Alicia Manning brings grit to court

Alicia Manning grew up with two older brothers, and their idea of play time was to jump off the roof of the porch and onto a trampoline so that they could dunk on their basketball goal. That sense of adventure has served the senior well on the court.

Alicia Manning, a 6-foot-1 forward, is the youngest of Virginia and Jeff Manning's three children. Her older brothers, Michael and David, were her source for fun, especially when it came to sports, when she was growing up in the state of Georgia.

They did set a few limits when it came to football.

"My brothers never let me play tackle with them," Manning said.

But she was close enough in age — David is a year older while Michael is four years older than his sister — that they allowed her to join them for some other games.

"We used to practice dunks," Manning said.

The trampoline assisted those efforts and was also the middle prop when they decided to jump from the roof and into the swimming pool.

Manning has been just as fearless on the court for Tennessee.

"Her rebounding, her defense is where it starts for her," Assistant Coach Dean Lockwood said when asked what the staff needs from Manning this season. "Be able to score midrange and in and getting fouled. She has a really good knack, because she is physical and not afraid of contact, to get fouled."

Manning smiled when asked about her tendency to get hit.

"I guess I have a high pain tolerance," Manning said. "I feel like if you initiate the aggressiveness then you establish who you are to the opponent. I'd rather be the one to be the aggressor rather than being the one being aggressed, of course."

Manning has absorbed her share of blows. The side of her face was clawed in a game against LSU during her sophomore year, and her eyebrow was split open in a summer league game in 2011. In 2010, she sprained her ankle in a scramble for a loose ball while working a basketball camp.

She spent two weeks this preseason with a modified hard cast on her left thumb and wrist after her thumb deflected a hard pass that she broke up while playing defense. She didn't miss a single practice session.

Pat Summitt has described Manning as blue-collar, hard-nosed and gritty, all of which are high compliments from the head coach.

Manning also has another admirable attribute — she has checked her ego at the locker room door.

"I believe she is all about the team," Lockwood said. "Every player has an ego. We all have egos. I think her ego is not such (that she has to be a focal point). "I think she is OK knowing, ‘You know what? You're guarding a three right now. We need you to guard a four.' And then all of a sudden, ‘Now, we need to go be a great screener.' She is OK doing that stuff. She prides herself on doing those things that don't show up in a box score. Her ego is plugged into that."

Manning was a standout at Etowah High School in Woodstock, Ga., and a McDonald's All-American. It is not an easy process to shift from star to role player, but Manning has made the adjustment.

"I've always had the mindset you have to do what's best for the team," Manning said. "You have to be unselfish. Obviously sometimes it is hard to separate your ego just because for so long you've been the top athlete and the top person on your team etcetera.

"It's not just about scoring. In that aspect that is what my role became and I had to accept that and go with it and be the best for my team."

Manning cited the book the team is reading in preseason called "Good to Great," which examines the tipping point for businesses that went from solid to outstanding.

"It really stresses having the right people on the bus but (also) having the right people in the right seats on the bus, meaning each seat has a different role," Manning said. "I want to play after college obviously, and my role might change on another team."

Manning's versatility will help her at the next level. She has split her time at Tennessee on the perimeter and in the paint. Her preference is to face up, but she is learning to play on the blocks, too.

"I like facing the basket," Manning said. "As a post, especially being a smaller post, you have to really be creative in the post if you're small. I can drive, penetrate or kick."

Manning has logged a lot of minutes in preseason drills with the true post players in Vicki Baugh, Glory Johnson and Isabelle Harrison, and the glass-crasher does see a big benefit to playing in the paint.

"It always gives you a rebounding advantage," Manning said.

Tennessee's four-spot players — those at power forward — also fill a versatile role and are not rooted to the blocks. They can initiate the offense, as Candace Parker did, from the top of the key.

"I really like the new offense we're putting in where it gives me more versatility," Manning said. "What we struggled with last year (in terms of assist-to-turnover ratio) I think that has a lot to do with shot selection, too much standing around on offense.

