Lady Vols Reporter's Notebook

Holly Warlick has officially started her career as the Lady Vols head coach, and the players want to have her back, like she had theirs last season. Go inside with Inside Tennessee for the latest on the team.

Holly Warlick has officially started her career as the Lady Vols head coach, and the players want to have her back, like she had theirs last season. Go inside with Inside Tennessee for the latest on the team. Last April, Holly Warlick accepted Pat Summitt's whistle at a poignant press conference, and then left the next morning to recruit. Her head coach duties were officially underway within hours.

But the 2011-12 season was over, spring court sessions had ended and Warlick couldn't work with her team until the fall semester started. In late August, Warlick finally could step on the court at Pratt Pavilion and coach her players during individual workouts.

There are five new faces on the roster – true freshmen Andraya Carter, Bashaara Graves, Jasmine Jones and Nia Moore and sophomore transfer Jasmine Phillips – and two new assistants in Kyra Elzy, a former Lady Vol player, and Jolette Law, who played for C. Vivian Stringer when she was the head coach at Iowa and who has long known Elzy.

Warlick assumed a lot of Pat Summitt's responsibilities when the iconic head coach announced a little over a year ago that she had early onset dementia, Alzheimer's type, and she maintained all of her assistant duties, too, such as scouting reports, hours of film study, practice plans and recruiting road trips.

The returning players know how much Warlick took on last season, and they also saw how she treated them.

"That's the thing," sophomore post Isabelle Harrison said. "I feel like Holly had so much of the newcomers' backs last year because we knew how much pressure she had. We just want to give it back. We are going to support her full force."

That desire hasn't gone unnoticed by Warlick and she also saluted the newcomers who came to Tennessee anyway, knowing Summitt might not be the one to coach them.

"That's tremendous," Warlick said. "I knew these kids were special when Pat made her announcement and not one of them budged. You see what type of kids we're dealing with. That hits home with me and means a lot."

Summit now has the role of head coach emeritus and has been present for some of the workouts in between being feted and honored. Just this past week, Summitt was in New York for the U.S. Open tennis event, in Atlanta for a "We Back Pat" WNBA game and on Sunday will be saluted by the Tennessee Titans at an NFL game in Nashville.

"It's nice to see her coming in and trying to help out as much as possible," senior guard Kamiko Williams said. "I am just glad that she is less stressed. It is good to see her."

It was a challenge that Warlick always wanted – the chance to follow Summitt at her alma mater. Warlick is from Knoxville, was the Lady Vols point from 1976-80 and was by Summitt's side on the bench for 27 years.

"I wanted to succeed Pat Summitt," Warlick said. "Pat and I have always talked about it. Now, it didn't happen the way we thought it would happen, but I've never shied away.

"This is my home, and this is where I've always been. I am living in the moment and getting these kids ready to start their legacy."

Sophomore forward Cierra Burdick said the team is aware of the challenges – only six of them have ever logged minutes in a Tennessee game, most were role players and the schedule is stacked – but they feel a sense of duty to Warlick and are playing for someone other than themselves.

"I want to make sure we can make this as best as we can make it," Burdick said. "Holly is a great coach, but she is even a better person. And she loves us and she cares for us, and she tells us that every day.

"I think she's got one of the hardest jobs in America. She's got to follow Pat Summitt. Nobody else will ever do that, and we obviously want to get her going in the right direction."

BURDICK AT HER BEST: Cierra Burdick is noticeably leaner this fall, but the coaches say the biggest difference is how she looks on the court. It also sends a message to a callow team.

"As young as we are it is of paramount importance to the group to have that type of example that we can hold up, that we can say this is how you do it, this is a Lady Vol work ethic, this is how you become a player," Dean Lockwood said.

"She's not afraid of the process. She's not afraid of preparation. Everybody wants to be a player. Where the separation point is is when you actually start saying things that you have to do to do the work, that is a whole different story sometimes.

"That is what is so impressive about her and that's what has impressed us as a coaching staff, and I know she has won respect from her teammates. She is not afraid to prepare to be a champion and to win and to be a better player. In the off-season, I know there is not a player who put in more time."

The staff has seen marked improvement in Burdick's game.

"Number one is her confidence level," Lockwood said. "Her confidence level is as high as it's been.

