I covered the Tennessee Lady Vols for The Knoxville Journal from 1974-87 and for Rocky Top News through the 1990s. Since UT historically plays the NCAA's toughest schedule, I've gotten to see most of the top women in action – Nancy Lieberman of Old Dominion, Teresa Edwards of Georgia, Cheryl Miller of Southern Cal, Diana Taurasi of UConn and Seimone Augustus of LSU to name just a few.
Still, I'd take Chamique Holdsclaw – the collegiate version – over any of those players any day of the week.
Certainly, both are tremendous players. But Holdsclaw made a greater impact, at least at the collegiate level. She didn't just elevate her team; she CARRIED her team.
Statistically, Chamique has no peer. She remains to this day Tennessee's all-time leader in points (3,025), rebounds (1,295), field goals attempted (2,419) and made (1,233), free throws attempted (731) and made (523). She's third all-time in steals (307) and sixth in blocked shots (115).
More importantly, Holdsclaw is the program's all-time leader in NCAA titles won (three). Catchings and Parker, so far, have one each. The most impressive aspect of Holdsclaw's titles is that she won two of them with very little help.
The 1995-96 Lady Vol supporting cast consisted of Latina Davis, Michelle Marciniak, Abby Conklin and Pashen Thompson – four good, but not great, players. Holdsclaw led that team in scoring (16.2) and rebounding (9.1) as a true freshman.
The 1996-97 supporting cast was even less imposing – Conklin, Thompson, sophomore Kellie Jolly and freshman Kyra Elzy. Holdsclaw again led the team in points (20.6) and rebounds (9.4) per game, with her scoring average nearly doubling that of runnerup Conklin (11.7). The '97 squad lost 10 regular-season games but Holdsclaw put the team on her back in March and carried it to a second consecutive national championship.
The 1997-98 Lady Vols, of course, made history by going 39-0 and winning by an average margin of 30 points per game. Certainly, Catchings was a key component, contributing 18.2 points and 8 rebounds per game as a freshman on that team. Still, it was Holdsclaw (23.5 points, 8.4 rebounds) who always seemed to score the clutch basket or grab the key rebound when an opponent was threatening to get back in the game.
Here's another testament to Holdsclaw's prowess: After claiming three NCAA titles in her four years on campus, Tennessee went eight years before winning another national championship in 2006-07.
Bottom line: Candace Parker is the most athletically gifted player I've seen. Catchings is the best player I've seen, if you count pro and college combined. Based on production at Tennessee, however, I still have to go with Holdsclaw as the best of the bunch.