Warlick ready to resume work

Coach Holly Warlick chatted with the media at the conclusion of the women's basketball season. Go inside with InsideTennessee for the latest on the Lady Vols.

The 2012-13 women's college basketball season officially ended this week in New Orleans with the completion of the Final Four – Connecticut tied Tennessee with eight national titles, resulting in gracious remarks from both Pat Summitt, whose head coach emeritus title comes up for renewal on April 30, and Geno Auriemma, whose Huskies beat two Big East teams in New Orleans in Notre Dame and Louisville in the final season of that conference's existence.

"Congratulations to Geno Auriemma and the Connecticut Huskies on a remarkable season and an eighth national title," Summitt said. "Geno is a proven champion and a leader in our game. My best to him, his family, his team and staff."

"The only person I compare myself to is Pat Summitt and to be there in that spot with her means a lot to me," Auriemma said. "The fact that I tied Pat Summitt's record puts you in the category of the greatest women's basketball coach that ever lived."

The first question Holly Warlick was asked Wednesday during her session with the local media was about Tuesday's national title game. She complimented UConn and noted Summitt had done the same. She also was asked if there was any talk of renewing the series. Warlick said no.

If the two teams are to meet next season it would have to be in Nashville, the site of the 2014 Final Four. The fact that the game's showcase event is in the Volunteer State will be a driving force of motivation, beginning in the off-season.

"It's huge. It's huge for us. It's been a goal for us," Warlick said. "It was a goal for us this year, and we came up short. We'd love to be in a Final Four in our home state; that's going to be our goal."

Warlick fielded a variety of questions from the media from being honored with the Spaulding Maggie Dixon Rookie Coach of the Year award (she wants to live up to its expectations) to the WNBA draft next Monday (she expects both seniors Taber Spani and Kamiko Williams to get drafted) to getting prepared next month for a motorcycle ride to Panama City, Fla., to raise money for her an and LSU coach Nikki Caldwell's breast cancer awareness foundation, Champions for a Cause.

"We are going to Panama City for their big bike week the first week in May and trying to raise some money," Warlick said. "There's probably a little bit more awareness (generated) when we ride on motorcycles, so we're going to continue to do that.

"We'll meet up with Nikki, as she comes from Baton Rouge."

Even though the season officially ended for the Lady Vols last week and for the sport on Tuesday in New Orleans, Tennessee will get back to basketball quickly.

The coaches next week will hold off-season individual workouts – a standard practice in mid-April – and end them before final exams begin in May. All nine returning players will return in June and stay for the July session, too. That hasn't been the case – all returning players stay for both summer terms – in a long time.

"All of our kids are staying this summer," Warlick said. "It's an exciting time to look to the future and rebuild this team. I wish we were starting tomorrow with practice and starting a new season."

The team will be joined in June by incoming freshman Jannah Tucker, who, along with the returning players, will be allowed eight total hours a week of court instruction and conditioning/weight training while enrolled – two hours with the coaches in groups of up to four players and six hours with the strength and conditioning staff.

Tucker, who missed her senior season in high school to rehab after ACL repair, also will remain on campus in July, so she will have a full summer with the staff.

The two newcomers from Oregon, Mercedes Russell and Jordan Reynolds, have later graduation dates and can't enroll until July.

"All three of those will have a major impact for us," Warlick said. "They'll give us depth, they'll give us some energy, and they are extremely talented young ladies."

With the coaches now allowed to work with players in the summer, Warlick is not inclined to allow the Lady Vols to participate in a summer basketball league such as the Rocky Top League, which held games in 2010 and 2011. Warlick did say she would be willing to discuss the possibility with staff and organizers, but she was leaning towards not having her players participate, the ACL injury to Williams in 2011 among the reasons for concern.

"I am concerned with injuries," Warlick said. "I am open for discussion with them."

Warlick is thrilled about the new NCAA rule that allows coaches to have court access to the players during the summer. The sessions are intended for individual instruction – defensive schemes and offensive packages aren't installed – with an emphasis on fundamentals.

"It makes a huge difference for us," Warlick said. "We treat the summer now like a spring. Us being together and bonding early is a big, huge step of staying together."

Warlick was asked what she wanted the nine returning players to work on during the off-season. These were her replies.

Senior Meighan Simmons: Ball handling and defense.

Juniors Cierra Burdick, defense, ball handling; Isabelle Harrison, add strength and get healthy; Ariel Massengale, get up shots, (the sophomore said in Oklahoma City that she needed to gain confidence, especially in late game situations, and Warlick said, "I think getting in the gym will help her in all aspects."); and Jasmine Phillips, get in gym and loft shots.

Sophomores Bashaara Graves, continue to work on shooting range, perimeter defense; and Jasmine Jones, ball handling, consistency in expanding shooting range, defensive skills already in place; and Nia Moore, get stronger, shooting reps. ("Nia is like Izzy was after Izzy's freshman year," Warlick said.)

Redshirt freshman Andraya Carter, rehab, stay healthy, get basketball repetitions, conditioning after missing last season.

Carter had season-ending shoulder surgery last December but showed in practice and in games that she has natural leadership skills. Warlick will rely on Carter for just that this summer.

"Just being around our team in a basketball setting on the floor," Warlick said.

A year ago, Warlick was just starting her first off-season as a head coach, as Tennessee made the transition from 38 seasons of Summitt at the helm. She had to hit the recruiting trail immediately and also find two assistants.

This April Warlick will once again hit the recruiting trail, but her staff is in place. With the departure of Spani and Williams, Warlick is now looking for a team leader, and it doesn't have to be just the lone senior in Simmons.

"We've got to find more consistent leadership from this group, since we lost Taber and Kamiko," Warlick said. "We're going to see who steps up and emerges. I think it is important that we stay together and we build a bond with each other."

Warlick described auditions for leaders as "wide open," and it will be a topic among staff and players. She does have Carter in mind already, though.

"I think Andraya is going to play a huge part in it," Warlick said. "I don't care if she is a sophomore. It doesn't make any difference to me. It makes a difference on how she is going to lead the team and who is going to follow."

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