Jan. 3, 2014
By Brian Rice
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. -- Candace Parker never spent a moment of her time at Tennessee thinking about accomplishing enough as a player to see her number join those of other Lady Volunteer greats in the rafters of Thompson-Boling Arena. In her mind, the topic was never up for discussion.
But on a recruiting trip leading up to her signing with UT out of Naperville, Ill., Parker's father Larry gazed up to where the retired numbers hung and asked his daughter if she thought she would join them after a successful career. She allowed herself the thought for that moment, but once she put on the orange jersey, it was another corner of the arena ceiling that she had her eyes on redecorating.
"When I looked up in the rafters when I was playing here, I was dribbling and shooting picturing a National Championship banner, not my jersey, in the rafters," Parker said.
When Parker arrived at Tennessee, four names, Holly Warlick, Bridgette Gordon, Daedra Charles and Chamique Holdsclaw, hung above the arena. Memories of being a Lady Vol when the fifth, Tamika Catchings, had her night in Thompson-Boling made the experience all the more meaningful, especially the opportunity to be a role model for current players the way Catchings became for her.
"I was a fan of hers and watched her when she played," Parker said of Catchings. "To see that and then now to experience this and to try to be what she was to me, I can't imagine. She means so much and she did so much for me and for my career. I'm trying to do the same for the Lady Vols and try and set a good example and be there for them."
Parker is the seventh honoree, after a banner commemorating Pat Summit was raised a season ago. Summit was one of the many members of the Lady Vol family to be in attendance for the ceremony. Many of Parker's Tennessee teammates were also in the house, including Ashley Robinson, Shyra Ely-Gash, Brittany Jackson and Cait McMahan, whose embrace with Parker during the celebration of the 2007 national championship became one of the iconic images of her time at Tennessee.
"It means a lot," said Parker of sharing the moment. "It truly hit me this afternoon when I was explaining to my daughter what tonight was. It's amazing to share this with so many familiar faces and family and past players and my coach that I really truly respect."
The night also gave Parker the chance to see her career come full-circle. After the win in the 2008 national championship game, Parker had just over 12 hours to celebrate before she was selected with the first overall pick in the 2008 WNBA Draft. While her teammates flew home to celebrate the title, Parker went on a whirlwind media tour that let her know her time as a collegian was behind her. While she was able to return that November to see one of the championship banners she so craved raised to the rafters, she never had the moment of closure to her career that she wanted. The ceremony provided that and more.
"Senior day was the last time I really ran out and experienced TBA and the excitement of it," Parker said. "To be able to do this again, on this night, it means a lot."