"Number two, from a purely execution standpoint, she is shooting the ball as well as I've seen her shoot the ball," added Lockwood, who watched Burdick throughout high school. "She is a little bit better off the bounce. She has improved her one, two, dribble pull-up. Her pull-up has gotten a little quicker. She is just more sharp."

Burdick also focused on footwork as she needed to improve lateral movement.

"She's worked on her body," Lockwood said. There is still "ground to cover" in terms of footwork "but that's better than where she was last March," he noted.

Anyone reading Burdick's Twitter account this summer knew she inhabited the gym. Her favorite word was "grind."

And while the coaches applaud that approach in the summer, they are also preaching caution since September is loaded with conditioning sessions.

"It is full bloom conditioning time, so we don't want her doing a lot of extra court work while they're running Gate 10," Lockwood said. "We've kind of cautioned her. She has to be wise."

Two other players have to be advised the same way – freshman Andraya Carter and senior Taber Spani. Carter had ACL surgery 15 months ago and missed nearly her entire senior year of high school basketball in Buford, Ga. Spani has been injured every year at Tennessee – turf toe, elbow bursa sac and deep knee bruise. All three injuries cost her significant practice and game time.

Carter might be one of the most driven Lady Vol freshmen in recent memory. Her determination is reminiscent of Tamika Catchings, the poster child for hustle and effort at all times at Tennessee.

"Everything for her, she's got to go first, she's got to go spot-on, get it right, do it right, boom," Lockwood said.

The staff reminds all three of those players, Carter, Burdick and Spani, to be smart.

"Save the high intensity for us and the conditioning right now and once we back off of conditioning later, then we can come in and get extra work in," Lockwood said.

STAFF CHANGES: Holly Warlick switched sports when asked to characterize the hiring of Kyra Elzy and Jolette Law now that she has seen them on the court with the team.

"The bases got loaded and I hit a grand slam," Warlick said. "They are everything I thought they would be and more. They put in the hours. They are great with our kids.

"They are great coaches on the floor. They get it done. I knew I hit a home run, but I didn't know the bases would be loaded."

Kamiko Williams noticed a difference from one workout to the next.

"They both come in and the first day they were a little quiet because they had to learn the terminology, but now they get on us," Williams said. "(Wednesday) morning, Coach Kyra, I swear I was the only name she called. … I like it. It keeps me going. I need it.

"They are going to have a big impact. She is a former Lady Vol and Jolette is coming from a great background. They are easy to talk to and they're young, and they have a lot of energy. "Sometimes they come in and they have more energy than us, so we have to keep up with them. They are going to have a huge, huge impact this year. … They're not shy."

Warlick has retained a lot of Summitt's philosophy, including allowing assistants to be empowered and use their voices.

"Holly is great," Elzy said. "She is very open-minded of letting everyone put their input in, because she wants the best for this program, and she does understand that she is going to need help. That is why she hired us, to help her be successful."

The new assistants haven't hesitated to let the players hear their voices.

"They are extremely knowledgeable of the game," Cierra Burdick said. "They bring a lot of energy. With this new coaching staff you'll see tons of energy.

"Dean is always sweating. Dean sweats more than us, but then you've got Coach Law always bringing positive energy and then you've got Coach Elzy and you can really tell that she wants you to do well. She wants this program to get back to the tradition that it came from, and everybody is so invested into this program.

"It's really awesome to see because they care about us and that makes you want to work hard for them."

Elzy, who was the top assistant and recruiting coordinator for Kentucky before accepting Warlick's offer to return to Tennessee, has talked to Williams about the Tennessee-Kentucky matchups. The Wildcats got waxed in Knoxville in a rematch but took it to the Lady Vols defensively in the game in Lexington last season.

"Coach Kyra talked to me about our games against Kentucky," Williams said. "She told me what she's been doing at Kentucky, and she's bringing it here. It's demanding."

Elzy was a stout defender when she played at Tennessee and she is instilling that same determination in this team.

"Coach Elzy is definitely the tough love just because she played here," Burdick said. "She knows what this program is about, and she saw how these past couple of years it kind of fell off from the tradition it came from, and she wants to help bring it back.

