Lady Vols back to practice

The Lady Vols returned to practice Monday wearing new workout gear with their names and numbers on the jerseys – Coach Pat Summitt said she liked the look – and although at times the players looked like they had taken four days off, the staff still was able to fill the two hours with advanced drills.

The earlier start to official practice has allowed the staff to get longer looks at various players in different positions, and several got repetitions at point guard with Alicia Manning and Taber Spani continuing to work inside and out. The two guard/forwards will have to help with post depth for at least the early part of the season while Alyssia Brewer, who rode some on a stationary bike Monday, recovers from Achilles tendon surgery.

The presence of Spani on the court was a relief to Pat Summitt.

"She makes a big difference," Summitt said. "You're talking about somebody that's skilled and that can really force people to come out behind the arc. She's doing a much better job I think of playing off the bounce and getting to the paint, pull-ups. She's got a good basketball IQ."

Spani, a sophomore sharpshooter who can also set up in the high post, had missed two sessions last week after tweaking her left knee. Jenny Moshak, the chief of sports medicine, had said the four days off for fall break would be beneficial for Spani, and it was.

"A-Town and I are pretty similar," Spani said. "We are guards but when we do play the four, and we're going to be called on to play the four because of our numbers, the coaches tweak it. Our four is like an extended version of our three where we can pop out.

"A-Town plays to her strengths. She's got the short corners, the drives, and from the top of the key. I enjoy it at times because I can pop out and shoot a three when there's a post on me, or I'm quicker than most of the posts so I can drive by them. I think the way they're doing it they're really playing to our strengths."

It took awhile for the team as a whole to get in gear Monday, and Summitt noted the need for more communication, in particular.

"They didn't play well together," Summitt said, referring only to Monday's session. "Our communication wasn't there. If that breaks down everybody does their own thing."

However, she also noted that the vocal leader typically emanates from the point guard spot, and several players were getting looks there Monday, including Briana Bass, Kamiko Williams, Lauren Avant and Meighan Simmons, along with incumbent Shekinna Stricklen.

"I think (it matters) as far as who's on top of the floor when we come down," Summitt said. "I think probably the point position is key for us right now to find at least two or three people that want to be there and know how to make good reads, therefore leading to good decisions. We don't always have that."

Assistant Coach Mickie DeMoss has diversified the offense, and the various point guards were running sets suited to their skill sets. For example, Williams ran plays intended to take advantage of her ability to create off the dribble either for herself or a teammate.

"She's better when the ball is in her hand," Summitt said.

Summitt said Bass very much remains in the mix at the point position, and she has looked noticeably improved as a junior.

"Bree is in there," Summitt said. "It's just a matter of when we start playing if size is a factor. She's got to play to her strengths."

Redshirt junior forward Vicki Baugh continues to perform well in practice as she gets re-acclimated to the basketball court. She knifed through the lane past two defenders and finished at the rim, while, most importantly, landing on two feet.

The coaches have called Baugh a difference maker and it's apparent every session why she has earned that designation.

"Immensely," Spani said when asked how Baugh's presence changes the team. "Her work ethic and her athletic skill and she's got some guard skills in her, and you can definitely see that. You can't replace athleticism and even though she's come back from knee surgeries she's still got a ton of athletic skill.

"She's going to help us tremendously. You really can't replace a 6'4 person who can basically jump with Glory (Johnson). That's crazy."

Another player who has impressed the staff is freshman guard Meighan Simmons. The game of fellow freshman Lauren Avant, who committed to Tennessee at the age of 14, is well known to the coaches. Simmons was a late target after a scholarship opened up when Cait McMahan's ailing knees forced her to take a medical scholarship to finish her degree, which she completed last May.

"Meighan Simmons looked good," Summitt said. "She's so light on her feet. She's got a real good feel for the game. She has fit in extremely well. I think her basketball IQ is very good."

Simmons skipped out of practice to get ready for a session with Heather Mason with a smile on her face. She has been a very energetic and upbeat player on and off the court.

"When you've got a freshman like that it's very encouraging," Summitt said.

The Lady Vols will practice five days this week and take off two, including Tuesday. With the volleyball team back in town, the basketball team will now move back to Pratt Pavilion on Wednesday.

The practice sessions will continue to be advanced this week but with an eye on overall development of the first and second-year players.

"Adding plays but we're trying to move at a pace not to overwhelm any of our young kids, especially the two freshmen, but also making sure Kamiko is starting to understand things," Summitt said.

The players wore matching blue jerseys and shorts that were cut like uniforms, instead of cotton T-shirts and mesh singlets, though a few players wore T-shirts underneath the jerseys as they would usually do in a game.

"I like them," Summitt said. "Those are good-looking. I like them a lot."

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