Shekinna Stricklen SEC preseason POY

Shekinna Stricklen was thrilled towards the end of last season when she got a text message from Tennessee's media relations chief that the SEC Player of the Year needed to call the office so a press release could be issued about the news. Her response to being the league's preseason POY this fall was much more muted.

"I didn't know about it," Shekinna Stricklen said while sitting on the court and putting on her basketball shoes a few minutes before practice started Tuesday at the arena. "I've got to stay focused."

Stricklen smiled, and that was about the extent of the senior's reaction. The 6'2 guard/forward from Morrilton, Ark., was elated last season when she got the news about being the 2011 SEC Player of the Year, her first nod for the conference's top individual honor. The preseason nod recognizes her past accomplishment, but Stricklen has to earn it again in 2012.

"Exactly what you said," Stricklen said. "It doesn't mean anything until you actually do it. It feels good to get the pick, but nothing means anything until you show people that you deserve it."

Stricklen's nod came from a preseason vote of media who cover SEC women's basketball, and she received 16 of 22 votes. She also was selected for the All-SEC First Team and was joined by teammate Glory Johnson (three votes for POY), a forward from Tennessee; LaSondra Barrett (two votes), a forward from LSU; and guards Jasmine Jones of Georgia (one vote) and A'dia Mathies of Kentucky.

The All-SEC Second Team, as voted by the media, was: guards Meighan Simmons of Tennessee; C'eria Ricketts of Arkansas; Valencia McFarland of Ole Miss; and posts Sarah Watkins of Arkansas and Stephanie Holzer of Vanderbilt.

Tennessee was the unanimous choice to win the conference.

"I honestly think it would be a slap in the face if we didn't get picked," senior forward Alicia Manning said. "We've done it the past two years. … Obviously I know we have to prove ourselves."

The predicted order of finish was: Tennessee, Georgia, Kentucky, LSU, Vanderbilt and Florida in the top half followed by Arkansas, South Carolina, Auburn, Alabama, Mississippi State and Ole Miss.

The Lady Vols went 31-1 in the SEC in the regular season over the past two seasons and won the 2010 and 2011 conference tourneys.

Stricklen, who was also a 2011 State Farm All-American, averaged 12.8 points and 7.3 rebounds per game last year. She lined up at positions one through four over the course of the season and against Arkansas on Jan. 30, 2011, she played all five, even getting some repetitions at the center spot. Stricklen finished that game with 26 points and was 6-9 from behind the arc.

The media's prediction that the Lady Vols would win the conference again was certainly expected.

"We went undefeated in the conference last year," said Stricklen, who then outlined the team's personnel, including the loss of "a really good shooter in Angie (Bjorklund), but we've still got a few that can fill her spot, Taber (Spani), Meighan. Vicki (Baugh) is back."

Tennessee also must adjust to the loss of Kelley Cain and her nearly 60 percent field goal percentage – after the Auburn game last season, Coach Nell Fortner asked when Cain would graduate – so the Lady Vols have shifted the post attack from the classic back-to-the-basket approach at center to the hybrid style of Johnson, Vicki Baugh and freshman Isabelle Harrison.

Harrison has been impressive in preseason with her athleticism around the rim after arriving at Tennessee as somewhat of an unknown in terms of early impact. Cain, who had 12 boards, nine points, three assists, three blocks and three steals against Auburn last season in just 22 minutes of play and denied the Tigers entry into the paint when she was on the floor, opted to forego her fifth year of eligibility because of chronic hip and knee pain and graduated last May, welcome news it would seem for Fortner.

"We've got some good freshmen," Stricklen said. "And you have five seniors. That's a big deal this year."

SEC Basketball Media Day is this Thursday in Hoover, Ala., with Coach Pat Summitt and forward Vicki Baugh in attendance to represent the Lady Vols.

Thursday will be an off day from the court for Tennessee, but the Lady Vols held a fairly lengthy session Tuesday that started with film study and ended with scrimmages against the male practice team.

In between was a continued emphasis on defense, especially trapping and pressure, along with dribbling, passing and shooting drills.

Freshman point guard Ariel Massengale participated in some of the drills but was held out of any that could involve contact. Massengale suffered a concussion Oct. 10 and has been reintroduced slowly since getting cleared for some activities. She has been very engaged in the on-court teaching sessions and appears to be well on her way back to good health, although Summitt said Tuesday that the process would not be rushed at all under the program's concussion protocol.

Although the first exhibition game is less than a week away on Nov. 1 with another scheduled for Nov. 8, the regular season doesn't begin until Nov. 13 when Pepperdine comes to Thompson-Boling Arena, so Massengale has time to catch up on the court before it counts for Tennessee.

The Lady Vols will practice again Wednesday.

VIDEO COVERAGE

Shekinna Stricklen interview on Lady Vols website

Tuesday practice clips

Coach Pat Summitt


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