Cierra Burdick eager to help team

Cierra Burdick fielded media questions after practice Thursday, smiled during the process – her default position seems to be one of being perpetually upbeat – and then bolted for the other end of Pratt Pavilion to get in extra shots with an assistant coach.

The 6-foot-2 freshman forward from Matthews, N.C., took a brief seat on the basket support for the interview but she hasn't shown any signs of fatigue despite lengthy practice sessions compared to high school and a week packed with court work and strength and conditioning sessions.

"It is going well actually," Cierra Burdick said. "I am a little sore from that two-a-days yesterday but just running up and down got the lactic acid out. I am pretty much used to the time of the practices just because USA it was two-a-days and each practice was about three-and-a-half hours.

"Thankfully that got me ready for what I would experience here."

The two sessions on Wednesday were a 6 a.m. strength conditioning session with Heather Mason followed by classes and then the official start of practice in the afternoon.

Burdick again credited USA Basketball with getting her ready for college workouts that could otherwise overwhelm a first-year player in duration and intensity.

"USA got me prepared to put so much time in the gym," said Burdick, who played for the U19 team this summer with fellow freshman Ariel Massengale, her second stint for the red, white and blue.

"This is more team-oriented, more skill, more break down the offense. With USA Basketball we relied on nothing but running and defense. It helped me out a lot because when I come in here I have a lot of wind. It's just easier for me to get up and down the court.

"These practices focus more on the individual, as well as the sound fundamentals of the team. USA definitely got me conditioned."

Thursday's session lasted a little over two hours and finished with full court scrimmages against the male practice team. Burdick showed the ability to line up on the perimeter – she already has ball handling skills – and still be able to maneuver inside to loft close-range shots and get on the boards.

Burdick's versatility should allow her to log minutes for Tennessee this season on the perimeter and in the paint. Fellow freshman Isabelle Harrison will do her work inside as she provides backup to the senior post players – Vicki Baugh continues to impress everyone and had a tip-in stick-back of a teammate's miss after darting from the high post – and has shown a willingness to work on both ends.

The third freshman, Ariel Massengale, showed that the process of easing her into the point guard spot shouldn't be a lengthy one. During her first possession, Massengale directed a wing player to the spot she wanted her and then set up a screen play for an open jumper.

She also pushed the ball in transition and on one breakaway drew contact when a male practice player stepped up to stop her – he was getting set to take the charge but then moved back at the last second – adjusted in the air with the ball and hit the left-handed layup. Her teammates erupted at the apparent and-one play but Assistant Coach Dean Lockwood called a charge and was heckled – not by the players but by the other coaches.

Massengale didn't flinch or even change expressions and scored the next time down the floor by getting to the rim. She also took a wing feed from Baugh – who pulled down a defensive board and initiated the break by dribbling past the half-court line – and fed Glory Johnson with a pass for an in-stride layup.

It is the style of play the Lady Vols will need to play this season as they will line up without a true center – Baugh and Johnson are natural power forwards – and one the staff has emphasized in preseason.

"It was good to see how we all came together and played," Burdick said.

Burdick knew how athletic Baugh was before the knee injuries. Add the freshman to the growing list of people impressed by Baugh in preseason.

"People better watch out," Burdick said. "Vicki is grabbing the rebound and taking it coast to coast like a point guard. She looks great out there. She is healthy, and it shows."

Tennessee does want to run this season and that begins on the defensive end, the toughest part for the freshmen to learn but they have shown an aptitude and, more importantly, the desire to work.

The first two days of practice have been advanced sessions with specifics on offensive and defensive schemes. That is the luxury of a senior-laden team, but the three freshmen will need to contribute this season, and they aren't making their teammates wait on them.

"Just focus and just wanting to be the best that we can be," Burdick said. "We don't want to be known as the freshmen that are holding back the team. We don't want to be known as, ‘It's OK. You're a freshman.'

"We want to be known as, ‘You're a freshman but that means nothing right now.' Class doesn't matter. It's all about getting it done."

The team has two more sessions scheduled this week on Friday and Saturday – six recruits from the classes of 2012 and 2013 are expected to be in town – with Sunday being a scheduled off day.

For freshmen, practicing for several days in a row while also balancing school, mandatory study hall and conditioning workouts is as much a mental challenge as a physical one.

"Just come in prepared and focused," Burdick said. "I think with the long span of the practice I think just holding your focus from beginning to end is the toughest part."

Burdick still had something left in the tank after practice Thursday. She joined Johnson and Lockwood for an extra session of post work and midrange shots.

Burdick's ease of transition so far has likely been aided by her upbeat personality and state of perpetual motion.

"When I am in between these lines – even when I am outside the lines – I have to keep going," Burdick said. "I hate sitting down. I just love the positive attitude that's within this gym."

VIDEO COVERAGE

Lady Vol practice clips + Sport 4 Peace, which brought players from Iraq to meet the team and coaches after the session ended. The same group, in conjunction with Global Sports Partners, had arranged for Iraqi girls and coaches to attend Pat Summitt's basketball camp in 2009.

Holly Warlick


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