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Parker leaves no doubt Lady Vols' star wants title repeat

While the men's side of the game wrings its hands over who will stay and will go at Florida and Ohio State, the women are enjoying their post-championship sleep deprivation without the same gnawing anxiety.

The WNBA has minimum requirements that basically forbid players from leaving college early for a professional basketball career. But that hasn't stopped reporters from asking Candace Parker if she's returning to national champion Tennessee next year.

"Yes I'll be back," she said abruptly, with an annoying tone, when asked the question after the team's 59-46 victory over Rutgers late Tuesday night.

Her teammates with her on the news conference podium muttered a few comments under their breath, prompting Parker to lighten up a bit.

"I answered it. I've have answered it a bunch," Parker said. "I answered it like a lot, so I guess I'll just say it one more time: I'll be back wearing orange next year to hang the banner in 2007. So that's all I can say."

The Lady Vols return four starters next year -- including point guard Shannon Bobbitt, who perhaps made two of the biggest shots in the championship game. Just about midway through the second half Rutgers cut Tennessee's lead to seven points, 35-28, when Bobbitt nailed an open three-pointer. She hit another one, then turned up her defense, stole the ball and fed Alexis Hornbuckle for a fastbreak layup.

Just like that, the lead was back to 15 points and the seventh national title for the Lady Vols was secure.

Bobbitt has been a unique addition to the Lady Vols. The guard was a junior college transfer -- a rarity in Pat Summitt's program. She also is 5-foot-2 making her the shortest player ever to get a basketball scholarship at Tennessee.

Bobbitt, a native of Manhattan, led Murry Bergtraum High School to two straight state federation titles. She then played two seasons at Trinity Valley Community College in Athens, Texas, where the team went to the NJCAA national tournament.

Her New York City swagger has served her well in Knoxville where she's learned to thrive under the intensity of Summitt.

"You know, Shannon is always smiling," Hornbuckle said during the Final Four weekend. "Coach could be just yelling at her, in her face, and Shannon's smiling saying 'OK, Coach. OK, Coach. I got you.' "

"Believe it or not, it wasn't a hard adjustment for me," Bobbitt said of playing for Summitt. "I was born knowing how to play hard. I know Coach Summitt is defensive-minded and I have no problem with that. . . . Just being tough runs in [my] family. I live in Manhattan, in Harlem, in the projects. Everyday you step outside you've got to be ready because everybody's going to want to play you and want to compete."

Tennessee loses only one key senior -- starting forward Sidney Spencer who was one of the Lady Vols' best three-point threats. Parker, Bobbitt, Hornbuckle and rebounding machine Nicky Anosike all return for a run at a repeat.

The scary thing for women's college basketball is that along with a reloaded Tennessee team, Rutgers returns its entire roster next season. Playing without a senior, the Scarlet Knights constructed one of the best in-season turnarounds to reach the championship game. With that kind of experience on their resume, and a well-earned reputation as one of the best defensive teams in the country the Scarlet Knights will enter the summer already a favorite to return to the Final Four.

e-mail: amoritz@buffnews.com

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