Lady Vol legend takes in practice

The Lady Vols conducted an up-tempo, two-hour workout session Friday that impressed at least one courtside observer – in this case former Tennessee legend Chamique Holdsclaw, who was inducted into the Lady Vol Hall of Fame and will be honored with six others at today's football game at Neyland Stadium.

"It's refreshing to see this type of intensity," said Chamique Holdsclaw, a four-time All-American and three-time national title winner during her career at Tennessee from 1995 to 1999. "In the pros you can't practice this hard because it's a short season and you have to protect people from injury (because there is no injured reserve, and rosters are limited to 11 players).

"It's good to see the kids out here. Nowadays you hear about college kids, everybody has these little egos, everybody thinks they're going to the WNBA but I see everybody out there going hard. You expect that when you have Coach Summitt as your coach or you'll be on the line running."

If that remark officially makes Holdsclaw sound like a curmudgeon talking about how it was back in the day, she can smile about it now. At the age of 33 she has developed perspective with basketball and life.

"When I was younger (and got) awards, it was like, oh, yeah," Holdsclaw said. "You don't appreciate it until you get older and now it's so exciting for me to be back here and get this honor. I invited my high school coach, my college roommate, one of my best friends, Antonio, from college.

"It really does matter now that I am getting older. You appreciate all the people and all of the support that you had along the way. When I was young I was like, ‘One day maybe this will all make sense.' Because everything is happening so fast. But now I am getting older and I appreciate it when I come back here and the people that supported me through the good and bad times. It's like a family."

Antonio Brewer ran track at Tennessee while Holdsclaw also was on campus, and they became close friends. Holdsclaw's former Atlanta Dream teammate Jennifer Lacy also came to town for the ceremony, as did her high school coach at Christ the King in New York, Vincent Canizzaro, and Zakiah Modeste, who ran track at Tennessee and roomed with Holdsclaw.

"We have a chance to all get together," Holdsclaw said. "It's all about the people and the support at the university. When I come back here, it's like family. I always say, in a good way, the Tennessee organization and the following is sort of like a cult following. Wherever I go I always see that orange."

Holdsclaw also noted that not much had changed since she left, minus, of course the venue in which she watched the session, the Pratt Pavilion practice facility next to the arena.

"I would have loved it," Holdsclaw said. "I probably would have stayed here all the time. Twenty-hours, too? It would have been great. In Thompson-Boling you had to find somebody to turn on the lights."

Walk outside Pratt Pavilion and the intersection includes Chamique Holdsclaw Drive. She was the most decorated player ever to play for the Lady Vols with four Kodak All-American nods, two Naismith Player of the Year awards, the Naismith Player of the Century for the 1900s and three consecutive NCAA titles in 1996, 1997 and 1998. Her number 23 has been retired with a banner raised in her honor in the rafters of the arena.

The news of her selection to the Lady Vols Hall of Fame still took her by surprise.

"When they first called me I was like, ‘I haven't finished playing yet,' " Holdsclaw said.

When it was explained that she was eligible 10 years after her playing days at Tennessee ended, Holdsclaw then understood. She was initially asked to be inducted a year ago with former teammate Kellie Jolly, now the head coach at North Carolina State, but she was still playing overseas and would not have been in town.

Holdsclaw is sidelined now because of a rupture of her Achilles tendon during the WNBA season with the San Antonio Silver Stars. She signed a one-year contract with the Stars after leaving the Dream, though she still makes her off-season home in Atlanta.

"I love Atlanta," Holdsclaw said.

Holdsclaw remains on crutches as she heals from surgery, and she anticipates being able to play again. She said she admires Taj McWilliams-Franklin, who is still playing and will turn 40 next month. Former Olympian and WNBA player Dawn Staley, now the head coach at South Carolina, predicted a long career for Holdsclaw years ago.

"You're going to have a long career because you have an old school game," Holdsclaw said, repeating what Staley told her. "Not that I want to play until I'm 40 years old but I really fell in love with basketball again. It's just a joy. If I could play two or three more years I would love to. That's my motivation."

Holdsclaw said she opted for an operation because her surgeon predicted she would be back to 100 percent if she underwent the tendon repair. She will take off the entire off-season for rest and rehab.

"I'm on ice for six months with my injury," she said. "The doctor said just to rest it. Sometimes people come back in three months, he said, but with me being an older athlete if I want to get it right I need to rest. So I am going to take the whole off-season off, and we'll see how I feel when the WNBA comes around. If I was to do it again, if I re-injure it, I'm done so that's in the back of my mind to take care of it. It could have been worse. I was pretty lucky."

Holdsclaw is a free agent since the contract with San Antonio was for one year, but the interest seems mutual.

"I had great experiences there," she said. "They called me the other day and wanted to know how I am progressing. They want me back for next season."

With some time off this fall and winter Holdsclaw said she intended to come to Knoxville for some basketball games.

"It's an easy drive," she said.

That would certainly please junior guard Shekinna Stricklen, who has said Holdsclaw is her role model and who was genuinely nervous when she met her in person for the first time last March.

"She was shy," said Holdsclaw, who raised her eyebrows and laughed when it was pointed out Stricklen was born in 1990 and was 5 years old when Holdsclaw was a college freshman. "It reminded me of me when I was young. I was shy."

It's part of what connects the long orange line and Summitt said "absolutely" when asked if that was an important part of her program.

While Holdsclaw watched the session, Summitt and two of her assistants, Holly Warlick and Mickie DeMoss, came over at different times to give her a hug and chat, as did Jenny Moshak, the chief of sports medicine. Those same staff members were at Tennessee when Holdsclaw played.

