Team first for Glory Johnson

HOOVER, Ala. – Lady Vols junior forward Glory Johnson was operating on little sleep Thursday but she aced her first SEC Media Days with insightful answers, anecdotes and a sense of humor. Tennessee was the first team in the media room – Pat Summitt and Bruce Pearl both were surrounded at their tables – as they exchanged compliments from across the carpet.

Tennessee Coach Pat Summitt inadvertently set off an Internet/sports talk radio controversy when during a series of questions from the media about recruiting rules, gray areas and violations - with Bruce Pearl surrounded just across the room by another throng of reporters – Summitt said, "I've never compromised at all and I wouldn't and if I did, they should fire me. I've been there too long."

Summitt's point was that she had been entrenched in her job for so long and was so immersed in NCAA rules – the Lady Vols' compliance department has historically asked its coaches to follow not only the letter of the laws but the spirit, too – that a major NCAA probe should result in her dismissal.

The reaction back in Knoxville went viral on the Internet with her remarks interpreted as saying that Tennessee should have fired Pearl, whose program is under a significant NCAA investigation.

Summitt then went on the offensive to defend Pearl and clarify that she was talking about herself.

"I wasn't even talking about Bruce Pearl," Summitt told The Sports Animal, one of the most popular sports talk radio networks in the Tennessee region. "It never entered my mind. … By me saying that, I was talking about the women's game. Seldom do you see that (recruiting violations in women's basketball)."

"I didn't have Bruce Pearl on my mind. I probably had Connecticut on my mind. There's a reason we don't play them."

That helped to defuse the Pearl situation but ignited another Internet conflagration.

Summitt ended the UConn series after the 2007 game – a win for Tennessee in which Candace Parker dunked in Hartford, Conn. – and has steadfastly refused to renew it despite periodic pressure from various quarters to do so, primarily ESPN commentators and the national media. The teams have yet to meet in the postseason since the series ended with Tennessee winning national titles in 2007 and 2008, and UConn taking the crown in 2009 and 2010.

"I love me some Pat Summitt," Pearl said in a video interview with on Thursday. Pearl has also been a staunch defender of Summitt after the series ended and went on ESPN Radio this past summer to say that since Summitt didn't like UConn Coach Geno Auriemma, he didn't either.

Once that brouhaha was settled among the Knoxville media, SEC Media Days went on as usual in an all-day event that brought all 12 men's and women's teams to the Wynfrey Hotel near Birmingham, Ala.

Junior forward Glory Johnson represented the Lady Vols while junior guard Scotty Hopson represented the Vols. Hopson, who is from the state of Kentucky, was teased by the media for wearing a Wildcat blue shirt. Pearl was in an orange tie.

Johnson made her debut at SEC Media Days and handled herself with aplomb, sharing stories about a team dinner last month with the 2008 national title team in which those champions told the current players how much confidence they had in them and about how her father initially didn't want her to go to Tennessee but now is happy that she did.

"A lot of people knew he wasn't for me going to Tennessee and now he loves it," Johnson said. "He is glad that I am here."

Johnson's father, an engineer, had been working for NASA in the Maryland area, but he has returned home to Knoxville after getting a new job. Johnson's next step is to get him to a game. In the past he had not shown much interest in sports and preferred that the focus be on academics.

"He doesn't like to see me hurt," Johnson said. "I fall on the floor a lot, and he doesn't like to see that. He does watch them on TV and that's a plus, because he used to not be into it."

Johnson also has moved home this fall – her house is about 15 minutes from campus – after her sister went on to graduate school in the state of Kentucky. The two had been living in an off-campus apartment together while both attended Tennessee.

"She left me," said Johnson, with mock hurt feelings, who now lives with her parents and two dogs, Diesel, a Chihuahua that was a Christmas present from sister, and Diego, a Chihuahua/terrier mix that Johnson adopted.

Johnson also provided mature responses when asked several times about starting versus coming off the bench – Summitt has already said she anticipates subbing Johnson behind Kelley Cain and Vicki Baugh because of lack of post depth in case one or both of them get in early foul trouble – and she said she was ready to do whatever her team needed.

"It doesn't really matter if I start or I'm coming off the bench," Johnson said. "I know that I can help my team in a big way. However I can help my team is what I plan on doing, whether it's scoring or playing defense.

"Minutes are minutes, whether you have one minute or you have five. Do something once you get there. I want to be in the game whenever my team needs me in the game."

Daedra Charles-Furlow, the team's director of character development, had mentioned to Summitt that Johnson would be a good candidate for SEC Media Days because it would underscore that she was a vital player whose team was counting on her this season.

"We spoke a little bit about that on the plane," Johnson said of the flight with Summitt to Alabama. "I know that I need to be there for my team, and I need to help my team in any way possible whether she's telling me that or whether someone else is telling me that or my teammates tell me that. I should be telling myself that. They need me right now."

