SEC Women's Basketball Media Day

HOOVER, Ala. – Holly Warlick and the other SEC women's basketball coaches made their appearance at the league's media day with the usual assortment of basketball talk spiced with Nikki Caldwell crashing Warlick's media table in what became a riff routine. Go inside with Inside Tennessee for coverage.

Holly Warlick wasn't a newcomer to SEC Media Day at the Wynfrey Hotel. She was there a year ago at Pat Summitt's side in a role she took all season – helping her college coach and longtime mentor.

Summitt, who retired last April after revealing in August of 2011 that she had been diagnosed with early onset dementia – she was in her hometown of Henrietta on Thursday, the same day as the league's annual media event, for a fundraiser for her foundation – remained very much on the coaches' minds in Hoover, and they paid homage to her with their remarks.

"It was all led by Pat," Vanderbilt Coach Melanie Balcomb said when asked about the SEC and the sport's national prominence. "Women's basketball, let's not kid ourselves, we're going to miss Pat being a part of it.

"She grew the sport for us. We need to be disciples and grow the sport for her."

Balcomb, now the second-longest tenured coach in the SEC behind Georgia's Andy Landers, also expects Tennessee to remain in a position of prominence.

"I think Tennessee has built a tradition and reputation and I don't think it will ever lose that," Balcomb said.

It is now in the hands of Warlick, who is a first-year head coach after playing for Summitt and then staying with her on the sideline for 27 years.

"I love the opportunity to follow Pat Summitt," Warlick said. "I've been associated with her, I've played for her, I've worked for her.

"It's a great opportunity for me. It's a challenge, absolutely. I'm blessed to have this opportunity. It's wonderful. I still have Pat Summitt by my side, don't forget that. I think it's the perfect situation for me. It's all I know and it's all I'm going to continue to do."

A transcript of Warlick's remarks is available on the Lady Vols website by CLICKING HERE.

During her time with the media, she discussed her current team – young and inexperienced but willing to work – the expanded SEC with the addition of Texas A&M and Missouri, and the maturation of sophomore point guard Ariel Massengale, among other topics.

"This is her team," Warlick said. "You come in and have the pressure of you're the starting point guard at the University of Tennessee and you haven't practiced one second, that's tough. It's a lot of pressure coming in.

"I think she sees it as her team now. She has the opportunity to lead. I think Kyra (Elzy) and Jolette (Law) have both helped her understand what she needs to do, be more vocal, be more present in things off the court. She was a good leader; we're teaching her how to become a great leader."

The primary backup point guard is freshman Andraya Carter with junior Meighan Simmons also available, if needed. Carter is a true combo guard – she played point and the two spot in high school – while Simmons, who was forced into playing point as a freshman, is better suited at shooting guard and will be especially needed this season to connect from the perimeter.

Warlick was Tennessee's point guard from 1976 to 1980, and she knows that player set the tone for the team.

"How you handle things and how you direct people is how your team is going to go," Warlick said. "If they have a lot of confidence in Ariel, then that's how your team runs. She's been a great leader to Andraya Carter, a freshman that is backup point guard. She's been a huge leader for her. It shows.

"Andraya came from a great high school program, but I think Ariel has really helped her understand what she needs to do."

Warlick praised the entire freshman class for its work ethic – the others are forwards Bashaara Graves, Jasmine Jones and Nia Moore – and she expected at least one freshman to have earned a starting nod at some point over the course of the season That is also because Warlick, like Summitt, won't hesitate to shake up her lineup based on practice performance.

"That makes us work harder," Warlick said.

Warlick handled her first solo media day well. She fielded serious questions, told jokes and embraced the challenge she faces by following Summitt.

"We're a new team, we have new players, new coaches, new goals," Warlick said. "But we still have the same pride. We still have the same tradition. The Lady Vol brand is built on a huge tradition of doing things right, graduating kids, competing at the highest level. That's not going to change.

"We told our kids, we have a baton, we're passing the baton. If you're going to be a part of it, grab it and let's go."

ODDS AND ENDS

RETIREMENT BLISS: Nell Fortner, who retired after last season as the coach of Auburn, attended media day as a reporter, as she will do some television work.

Fortner looked stress-free and rested, and her coaching colleagues noticed, with playful remarks directed at her while she was in earshot.

"She's got that ‘I don't coach anymore glow,' " Melanie Balcomb said.

"Nell Fortner is where we all want to be," Holly Warlick said. "She's got a tan. She's relaxed. (But) I'm not sure her golf game will get any better."

SHE ASKED WHAT?: Because Pat Summitt traveled to Henrietta for her foundation's Thursday evening event, she will miss Friday's practice session. She asked Holly Warlick for permission to do.

It was clear when Warlick relayed the story Thursday to the media that she was still shocked by the request from her former college coach.

"Are you kidding me," said a still incredulous Warlick, who readily granted the request.