"We have people who are committed to success," Holdsclaw said. "It's a great environment. Some of the guys on the men's side they don't feel connected (because the coaches have changed.) When I come back, it's the same coach and pretty much the same staff and familiar faces."

DeMoss, who just returned to Tennessee after stints at Kentucky and Texas, was the assistant who convinced Summitt to recruit a player from New York. Summitt wasn't sure she could convince Holdsclaw to play so far from home at a Southern school, but DeMoss convinced her to try.

"Oh my goodness, she's a difference maker," Summitt said, when asked to assess the impact Holdsclaw had on the program. "She could take over a game, and she was passionate about it. She's one of the best."

Summitt was happy to see her former player in great spirits.

"She's matured so much," Summitt said. "She's got everything going in a positive way. She looks great. I know she doesn't like being injured. She wants me to cook for her so I guess she's feeling pretty good. I'll cook for her."

Holdsclaw smiled when asked about the significance of a Hall of Fame induction.

"It means a lot. It means all my work has paid off," she said.

The private induction ceremony was Friday evening at the downtown Hilton. Holdsclaw was joined by six other athletes in the class of 2010: Amy Delashmit Neubauer (rowing); Laura Lauter Smith (soccer); Katharina Larsson Samuelsson (golf); Margie Lepsi Schroeffel (tennis); Adrienne Walker Cherry (softball); and Shelley Sexton Collier (basketball).

Holdsclaw was looking forward to taking her friends and former high school coach to a Tennessee football game. The Vols play UAB on Saturday with kickoff set for 12:21 p.m., and the inductees will be honored during the game.

"I'm excited to show my school off to my friends," Holdsclaw said. "It's a different experience 100,000 people cheering for Tennessee. I want to show Knoxville off a little bit."

FRIDAY'S SESSION: After the first full team workout, Pat Summitt remarked that the players looked a little rusty. She saw improvement a week later when the full squad again took the court for a two-hour session.

"I think the communication," Summitt said Friday when asked what was better a week later. "We got up and down the floor. I think we spaced a lot better. They made a lot of things work, even if it broke down. I'm liking what I'm seeing right now."

The effectiveness of Mickie DeMoss as a teacher has been apparent.

"Mickie is really good at that," Summitt said. "You don't really think about it until she came back and got on the floor. She hasn't missed a beat. I think her experience and her communication in teaching the game (will be valuable) and also during the game being able to pick up on things. We've got such a veteran staff now. We have good teachers. It makes a difference."

A group ringed the court Friday as part of an event called Basketball 101 in which attendees heard from coaches and staff members and then got to watch the session.

When DeMoss didn't like the way a drill was run, she stopped the session and politely said, "Ladies, that wasn't very good."

"She doesn't always say that," Summitt said with a smile. "That's because we had an audience today."

A year ago Tennessee was down a coach on the floor as Daedra Charles-Furlow got an unexpected diagnosis of breast cancer and then staff member Stephanie Glance wasn't activated as a replacement until late December when it was apparent Charles-Furlow would need long-term treatment and would not be able to travel.

"It was difficult," Summitt said. "Daedra has handled things so well but at the same time you're worried about her. You want to make sure her health is OK."

The 2009-10 team had no seniors with the majority of players being freshmen and sophomores. In hindsight, Summitt said, the loss of one teaching voice had an effect.

"We got better, but I felt like some of our younger players just hadn't quite got it and now I think they're getting it," Summitt said. "I think our two freshmen will help us, and they're going to go through some growing pains, but I think they can help us."

Those two freshmen, Meighan Simmons and Lauren Avant, are making first-year mistakes, but they are quick learners and aren't repeating them for the most part. Both players held up well in the up-tempo two-hour session.

Another player who did well was redshirt junior forward Vicki Baugh, who is coming back from 18 months off the court to recover from two major knee surgeries. Her ability to play defense and run the floor were on display Friday.

"I thought she had a good practice," Summitt said.

So much so that Chamique Holdsclaw, who met Baugh a year ago when the team went to a Dream game, didn't recognize her.

"I was like, ‘Who's that? Wow, she looks good,' " Holdsclaw said. "I know the name but it didn't ring a bell that that was her. Hopefully she can come back and be a bonus for this team."

Another player coming back from injury is sophomore forward/guard Taber Spani, who spent her first season dealing with a painful condition of turf toe and associated complications in her left foot.

She had her left elbow wrapped Friday after injuring it in a conditioning workout designed to simulate pursuit of a rebound. Players who caught the ball got a point, and Spani snared it by diving.

"I got it absolutely," Spani said. "I went for a rebound, the ball was about to hit the ground, so I dove because I wasn't going to get there. It was a one-handed scoop catch."

When Spani got up she noticed she was bleeding and asked a trainer for a bandage, but four bandages later the blood still oozed.

"She saw there was stuff coming out of it," Spani said. "I finished running and then we went over and got it stitched up."

That stuff turned out to be fluid from the bursa sac, which was tucked back in the elbow.

"Part of it came out," Spani said casually but added she was fine. "It's a little sore because of stitches."

Summitt just shook her head when asked about Spani's second injury more suited to a football player.

"Tyler (Summitt) told me about it and I said, ‘What is going to happen, next?' " Summitt said. "That's just who she is, and she comes back. She's tough."

Spani's shot wasn't affected Friday, and she completed the workout. That was good news because of her foot.

"My foot is good right now," Spani said. "The program that I've been on this preseason it's really benefited, and I think when we start (regular and frequent practices) we're going to be smart with it. Right now my foot is great."

VIDEO COVERAGE: Video highlights of Friday's workout:

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