The opening day of practice always draws a batch of local media, but the national presence was due to Summitt's revelation last August that she had been diagnosed with early onset dementia and would continue to coach the Lady Vols.
Summitt was honored this week by the United States Sports Academy as its 2011 Mildred "Babe" Didrikson Zaharias Courage Award recipient.
The Courage Award is presented annually to an individual who demonstrates courageous action in overcoming adversity to excel in sport. Summitt received an honorary doctorate from the academy in 2008.
At Wednesday's session in Pratt Pavilion media members from print, television, radio and Internet lined a side wall for the two-and-a-half-hour session with boom mikes hovering overhead for the national media's audio needs. But the players weren't fazed by the scurrying of media members along the sidelines and didn't get distracted.
"Being at Tennessee you're going to get a lot of attention, not only at the games but at practice," fifth-year senior Vicki Baugh said afterwards. "It means nothing. We still come out and mean business. That is why we ignored the cameras.
"We are out here to work. It's not about the presence of the cameras. It's about coming together as a family and doing what we know we can do on the court so we can be successful."
Practice resumes Thursday at Pratt Pavilion – with sessions also scheduled for Friday and Saturday with a host of recruits expected to be in town – and a sense of normalcy should return. The national media will return to New York – a tentative air date for the Summitt feature is Oct. 21 – and the media numbers will shrink to the ones that regularly cover practice throughout the season.
Wednesday's session certainly didn't seem like preseason as a veteran team ran precision drills with the three freshmen, Ariel Massengale, Cierra Burdick and Isabelle Harrison, not forcing any slowdown.
The Lady Vols worked on all facets in crisp segments – at least the first two hours – from defense to transition offense to rebounding. The session opened with an eye-hand coordination drill involving tennis balls and basketball, and Burdick excelled in that drill.
Fatigue crept in for the final 30 minutes, and the ball got too loose – the players did pushups and sit-ups afterwards for missed layups and turnovers – and the coaches ratcheted their intensity in response. The session ended with shooting drills, including treys from the new arc – it has moved back a foot to 20 feet, 9 inches, a distance that Shekinna Stricklen didn't seem to even notice as she was a tad farther behind the line and still repeatedly swished the net.
Summitt was a constant presence on the court or under the baskets and would speak to players one-on-one and to the team as a whole. After practice ended, the players held their weekly book club session with the staff. They are reading and discussing, "Good to Great," a nonfiction account of tipping points for successful companies and the decisions and actions that led to the next level. The players pair up and present chapters for discussion.
Nine players practiced Wednesday. Junior guard Kamiko Williams remains out after ACL surgery on her left knee last July, and junior guard/forward Taber Spani had left elbow surgery to clear out scar tissue and is expected to be out three to four weeks. Both were in attendance Wednesday with Spani getting sideline treatment and Williams roaming the sidelines as an observer.
The only player on the roster who has been to a Final Four is Baugh, who won a national title as a freshman in 2008. Baugh is one of five seniors on the team – she has already graduated and is taking master's courses – and the players are using the preseason to set the tone.
"We hold our freshmen to a high standard, especially this year because we have so many seniors," Baugh said. "They've been able to adjust fast. I think they've been doing great, and they're going to be a big help to this team.
"They are going to step up in a bigger role. They are all very talented. They are going to be playing and will contribute right off."
Holly Warlick before practice:
Shekinna Stricklen before practice:
Meighan Simmons before practice:
Ariel Massengale before practice:
Practice clips from opening day:
Alicia Manning after practice:
Pat Summitt after practice: