Three Lady Vol recruits ink LOIs

Ariel Massengale got her college paperwork signed first Wednesday followed by teammates-to-be Cierra Burdick and Isabelle Harrison as all three inked their signatures on LOIs at their high schools in Illinois, North Carolina and Tennessee, respectively. Once the paperwork gets the standard certification by compliance, Pat Summitt can discuss the trio, but all three are now officially Lady Vols.

"I thought I was official when I said I was coming but obviously now it's really, really official," said Cierra Burdick, a 6'2 forward from Butler High School in Charlotte, N.C. "I was just happy to be able to put my name on the paper and know that I am going to be a future Lady Vol."

Ariel Massengale, a 5'6 point guard from Bolingbrook High School in Bolingbrook, Ill., had her paperwork arrive first via fax Wednesday morning, and she sent a text message with multiple exclamation points to the media to announce that she was officially a Lady Vol.

"She beat me," Burdick said with a laugh. "She's quicker than me on the court and in this process I guess."

Isabelle Harrison, a 6'3 post from Hillsboro High School in Nashville, Tenn., also inked her official Letter of Intent, according to a text message. She could not be reached later Wednesday evening for comment.

All three players signed during ceremonies at their high schools.

"I had a whole bunch of people turn out," Burdick said. "It was great. My dad and my little sisters from Greensboro came down. My dad's mother came. My mom was there and her parents, my aunt and all three of my nephews."

Burdick's ceremony was at 1:45 p.m., and school let out at 2:15 p.m., so she was done for the day. Basketball practice was scheduled for after school, but Burdick was given a one-time excuse to miss the session, and she intended to go out to dinner to celebrate.

"My coach actually gave me today off so I am pretty happy about that," Burdick said. "He said go out and enjoy it."

Massengale returned a phone call shortly after 9 p.m. – and she was just then leaving her high school after practice. She had spoken to Burdick and found out that her friend was celebrating Signing Day.

"She told me she was going out to celebrate," Massengale said. "I'm like, ‘Going out? Don't you have to go to practice?' She was like, ‘My coach gave me a day off.' I said, ‘Oh, must be nice.' "

As a point guard Massengale is used to being the one to set the tone, and she was teasing her friend. The three recruits are very familiar each other, which should help their transition to college.

Massengale didn't waste any time Wednesday making her commitment official. The ceremony at her high school took place at 7:30 a.m., and she sent the papers to Tennessee that morning.

"We did it right when we got to school," said Massengale, who was accompanied by her parents, brother and members of her church and high school basketball team. Massengale's parents, who are both natives of Tennessee, were as thrilled as she was.

"They woke up this morning excited," Massengale said. "They had on their Tennessee stuff. It was a great day for the family to know this is what our future holds."

Like Burdick, the act of signing her name made the decision seem even more real.

"It made it more official," Massengale said. "Verbal is nice. You know that's where you're going but it's not until you sign that dotted line, the dream effect is gone and it's more like in less than a year this is where I will be."

Tennessee's compliance staff has to certify the signed LOI and SEC financial agreement paperwork before the coaching staff can comment on the 2011 recruits. The routine procedure typically takes a day or two to complete.

PHOTO COVERAGE: The families of Ariel Massengale and Cierra Burdick provided photos of their signing ceremonies Wednesday.

Ariel Massengale, seated center, poses with her family, parents Anita and Carvel Massengale and brother Avery Massengale, after signing her LOI at Bolingbrook High School in Illinois and officially becoming a Lady Vol.

Cierra Burdick poses for a photo at Butler High School in North Carolina right before officially signing her LOI and sealing her commitment to play for Tennessee.

PRACTICE REPORT: It was loud at practice Wednesday and not just because a team manager piped in crowd music while the Lady Vols ran offensive and defensive sets.

Pat Summitt also had quite a bit to say after a rather lackluster performance at times during the two-hour session. While she spoke post-practice at the team circle at center court, her voice emphatically made it clear that she was not at all happy with the overall effort. The echoes apparently jarred loose some confetti in the catwalk above her, and it fluttered down while she talked to the team. It was a festive contrast to the seriousness of the moment.

