Alicia Manning tenacious on court

Jenny Moshak joked Saturday that she had the best team that day – and with two points guards and basically all of the team's size she did – but the good news is that all but one of them should be back next week and if she's able to smile, the situation is not serious. The others held a scrimmage with game officials with the number of male practice players outnumbering the available Lady Vols.

Tennessee still won the scrimmage, though, as the coaches had Glory Johnson holding down the paint with help from Alicia Manning and Taber Spani, and Briana Bass, Meighan Simmons and Kamiko Williams taking turns at the point.

Manning and Spani showed why Pat Summitt intends to play both of them in the paint – and have them on the floor together at times – as they scrapped for loose balls and rebounds and hit shots. Manning continued her laudatory habit of always pursuing the ball.

On one offensive series, Manning battled a bigger male practice player for the rebound, managed to tip it twice and as the ball was headed out of bounds, Spani ran it down and flipped it backwards to Johnson, who tossed the ball to Bass to reset the play.

Manning and Spani tackle basketball scrimmages and practices like it's football. They play until the whistle blows.

"You have to," Manning said. "You're practicing for a game. I am going to try to get every board in practice so when it comes to a game it's going to roll over."

Manning has two older brothers, Michael and David Manning, and grew up playing sports with them. The experience helped to toughen her.

"I think that and how my parents (Virginia and Jeff Manning) raised me," Manning said. "Hard work can take you so far and just the little things. Carrying that into sports created who I am as a player. That never giving up mindset, diving on the floor, loose balls, all those little things that some people forget about I think are really important."

It also explains why Summitt loves her game.

"I think with A-Town she is just mentally stuff, and she plays within herself," Summitt said. "She doesn't try to do a lot of crazy things on the court. She's efficient, she defends, she rebounds and I think she understands (her strengths). She's got a great pull-up game, and hunts the paint constantly. I just like her mindset, her toughness."

It's hard to keep Manning off the floor – and especially with Alyssia Brewer out until some time in December because Manning can also post up in the paint.

"With some of the posts out, my role has been post slash guard," Manning said. "That worked for me in high school. I had to do the same thing. Whatever the coaches need, doesn't really matter to me, I like either one.

Brewer was one of the five players sidelined Saturday as she continues to recover from Achilles tendon surgery. Basketball-type activities are now being worked into her rehab exercises.

Also on the sideline with Brewer were Shekinna Stricklen, Kelley Cain, Vicki Baugh and Lauren Avant. Cain is dealing with hip discomfort from an earlier practice incident, Stricklen is being treated for quad tendonitis (a condition she has dealt with in the past), Baugh's ACL is fine but she has a tight iliotibial band (fibrous tissue that runs along the outside of the leg from the hip to below the knee), and Avant is rehabbing a hand injury.

That gave Moshak two point guards and the three biggest post players.

"I have a very talented team right now," Moshak said. "We're going to take it day by day, but we're making good progress. Lauren is making wonderful progress and actually so is Lyssi but Lyssi is still a bit aways.

"We've just got to get the others more flexible, more calmed down, get the pain under control, and then they'll be back out there."

The good news for Baugh is that her reconstructed knee is fine. The issues are around the knee as that area of her body gets used to basketball again.

"It's stuff around the knee right now – more hamstring and IT band," Moshak said. "We call that peri-knee symptoms."

Moshak believed the group, minus Brewer, would be back next week, and she said the ailments are not serious.

"I am not concerned about it; it's just unfortunate it's all kind of happening at once," Moshak said. "It looks like we've got this huge ward. I think they'll all be coming back, outside of Lyssi, pretty much roughly the same time next week."

The eight players available Saturday spent the nearly two-hour session in a game-like scrimmage with timeouts and a short halftime. One big difference is the coaches could blow the whistle and take the court if they felt the need at any time to fine-tune or correct.

A class of 2011 recruit took in the action. Cierra Burdick made an unofficial visit with her mother, Lisa Burdick, to watch the action. Burdick, a 6'2 forward from Charlotte, N.C., has committed and is expected to ink her LOI during the early signing period beginning Nov. 10.

The Lady Vol players were loose afterwards and likely looking forward to a day off Sunday. A bowl of Halloween candy was hidden from Moshak while players used their practice jerseys as pouches to carry away the sweets. When freshman Meighan Simmons dropped a few pieces, her teammate pounced on the loose candy as if a piñata had burst.

Staff member Daedra Charles-Furlow, whose nickname is Night Train, came to practice wearing her pinned number from Saturday morning's Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure in Knoxville, which attracts runners and walkers and raises awareness and funds for breast cancer research and treatment. Last October, Charles-Furlow was diagnosed with breast cancer and spent the past year in treatment.

She walked into Pratt Pavilion wearing a pink hat, pink scarf, pink sweatshirt and pink shoes and when the Lady Vol players saw her attire they shouted "Coach D," and made train whistle noises.

