Tamika Catchings practices with team

Former Lady Vol Tamika Catchings was in town to visit with Coach Pat Summitt and practiced with the team Tuesday at the arena. Go inside with Inside Tennessee to hear from Catchings and for the latest on the Lady Vols.

Tennessee got back to practice Tuesday after a day off, and the players had a Lady Vols legend on the court with them in Tamika Catchings, an All-American, Olympian and WNBA MVP.

"It was great," freshman Ariel Massengale said. "Whenever you're able to have someone of her caliber come back and she is talking to you the whole time, giving you advice, giving you encouragement, it's great to have.

"She was telling me you've got to box out on defense, telling me to take care of the ball and slow down on offense."

Catchings is in town to visit with Coach Pat Summitt (see video below) and also took the time to get on the practice court. It was her first time to play since she suffered a foot injury (torn plantar fascia) in the WNBA Eastern Conference Finals last September.

Still, Catchings, with help from former Vol Bobby Maze, directed the scout team, hawked the ball and helped the Lady Vols get prepared for their next game against Kentucky on Thursday in Lexington.

"Man, I love seeing her," sophomore guard Meighan Simmons said. "When she comes to practice she brings so much more energy. Being able to practice on defense against her, I think that is really going to help me become a better defender.

"I feel like my defense has gotten a lot better, but I feel like that golden nugget right there with her coming to this practice, I think it is really going to help."

It also helps that Catchings is in the ear of the players offering encouragement and advice. She is someone they respect immensely – her No. 24 jersey banner hangs above the arena court – and it's a voice that will penetrate and resonate.

"She brings so much positive energy, and she approaches us in a manner as if she is our teammate," Simmons said. "I think that is one thing that makes it easier on us.

"The coaches, they are our coaches, so they are going to have a strong approach with us. But with her, she's been here. She's been a player. It makes her one of us.

"It's easy for us to understand her, be able to comprehend what she expects and the things that she sees from the outside looking in. I think that is really going to help us as well."

The coaches welcomed the assistance from Catchings and Maze, who present a formidable challenge on the scout team.

"They did some damage to us today," Assistant Coach Mickie DeMoss said. "She just shows how hard you are supposed to play. Even when she is on the scout team, she plays hard.

"Just her love of the game and wanting to play it the right way. I think she exudes that when she is on the floor and talks to the kids, and they look at her and go, ‘Wow, she's still playing hard, and she's in the pros and she's just out here on the scout team.' "

Assistant Coach Dean Lockwood said practice focused on defense and then scoring through contact.

"We did a lot of defensive stuff," Lockwood said. "We did physical, contact layups. We broke down some Kentucky action, and we spent a lot of time cleaning us up, offensive execution, transition offense and defense."

Tennessee had Monday off after the 69-38 win at Arkansas on Sunday.

"I just thought we followed our game plan very, very well," Lockwood said of the Arkansas game. "I thought our players were very tuned in and I thought they did a great job of executing what we practiced. I saw great carryover from our previous two practices to that game. I loved that.

"We pushed the ball well. We ran and took advantage of when we did get turnovers. I thought our starting group played very hard. I thought our second group, especially early, it took them awhile, so that's something that we wanted to clean up a little bit today."

While there was a lot for the coaches to like, the 20 turnovers was a glaring statistic that needed to be addressed.

"Very disappointed in that," Lockwood said. "We turn the ball over (Thursday against the Wildcats), look out. We're making a big deal out of that. We made a big deal at practice. They ran for turnovers.

"We know Kentucky is good. They are good defensively. They are going to get some turnovers. That is going to happen. But if you give them extras, if you're sloppy, careless with the basketball … if you do those kind of things, bad decisions, weak with the ball, soft passes … those turn into points."

Tennessee will practice again Wednesday – classes for the spring semester also begin that day – and then head to Lexington. Ball security will continue to be the theme.

"You break this game down, and it's a game of possessions," Lockwood said. "In basketball possessions are like gold nuggets that you find in the stream.

"Unless you get it back to town and turn it into cash, it means nothing. It will rot in your saddlebag."

VIDEO COVERAGE

Tuesday practice clips

Tamika Catchings


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