Johnson has started off strong the past two seasons and then faded towards the end. She said as a freshman it was fatigue, and as a sophomore it was a late slump. Tennessee expects to contend for the national title this season, and the Lady Vols need the athleticism and defense of Johnson, especially since post depth has taken a hit with the upcoming transfer of Faith Dupree in December and the Achilles tendon injury of Alyssia Brewer.

Summitt did say at Media Days that a likely date for Brewer's return would be the first of the year. That would coincide with the start of SEC play.

In other injury news, Summitt also relayed via Jenny Moshak, the team's chief of sports medicine, that freshman guard Lauren Avant had a nerve contusion of her right hand and was listed as day to day. Summitt expressed hope that Avant would not be out for long, but a timetable was not yet known. Avant, who had the hand heavily wrapped after a fall, had to leave practice Wednesday and was evaluated medically on Thursday.

Johnson was all smiles Thursday despite a serious lack of sleep. She was up late Tuesday night working on a paper – she also saw redshirt junior forward Vicki Baugh in the library in the wee hours – went to bed at 2 a.m. and then got up at 5 a.m. Wednesday for a conditioning session. That was followed by classes and then afternoon practice, a nutrition meeting and then an evening class until 7:45 p.m. She stayed up late again Wednesday night to study, went to bed at 1 a.m. and then got up at 5 a.m. Thursday to meet Summitt at 6 a.m. for the ride to the airport to fly to Alabama.

Johnson's day at least was going to be done Thursday, unless the plane landed back in Knoxville in time for her to attend a religious studies class.

"Sleep-wise, yes I am," Johnson said, when asked if she was hurting at the moment. "But I'll make it."

She then fielded an assortment of questions from the media, starting with being in Hoover, and facing cameras and reporters with print, Internet, TV and radio for two hours.

"I am a little nervous, but I am honored to be able to represent the Lady Vols and represent my team," Johnson said. "I am really excited and honored to be here."

Johnson also has bought into Summitt's decree that she become the team's best defender. The 6'3 athletic forward – she said Thursday she was closer to 6'2 – can guard any player on the floor, much as former Lady Vol Nicky Anosike did.

"Pat is always on me to be her defensive stopper, and that's what I've been working on," Johnson said. "I've grown to love defense and being able to work hard. She's instilled that in me, and I try to share that with my teammates. The love that I have for defense, I want everyone to love it like that … being able to do the dirty work on defense to get the ball back to your team.

"That is what I love the most. Being on the boards all the time rebounding. I don't mind guarding a guard. I don't mind guarding a post. Just keep my feet moving. I think I can do either or. … Whenever they're quick, you have to be twice as quick. Knowing your personnel. Are they left-handed or right-handed?"

Summitt is on board as long as Johnson doesn't commit fouls far away from the basket that take her off the floor.

"I know that I can do it," Johnson said. "It's just watching my hands and watching for reaches. I always keep my feet moving. That's a plus. I am not too much worried about how quick a guard is compared to myself. I've just got to make sure I keep my hands back and not reach."

Johnson almost sounded as if she were channeling Anosike, a gritty player for Tennessee who was a big reason why the Lady Vols won back-to-back national titles.

Anosike and the rest of the 2008 national title team – minus Parker who was in Los Angeles after knee surgery and unable to fly yet – were honored during the Vols game against UAB in September and afterwards those players went to a restaurant with the current team for a festive evening.

"We had dinner with them and talked about what they did in comparison to what we did, what we can't let happen and what they did not let happen," Johnson said. "It's our turn to show people that we're at Tennessee for a reason. We're the Lady Vols.

"And the prior Lady Vols have shown that they were there for a reason. We've just got to show them what we can do. What they expect us to do, we can do."

The current and former players got a back room at the restaurant so that the gathering would just be among the Tennessee family – the players often are asked for autographs and photos when they eat out, but that evening they needed to be together and talk privately.

"We had a great time," Johnson said. "We talked a lot about how we played and what we can do. They know what we can do. They were 10 times more confident than we were.

"They, along with so many other people, have so much confidence in us and they expect us to do so much. If they didn't think we could do it they wouldn't tell us we could. If they are confident about it we should be just as confident, if not more. They think that we could do so much better and they thought we should have still been playing (last season), at least have gotten to the Final Four."

The former team took on big sister roles that evening for the current Lady Vols. There was no curfew so it was a late and laughter-filled evening.

"We were together the entire night," Johnson said. "Big Nick and (Shannon) Bobbitt, they are two funny people. Big Nick is huge and she always looks like the mama doing attitude. She is hilarious. She is a character. We had so many funny conversations, but at the same time we got so much out of it. I think it built our confidence up."

LADY VOL VIDEOS: The Tennessee Lady Vols website has videos posted from SEC Media Days. Glory Johnson talks about how she and Vicki Baugh dunked in pre-game warmups in the 2008-09 season.

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