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Surprise in Dunk Contest

Senior Candace Parker of Naperville, Ill., defeats five male competitors to easily win high school slam dunk title.

March 31, 2004|Mike Hiserman | Times Staff Writer

There is a new high school basketball slam dunk champion, joining the likes of past winners Vince Carter, Baron Davis, Carmelo Anthony and LeBron James.

Her name is Candace Parker.

Parker, a 6-foot-3 high school senior from Naperville, Ill., overwhelmed five male competitors -- including two who are likely to be first-round NBA draft picks -- and easily won a contest Monday that was a prelude to tonight's McDonald's All-American boys' and girls' games.

Her reaction afterward: A big smile and a wish that someday in the not-too-distant future accomplishments such as hers will be met with a shrug.

"I hope 10 years from now this isn't a big deal," Parker told reporters. "That would be my dream."

Parker, 17, was the second female to participate in the contest. The first, Brittany Hunter, who now plays for Duke, failed to make a dunk last year.

Parker completed all of her dunks in the final round, including a grand finale with some creative flair. Briefly covering her eyes with her left forearm as she took her final strides toward the basket, she hammered home a dunk that earned a roar from a crowd of about 5,000 inside the Carl Albert High gymnasium -- and perfect scores of 10 from seven of the eight judges.

The lone holdout, former NFL running back Barry Sanders, gave her a 9 but said afterward, "She was very good."

Parker, a Tennessee-bound, two-time winner of the Naismith prep basketball player of the year award, averaged 24 points, 11.5 rebounds and 3.5 blocks last season, leading Naperville Central High to its second consecutive Illinois state title.

She was considered a longshot to win the contest, which will be televised today at 5 p.m. on ESPN. Among the favorites were North Carolina signee J.R. Smith, Josh Smith, a potential NBA lottery pick, and Darious Washington Jr., another possible first-round choice.

But at the finish, it wasn't even close. Parker finished with 223 points, far ahead of runner-up Joe Crawford, a Kentucky signee who had 148.

And to think that eight months ago, Parker had knee surgery that kept her out of her high school's lineup until January.

"As late as a week left in our season, she couldn't get the elevation to dunk the ball," Naperville Coach Andy Nussbaum told the Chicago Tribune. "But nothing Candace does is surprising to me anymore. Just when you think you've got her in a box, she's going to jump out of the box."

Parker's only advantage Monday was that she was allowed to use a slightly smaller women's ball. More to her benefit was her choice of remaining conservative while her male competitors failed to complete more difficult dunks.

"I've been dunking the ball since I was 15," she said. "I just wanted to get my first one down and knew I'd be all right."

Once that happened, Parker got more imaginative, wrapping the ball around her waist before she jumped for her next dunk.

Dunks of any kind are so rare in the women's game that they can be counted. Georgeann Wells of West Virginia became the first woman to dunk in a college game 20 years ago. Charlotte Smith of North Carolina dunked 10 years later and Tennessee's Michelle Snow dunked three times during her college career, from 1998 to 2002.

Lisa Leslie of the Sparks became the first WNBA player to dunk in a game in 2002, jamming one-handed to finish a fastbreak against the Miami Sol.

Already a highly decorated player, Leslie recalled Tuesday that her dunk elevated her in the eyes of men. "After the dunk they were like, 'You're ballin'!' " she said. "They really give you that credit."

As for that day Parker said she dreams about -- when dunks by women are considered commonplace -- it might be coming sooner than many think.

"There's a whole group of younger girls, sophomore and freshmen, that are already dunking. They're the next phase," said James Anderson, a prominent girls' coach whose Narbonne High teams have won four of the last five Los Angeles City Section championships.

"The game itself is growing so fast. This is great, but it's just another step for girls basketball. The kids are taller and stronger and more athletic now."

Anderson says Parker has "the perfect body for a basketball player" and that the size of her hands helps separate her from other female players.

"She can palm the ball off the dribble, which is pretty unusual," Anderson said. "Brittany last year jumped just as high ... she just couldn't pound it down."

Those who can immediately earn a certain of respect, no matter what their gender.

"The average guy who doesn't play professional sports, they can get out there and set a back pick or pick-and-roll or maybe even make a basket," Leslie said. "But to dunk, there's limitations to that, for everyone. I think that's what makes it so exciting."

*

Staff writer J.A. Adande and Times wire services contributed to this report.

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