basketball, and women’s sports. The WNBA has found a way to survive despite problems with several teams through the years. (It does not hurt to get propped up by the NBA and in TV promos on NBC and ESPN.) College basketball is also thriving, outdrawing the men’s teams on a few campuses. But the league has endured.

The addition of Parker would be a huge boost (perhaps, league officials started planting this rumor themselves). She is an amazing athlete. Parker, twice named the top player in the nation among high school players, can power past players near the basket and she can lead the team on fast breaks down the court, running past some of the nation’s best athletes. And she was the first woman to dunk a basketball in a college game.

Two years ago, I saw Parker lead her team through some drills in a pool that included running with weighted belts during a rainy and cold October afternoon. (The University of Tennessee basketball team trains year round by lifting weights, running sprints, and pushing themselves with a resolve matched by few athletes in the country.) Afterwards, several Tennessee players walked past us, as if we did not exist. Not that they cared. Their eyes were focused ahead with a ‘don’t fuck with me’ attitude.

A friend of mine who coaches another college sport stood next to me, admiring the determined looks, especially the flat, resolute stare on Candace’s face. “I believe she could take us if she wanted to,” he said. At six feet and 200 pounds, I’m usually pretty confident. But I believe he may have been correct. “I wouldn’t mess with them,” he added. At six feet four, Candace probably knows few women (or men) would fare well against a fit, powerful young lady.

If Candace played rugby or in a women’s football league, she would be a god – or, at least, she would be like Jim Brown, a man who ran over and through so many football players that he became bored and retired from professional football in his prime. Candace is an inspiration for many young girls across the country.

Yet, she never thought about turning pro. “I hadn’t really thought about that at all,” Parker told USA Today. “All the speculation was to my surprise.”

But it is refreshing, nonetheless.

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