"Coach Law can have a little mean side as well, but I think Coach Elzy is definitely the more tough love one, and Coach Law is more the encourager and motivator and trying to bring positivity even in negative situations."

Warlick had to lure Elzy away from Kentucky – she is a native of the Bluegrass State and said "this is it" when asked if any job except Tennessee could have gotten her out of Lexington.

Once Elzy was on board, Elzy turned her attention to Law, who had been ushered out at Illinois and was a free agent, so to speak.

"It was unexpected," said Law, who nevertheless knew it could happen at Illinois when a new athletic director arrived, "but we had just beaten the No. 10 team in the country, No. 21. I was finally about to have my team together. I thought this was the year we could turn the corner. It was (devastating).

"Because you pour your heart into it. Rebuilding is not easy. We finally got the pieces together. The kids started buying in. I thank God because sometimes when a door closes he opens windows, and I am so grateful that he gave me this opportunity."

Law was prepared to take a lengthy break, consider offers and options and then make a decision.

"In my mind I was already going to take the year off," Law said. "People were calling me and I had already turned down a lot of jobs."

But then Elzy went to work. She treated Law like a recruit and since Law was out at Illinois and not attached to any school, Elzy could contact her at will. And she did.

"I was begging her," Elzy said. "I was calling her: ‘Orange looks good. Rocky Top is great. There is nothing like Big Orange Country. Would you like to come to Tennessee? There is nothing like it. You won't find any better place. It's a great day to be a Lady Vol' "

Law went to a coaches' seminar in Texas still unattached to any program and Elzy, who initially was to be in Lexington at the same time for a commitment with Kentucky, no longer had that obligation since she was a Lady Vol. So she headed to the Lone Star State to find her friend.

"Everywhere I would go, everybody was like, ‘You know Kyra Elzy is looking for you?' " Law said.

It continued when Elzy went on vacation to the beach and when she returned home.

"I felt like a recruit," Law said. "Because she was calling me like, ‘Hello, hi, I am at Tennessee. Are you wearing orange today? You would love Knoxville?' Text messages, voice messages."

Law heard from other former Lady Vols – the assistants overlap on recruiting trails and become friends – and she also sought the advice of her mentor in Stringer, who encouraged Law to take the Tennessee job.

"I played for Coach Stringer so I could complete her sentences," Law said. "She taught me about the game, about defense.

"I have always admired this program from afar. I wanted to continue the legacy. I wanted to come here and continue to keep Tennessee on top.

Law is originally from Florence, S.C., which is about five hours from Knoxville by car across the North Carolina mountains.

The proximity to home, the chance to coach with a dear friend in Elzy and the allure of Tennessee, a top program in the sport of women's basketball, all added up to Law saying yes to Warlick's offer.

"I am so grateful and I thank God daily that he presented this opportunity," Law said. "I feel like I have my life back. I love who I work for, I love who I work with, and I love this program."

There was no game plan for last season for the staff or players after Summitt announced her illness. The players were devastated by the news and then the staff, reeling itself, devoted its energy to keeping the process as routine as possible. Now that Summitt's role with the team has been delineated and Warlick has the head coach title – and just those duties and not the daily grind of an assistant – the players seem more at ease.

"I can feel a bond there that wasn't quite there last year," Isabelle Harrison said. "The communication is much better among the coaches and players."

Harrison, who is from Nashville, already knew Elzy very well. Elzy tried to recruit her to Kentucky, and Harrison seriously considered going to Lexington but opted for her home state school.

"I knew Elzy before with the recruiting process," Harrison said. We've been cool ever since. I was just thinking that, ‘What if I would have went to Kentucky? You would have left me.' "

Harrison also has already connected with Law.

"Coach Law is just a great addition to the team because she is easy to talk to and at the same time she wants a lot out of you," Harrison said.

Burdick can sense a difference this season, and she noted Warlick made the decisions that were best for the team. By selecting Law, Warlick showed a willingness to go outside the Lady Vol family to fill a staff opening.

"I think this coaching staff clicks so well, and it's awesome to see," Burdick said. "Holly did a great job of bringing in the people that she thought were going to be not best for the fans, not best for the other folks but the best for us, the best for these 11 players that are wearing the jersey this year.

"It's incredible. I think Holly did a great job, and I am looking forward to it."

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