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Article updated: 1/5/2012 9:49 PM
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Ten years later, what has changed?
 

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Ten years later, what has changed?
  • Candace Parker of Napervile Central captain of the all area girls basketball team

    Candace Parker of Napervile Central captain of the all area girls basketball team Daily Herald File Photo

  •  A shrine to Candace Parker of Naperville Central, set up in the hallway as part of the Charger Classic Christmas Tourney in Carpentersville, 2003.

    A shrine to Candace Parker of Naperville Central, set up in the hallway as part of the Charger Classic Christmas Tourney in Carpentersville, 2003. Daily Herald File Photo

 

It's a moment that is indelibly etched in Andy Nussbaum's memory

It may be what Candace Parker is most remembered for at Naperville Central, and that's saying something.

Story Continues Below

The dunk.

Ten years ago last week, Dec. 27, 2001, at the Dundee-Crown Charger Classic, Parker made girls basketball history. With 1:04 left in the first quarter against Hononegah she picked up a loose ball near midcourt, and with no opponent near her went in and threw down a one-handed dunk.

Parker had tried to dunk unsuccessfully at least twice before in a home game, but she promised her brother Marcus the day before that she was going for it.

"I looked and I thought, 'Oh what the heck,'" Parker said at the time. "It was just an amazing feeling -- indescribable."

Then high school sophomore Parker became the first girl in Illinois basketball history to dunk a basketball and was believed to be the second girl in the nation.

"She went up and she got all of it. It was a no-doubter," Nussbaum recalled. "The kids on the bench erupted, but I kept my coach face on and one of the seniors said, 'Come on, Nuss, you love it -- you know you love it!' And I broke out into a smile."

The dunk garnered quite a buzz, even on Chicago sports talk radio.

Naperville Central's attendance doubled. Nussbaum swears that there were 1,200 people at the first home game after the dunk. Later in the season, in a sectional game at Benet against Glenbard North, Parker dunked again.

A hurt ankle robbed Parker of elevation her junior year, and she was recovering from an ACL tear as a senior. But on March 29 after her senior year, Parker made more history when she beat five boys in the slam dunk contest held prior to the McDonald's All-American game.

Nussbaum laughs that he remembers hearing that ex-Detroit Lions running back Barry Sanders, a slam dunk judge, ran around the gym attempting to get Parker's autograph but was turned away by security.

One writer at the time cornered Nussbaum for an hour, asking if Parker's dunk signified the dawn of a new era in girls basketball. Would Parker be the first in a new generation of high-flying girls basketball players?

Nussbaum would have none of that speculation.

You're talking about a girl who, Nussbaum was told at eighth-grade orientation, could already dunk a volleyball. That was before her mom corrected him and said that no, Candace can "only" dunk a tennis ball.

"I held at the time we are never going to see something like this again," he said. "I said this is a completely unique deal. This is never going to happen again."

Ten years later, we still wait for the second coming.

Sure, a few women have dunked in college games since then. Baylor's Brittney Griner and ex-Tennessee player Michelle Snow come to mind. The following July after Parker's first dunk, Lisa Leslie became the first woman to dunk in a WNBA game.

But no high school girls have, at least not in Illinois.

You can pull up a 2009 YouTube video of a 14-year-old phenom in Chicago throwing down in open gym. It's even a big deal when a coach suggests that their 6-footer can touch the rim.

But no dunks in an organized game.

Is this the missing element to the girls game?

There is no question that girls high school basketball does not draw near the fan interest that the boys do. You can say the same thing at the college and professional levels.

Most say the disparity in fan support is because the quality of play is not the same, or the game is not as fast as the boys. But could it be because the girls game is played exclusively below the rim?

For a variety of reasons -- girls are plain shorter than boys, might not jump as high or have smaller hands -- you just do not see girls even attempt dunks. Montini's 6-foot-4 junior Diamond Thompson, for one, can touch the rim, but her hands are too small to dunk.

I offer that the three most exciting plays in basketball are the 3-point shot, the blocked shot and the slam dunk. Say what you will about good fundamental basketball, but no play gets the casual fan's blood flowing like the dunk.

Why do you think Michael Jordan sold so many shoes before he even won an NBA title?

"There is such a feeling of authority when you dunk a basketball," Nussbaum said. "There is an aspect of power that appeals to males a little more than females. Females like the beauty of the game more, the finesse. If the girls game had something like (the dunk) it would be more attractive. But short of genetic engineering or lowering the rims I don't think it's going to happen."

Perhaps not, but Nussbaum and Naperville Central will always have "the dunk." Naperville's own little slice of basketball history.

"I maintained at the time, and still do that Candace is one of a kind," Nussbaum said. "There is no such thing as the next Candace Parker."

jwelge@dailyherald.com

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