"(We need) more ball movement, getting a great shot, not just a good shot. It is looking good. I am excited about it. It's more up-tempo and instinctive. Not just structured. Now it's like, ‘We're going to give you guys the blueprint of it, and you can make your move out of it.' "

It's a system that intends to take advantage of the speed and athleticism of the post players. Johnson, Baugh and Harrison don't have tremendous size and none is a true big body in the paint. They are, however, capable of running the floor with the guards. The versatility of the posts helps that type of offensive system work.

"I think it does," Manning said. "Vicki Baugh can take the ball from coast to coast. Our posts are faster than we have been in the past.

"I think it's how the game is evolving. You've got to be able to run."

Manning also will earn her court time on the defensive side of the ball. She was eighth on the team in minutes played per game at 16.5 last season but third in steals at 41, just behind team leader Johnson at 50 and Shekinna Stricklen at 46.

The team's best on-ball defender is Johnson. The second best is Manning with Baugh, now back from two ACL surgeries, inching closer each day.

"Who are our two most versatile defenders right now?" Lockwood said. "You could make a case for Vicki certainly. Glory is number one. A-Town has to be right there. She and Vicki are neck and neck. And Izzy is getting there. What she (Harrison) doesn't have that Vicki and A-Town have is that physical presence. Those two, you're not going to move them. They're going to bump with you."

That, of course, is the difference between a freshman, who has been on campus a few months, to seniors, who have been in the weight program for three years.

"There you go," Lockwood said.

Manning readily accepts the challenge. She could be matched against a post or a guard.

"I love it," Manning said. "I've been put in that position. I accept the challenge and study what that player does. You can tell who you're going to end up guarding by the (scouting) tape."

Manning has to be careful not to let her aggressive nature work against her when she is asked to guard a quick player on the perimeter.

"She is so aggressive sometimes," Lockwood said. "She will come out and her foot placement, her angle, because she's so into, ‘I'll take you on,' she's got to be a little bit more aware of her angles and placement. Now (with proper angles), her toughness, her versatility, her strength works for her, not against her.

"If she is on the court she is probably guarding the second-best player defensively a lot of time," Lockwood added. "She's got to be a good defender for us."

Lockwood described the process with the team as a whole as the coaches finding switches that are ready to flip in order to bring the entire system online.

Manning's switch is labeled defense and rebounding, along with the ability to hit midrange shots and get to the rim and get fouled.

"There are levers with this team," Lockwood said. "She's a lever for us. She's gotten to a point where she wants this team to do well and she is willing to do whatever it takes.

"I trust her. I trust her to go out there in those situations and not be caught up in herself or her numbers but being caught up in what the team needs. We have complete faith in her there."

PRACTICE REPORT: Freshman point guard Ariel Massengale continues to participate in all non-contact activity at practice, such as shooting, passing and dribbling drills. She also is on the court for shell versions of the offensive and defensive systems in both the half and full court scenarios. Massengale is held out against the male practice squad to avoid any contact, as she remains under the program's concussion protocol since a blow to the head on Oct. 10. … Former Lady Vol Angie Bjorklund worked out with the team for a portion of practice Wednesday. Bjorklund, who is from Spokane Valley, Wash., is living in Knoxville while she undergoes rehab on her foot with Jenny Moshak, the team's chief of sports medicine. She intends to play overseas this winter. … The team is off Thursday. Coach Pat Summitt and senior post Vicki Baugh will be in Hoover, Ala., on Thursday for SEC Media Day. The team will return to practice Friday and Saturday. Jordan Adams, a 6-1 guard in the class of 2012 from Irvine, Calif., is expected to make her official visit this weekend. Andraya Carter, a 2012 guard from Georgia already committed to Tennessee and a friend of Adams, also is expected to be in town. The Lady Vols get a second day off this week on Sunday.

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