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Friday, May 6, 2016

Struck Strikes Out: 'It's a beautiful day in the neighborhood...'

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

'It's a beautiful day in the neighborhood...'

I credit my old baby-sitting buddy, the late Fred (Mr.) Rogers, the human answer to Valium and sadly gone too soon, for the following words of wisdom:

"Play is often talked about as if it were a relief from serious learning. But for children, play is serious learning."

Precisely, Mr. Rogers. Precisely.

That's why I encourage women basketball players everywhere, along with their coaches, parents, families, fans, sports broadcasters, and sports writers, to ease up on the throttle, to idle 'er down a bit, to back off, to put into athletic perspective the fact that a University of Tennessee basketball player dunked a basketball for the first time in the history of an actual game in the Women's NCAA Tournament.

Those mistaken media members and others who are today calling it a "slam" dunk also need to hop off the gender fenders of this run-away jalopy and face reality.

Yes, 6-4 Candace Parker, one superb basketball player and the storied Tennessee program's top recruit ever, dunked the ball not once, but twice in the Volunteers' crushing of Army during Sunday's NCAA Tournament.

But to term the shot a "slam" dunk is like calling a par an "ace" in golf.

Candace Parker didn't so much as dunk the ball, as she gently, skillfully, layed it over the edge of the rim with a pronated hand just like I used to do it back in the day with the right amount of stick-um on my hand.

It was like someone dropping an ice cube in a full glass; like someone dropping a sugar cube in a full cup of hot coffee or tea; like a fly fisherman in winter casting into a small hole augered in the ice; like granny pulling down the lamp chain; like dad dropping a handful of pocket change in the family vacation fund jar.

All in all, Parker's shot was worth... well, two points, not the shot heard around the world others are making it out to be.

Is it a great accomplishment? Most assuredly. But that, too, is a two-edged sword because many could just as well ask, "What took so long?"

Just as Mr. Rogers suggests above, that play also can be a time of serious learning, Sunday's achievements by Parker should be duly noted and abruptly placed in the "serious learning" column.

The situation for Parker's dunks was "the perfect storm" if you will for the talented Tennessee star. The Vols were playing an outclassed, undersized Army squad that was pedaling as fast as it could and, really, had no answer, no competition for Parker and Company. The final score of the game was 102-54 for Heaven's sake.

One of Parker's dunks was on a secondary, one-on-one fast-break situation in full gallop where she simply leaped up and over the small Army defender and laid the ball into the cylinder with hand pronated. The second was on a nice baseline pass from a teammate and she did a similar dunk, gently laying the ball into the cylinder.

There was no "slamming" to either of them.

Yes, a handful of other women players in college and the pros have executed similar looking dunks in a game, but Parker's (she's now one of four college women players to ever dunk in a game) were the first ever in an NCAA Tournament game on national TV. Hence, all the hype.

Now, if the women's college game can use Parker's dunks as a "serious learning" experience and create future offensive strategies that afford players who can jump that high the repeated opportunities for the exciting, highlight-reel dunk, then their game is on to something.

Patience also must be a primary virtue here as the female athlete steadily evolves and we begin seeing women mirror men with 42-inch vertical jumps that would ultimately bring the world's first woman's "slam" dunk.

But we ain't there yet.

Until then, it is what it is - Mr. Rogers' polyester cardigan in a world full of classic cashmere.