Burdick can't interact with the media while on campus until she is enrolled in school, but it should be beneficial that she has watched practice on her unofficial and official visits.

Simmons watched a regular practice session when she made her official visit a year ago and thus Summitt's expectations were not a surprise.

"It's what I expected," Simmons said. "I knew from when I came here on my visit watching them practice I knew it was going to be intense. I think the practices have been pretty good (this preseason). We're just learning from our mistakes and what we need to do to get ready for the next practice. Coming in I think I fit pretty good with the program."

Simmons had some freshman mistakes in the scrimmage, but she also had wow moments, including a drive to the basket that left her defender flat-footed and a deep three from the corner.

"A-Town has taken me under her wing," Simmons said. "She makes me better every day. She is always the first person to talk to me and let me know what I am doing wrong and what I need to do to fix it."

Simmons has found a good mentor as Manning's willingness to work got her in the starting lineup last season. She is among the pool of players to start this season but regardless of whether she's on the floor for the opening tip or subs in during the game, the 6'1 forward should play a significant role.

Manning is one of five true juniors on the roster – Cain and Baugh are redshirt juniors – and that class is starting to hear the clock ticking. At SEC Media Days, Summitt mentioned that it's time for the class to determine its legacy at Tennessee, which, so far, hasn't included a Final Four.

"I think definitely being a Tennessee team anything less than a national championship is unacceptable," Manning said. "We don't want to let our fans down, we don't want to let our coaches down, and we sure as heck don't want to let ourselves down. We are really looking forward to working towards it. It's hard to believe I am already halfway done with my college career. I definitely feel the clock ticking a little faster."

Manning had to rest some this summer after she suffered a high ankle sprain in June, but the down time didn't seem to hurt her development. She has been hitting midrange shots and getting to the rim.

"I hurt it pretty good this summer," Manning said. "It was one of those injuries that linger. It's a long process to get back, but I think I'm there. It definitely tested my patience. I didn't miss that much (in the summer) just because I am a little hardheaded. I got back in there as soon as I could. It definitely makes you appreciate how much work the team does."

It also didn't dampen her desire to play defense, a task Manning actually enjoys.

"I do," Manning said. "It's always been there. I really take pride in my defense. It's you and that person you're guarding and it's that competitive attitude you have to have. I am an extremely competitive person so I take a lot of pride in that."

Like most freshmen Manning was a tad overwhelmed in her first season on campus, but she started connecting the dots in her sophomore season and figured out how to play Summitt's systems on both ends of the court.

"It's one of those things coming in as a freshman you say you know what to expect but you're coming into different coaches and different flow of the game going from high school to college," Manning said. "Learning the system, it's tough. You're constantly trying to think in your mind but now everything comes natural and more instinctive on defense."

The learning curve hasn't been quite as steep for Avant and Simmons, but there's a big reason for that – they have a bevy of upperclassmen to lean on for help. When Manning's class arrived, there was one senior in Alex Fuller, and she had her hands full with 11 underclassmen. During Manning's second year, there were no seniors on the roster.

"Lack of experience really hurt us in my opinion and now we're a veteran team and I am really looking forward to how we use that to our advantage," Manning said.

Stricklen agreed with that assessment.

"They talk a lot more than I did my freshman year, I think because they have older (teammates)," Stricklen said. "When we came in we didn't have that. We only had one senior, which was Alex. I just feel like they're comfortable with us. We got to know them a little before they came."

Stricklen also hears the same ticking sound that Manning mentioned.

"We talk about it," Stricklen said. "We only have two more years left and we keep saying, ‘This is our year. We need to all be on one page.' We know what our weaknesses are and we need to work on that and bring our intensity every game and hold each other accountable.

"When someone is messing up go to that person and tell them they need to step their game up, we need each other and the only way we're going to win a championship is if we all come together and we work together.

"I think we want to leave out of here with a good mark. Freshman and sophomore year haven't been like Tennessee has always been. I feel like it's going to improve."

Avant and Simmons, although they are first-year players, are expected to be a part of that improvement.

"I have to give them credit," Stricklen said. "Both of them are hard-working players. They came in ready to work, ready to learn. They fit in right with us, run the floor really well, they're communicating already as freshmen. That is something it took a year for us to learn, but they come in talking and communicating. That's a big plus."

Manning added, "I think they'll fit in really well. We all get along really well. We don't have any cliques on our team. We've all taken them under our wing and shown them the ropes around campus, on and off the team. I think they're really going to help us, and I'm excited to see what they can do."

The first chance comes Tuesday in the exhibition game against Carson-Newman at 7 p.m. Eastern at Thompson-Boling Arena.

"I'm excited," Simmons said. "I remember on (photo) day putting on the uniform and I was like, ‘I'm here!'

"I am pretty excited. I might have a little butterflies but I think once we get started I think that will be fine."

VIDEO COVERAGE: Video clips from Saturday's scrimmage.


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