Perhaps Summitt had heard about Warlick's reminder to the players that the head coach ultimately has the final say. The team had a 5 a.m. run in preseason – it lasted an hour and, by all accounts, was brutal – for punitive reasons, and sophomore Cierra Burdick said Warlick reminded the team that a democracy wasn't in place. That is vintage Summitt.

"I will say this. We're going to get it right. If that has Pat Summitt in me, then that's awesome," Warlick said. "We don't have a lot of rules but when we don't do things right, there's a consequence. There's always a consequence.

"I wasn't happy with some things so we got up and ran. I just want to make sure that we're on the same page and it's not a democracy. It's how we want to do things and we're going to do things the right way. If we don't, then we're going to figure out how we're going to get it done."

ABOUT THAT SWEAT … Holly Warlick often appeared drenched at post-game press conference last season and sometimes needed a towel to dry off while taking questions.

Pat Summitt, whose icy glare underscored her calm demeanor – though she certainly could erupt, too – noticed the dampness.

"She used to get on me last year about sweating," Warlick said. "She goes, ‘Do you have to sweat on the sidelines?' And I said, ‘Yes, Pat. Because I'm a little bit more active than you. You're older; I'm just a little bit younger.'

"I'm intense. And I probably need to calm down a little bit more. From that aspect. I'm emotional and show my emotion a lot. Good or bad, that's what I do."

LOWER WHAT?: Several SEC coaches were asked about UConn coach Geno Auriemma's recent suggestion to lower the goal in the women's game because of the abundance of missed layups.

That idea didn't get any support Thursday and the looks on the faces of the coaches – mostly amused – indicated they didn't take the notion seriously.

Texas A&M coach Gary Blair defended the intent of Auriemma's suggestions – he also advocated setting permanent regional sites in places likely to support women's basketball to improve attendance – and noted that the 2012 Final Four not selling out in the basketball-fixated state of Indiana was a concern.

Blair, whose team plays Connecticut in College Station, Texas, on Nov. 18, also quipped: "I'm going to raise the rim when we play him at our place. I'm going to raise it to 12 feet."

Vandy coach Melanie Balcomb looked incredulous when asked about the suggestion of lowering the rims. She liked the idea of permanent regional sites to build a following – think baseball and softball in the College World Series – but said her suggestion would be to cut scholarships to 13 and force talent to spread out to different schools and enrich other programs. She noted players that sit on the end of the bench at top programs and rarely play could be contributors to the sport at other schools.

Georgia coach Andy Landers started his remarks by noting that he was a friend of Auriemma's.

"But when he put those remarks out there I didn't get any of them," Landers said.

BLAIR'S BACK: The media welcomed back Gary Blair because he's so quotable and tells a lot of stories – in other words he makes the job a lot easier.

He mentioned dreading playing Mississippi State, which is now coached by Vic Schaefer, a longtime assistant under Blair, first at Arkansas for six seasons and then at Texas A&M for nine seasons.

"He knows every play I'm calling," Blair said. "He knows every signal. I'm too old to change."

Blair, whose team played in the Big 12 before making the move to the SEC this season, told a story about playing Kansas. One of his former players, A'Quonesia "Aqua" Franklin, is an assistant for the Jayhawks, and he noticed her watching him as he flashed hand signals to his team.

He tried to hide his hands inside his sports jacket before signaling the team and then he decided to call the wrong one on purpose. The team ran a different play than signaled and scored, and "Aqua looks down at me," said Blair, who smiled and gave her a hand signal for touché.

SEC ELDERS: It was pointed out to Andy Landers and Melanie Balcomb that they were now the longest-tenured coaches in the SEC.

Landers, who is from Tennessee, began coaching at Georgia in 1980. Balcomb, who is from New Jersey, arrived at Vanderbilt in 2002.

"I'm not catching him," said Balcomb, although it does appear she intends to remain with the Commodores. "It's been a good match with me at Vanderbilt."

"Finally, it's all about me," Landers joked.

He followed that up by noting how much Summitt would be missed. Since Summitt began at Tennessee in 1974, she held that title of elder stateswoman for a long time.

"As we go through the season, we'll miss her," said Landers, who quipped it would be easier for fans to get her autograph now on game day because she will be sitting in the stands.

Georgia plays at Tennessee on Jan. 6, 2013, and Landers expects the same raucous environment at Thompson-Boling Arena as when Summitt was on the sideline.

"You're going to walk out there and the place is going to be full of orange, and the band is still going to play that song," Landers said. "It is still going to be Tennessee."

INSIDE TENNESSEE VIDEO COVERAGE

Holly Warlick

Nikki Caldwell with Holly Warlick

Warlick saw Caldwell approaching her – while most of the media didn't – and changed topics mid-sentence, saying that LSU could be an excellent program if it only had a coach. That alerted the media that something was up, and Caldwell, a former Lady Vol who is from Oak Ridge, Tenn., and Warlick provided the day's entertainment.

UTSPORTS.COM VIDEO

The following is behind-the-scenes video from Tennessee:


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