Lady Vols practice while recruits watch

The traditional official start of basketball practice felt like just another Friday for the Lady Vols as they took the court nearly two weeks ago under a new NCAA rule. It was more notable for Tennessee that three recruits from the class of 2011 were watching on the sideline with their parents during the session at Pratt Pavilion.

Recruits Cierra Burdick and Ariel Massengale, who are already committed to Tennessee and attended with their mothers, and Elizabeth Williams, who remains undecided and attended with her father, are in town for their official visits this weekend.

The three players are close friends, and they were all smiles during the practice as they talked among themselves. Two other Lady Vol recruits, Andraya Carter (2012) and Kaela Davis (2013), who both already have committed to Tennessee, were expected to arrive later.

Burdick rarely was without a basketball in her hands and frequently stood up, appearing to be anxious to get on the court. That is not allowed while the coaches are present, but the recruits can scrimmage with the current team once the staff departs. The Lady Vols return to practice Saturday so the recruits will have another opportunity to watch the team in a controlled practice setting.

Coach Pat Summitt can't discuss any recruit until after the LOIs are inked – the first chance is in November during the early signing period – but she did conduct interviews about practice.

Both Summitt and freshman guard Meighan Simmons were dealing with head wounds Friday. Summitt got scraped accidentally in the face by Sadie, one of her Labrador retrievers, and has been sporting some bruises and an abrasion on the right side of her face. Simmons got struck by a male practice player during a full-court drill and was pulled from the court about halfway through the session.

Jenny Moshak, the team's chief of sports medicine, said the initial diagnosis was a concussion and she would automatically be placed under the concussion protocol adopted by Tennessee. The earliest she would be allowed to return is Monday, but that is dependent on her passing assorted mental and physical tests. She was able to leave the court under her own power.

Simmons, along with fellow freshman Lauren Avant, continue to impress the coaches in the practice sessions, and Summitt had plenty of positive remarks about the pair.

"They are obviously two very talented guards," Summitt said.

The freshmen have blended rather seamlessly with the veteran team – and neither hesitates to ask questions at practice, something the coaches emphasized early – and despite the calendar falling in mid-October, the sessions are advanced in terminology, drills and scrimmages.

"I think that overall we are more focused, I think we are more committed, and I think they're holding each other accountable as teammates," Summitt said. "When that happens and they take ownership I think that's a lot better than the coaches having to come in every day to remind them what they should and should not do."

The voice of Assistant Coach Mickie DeMoss can be frequently heard during teaching sessions. DeMoss relocated from temporary lodging to her new house this week, so she has settled in in Knoxville.

"It's like she never left. … She finally got moved into her house so maybe she'll be focused on the court now," Summitt teased, before adding, "She is very focused on helping us win."

Had the Lady Vols opened practice Friday, as was the case in past years, they would be using the entire weekend to take the court. But since sessions already were held on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, with Saturday on the schedule, too, this Sunday will be a day off.

"I want us to be smart and not overdo it," Summitt said. We've got to take days off."

The players also appreciate getting a weekend day off since they don't have class and can sleep later.

"I think they need that," Summitt said.

VIDEO COVERAGE: Pat Summitt spoke to the media after practice. InsideTennessee.com has video clips.


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