The piped-in noise was done to simulate what is expected to be a loud environment on Friday against Louisville, when the two teams officially christen the downtown KFC Yum! Center. The Cardinals announced Monday that the game was a sellout at 22,000.

"This is a Final Four environment," senior guard Angie Bjorklund said. "We have a Final Four schedule, too, year in and year out. Coach has been able to put together a schedule that is going to prepare us for tournament time, and that's what this game is going to do.

"It's going to be a tough environment. It will be good for us. We'll come together as a team and make sure we're on the same page because the environment is going to be nuts."

Summitt saluted the sellout during her media teleconference on Wednesday morning.

It is amazing," Summitt said. "When I heard it was a sellout I thought, we better be very focused and ready to play. They are going to have a lot of fans and hopefully we will have a lot of fans as well. It is one of those environments that you just can't turn down.

"You have to be excited, if you are a player you have to be excited or if you are a coach you have to be excited. I think on both sides, everybody is going to be very fired up and ready to go. Maybe a few jitters early, but we will have to get past that for sure."

Summitt's complete remarks during the teleconference are available at the Lady Vols website.

Summitt also conducted a television interview before practice Wednesday and noted with this team's increased depth the coaches were putting a premium on effort.

"I think the biggest key is depth," Summitt said. "You had better be careful. If you're not out there busting it then we've got plenty of people sitting on the bench that are just waiting for playing time. If you want to give it away by not playing hard then that is what's going to happen. You're going to be on the bench, and somebody else is going to take your place."

Assistant Coach Mickie DeMoss, who has experience as a head coach and an assistant, was circumspect about Wednesday's session and said she had noticed a pattern.

"This group has not done well after you give them a day off," DeMoss said. "This is not a group that responds well after an off day. They come in rusty. They can't knock shots down. They don't jell on the offensive end. I don't know why but it seems like this group has not responded well to a day off.

"You can't explain it. Now, they'll forget about it and as coaches we always worry, ‘Is this how we're going to show up on Friday night?' But in their mind, ‘Come Friday night, now, we'll be ready to play.' That's how kids think."

The session had some good moments on both ends from several players - including the shooting of Bjorklund and the hustle of Vicki Baugh and Alicia Manning - but the overall energy took too many dips.

"Low energy, and it wasn't everybody, but it only takes three or four to bring the whole team down," DeMoss said.

The team will return to the court Thursday for a walk-through and then travel by bus to Louisville. The Lady Vols will have a shoot-around session Friday in the new arena several hours before tipoff. DeMoss said the coaches' approach would be to put Wednesday in the rear view mirror and regroup.

"Oh, sure," DeMoss said. "We'll do some shooting but mainly a walk-through to get ready for Louisville and then probably get a lot of shooting in Friday at the new arena. You're going to have bad days of practice. You've just got to regroup and stay on course and know what you've got to get done."

SWEAT IT OUT: The Tennessee men's and women's teams are wearing new adidas uniforms this season that are 30 percent lighter and dry twice as fast to help keep the players more comfortable on the court.

"Our 2010-11 adidas uniforms are absolutely cutting-edge with the new breathable material," Pat Summitt said. "They have a sleek look and are the lightest and most comfortable uniforms our team has ever worn. I like having the adidas advantage on the basketball court."

The uniforms are made from 60 percent recycled materials and feature adidas' Formotion technology, which reduces seams and decreases friction between the garment and skin. The front and back numbers were switched from a heavier, dense material to a breathable mesh.

The Lady Vol players' names are expected to be in place under the numbers on the back – there was no room for long names above the number with the racer-style jersey – for the season debut against Louisville.

Senior guard Angie Bjorklund said the jersey should be extra beneficial when the Lady Vols play at Florida. The Gators' gym is known for its sweat-inducing climate.

"That right there I will never forget," Bjorklund said of her first game at the O'Connell Center. "I remember wiping off my hands and them still being wet. That will help. That will be the true test. Anywhere humid that will test it."

VIDEO COVERAGE: Video clips of Wednesday's practice.

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