Andraya Carter ready to open season

The Lady Vols will debut Monday evening for the preseason’s sole exhibition game against Carson-Newman. Go inside with InsideTennessee for an interview with Andraya Carter and the latest on the Lady Vols.

One look at Andraya Carter’s Twitter page reveals her approach to the 2015-16 season. The banner photo shows Carter on the bench, her face a mix of anger and profound disappointment. Given her body language – and the teammates around Carter – it’s clear the photo is from the Elite Eight game last season.

Carter will engage fans on social media, and she wanted to be reminded of that moment every time she was on Twitter.

“It’s motivation,” Carter said. “That game sticks with me. When I see it, no matter what hype has gone on on Twitter this season, I am going to see that. That is not going to go away. Good games, anything that goes on this season is not going to nullify that loss until we get there and win it.

“It keeps me humble. Fans are great. They are encouraging, and they get excited about the wins and the team. All of that is great, but we lost last year.”

Carter is a redshirt junior, so she’s starting her fourth year on campus. She already earned a bachelor’s degree and is working on her master’s degree. She played seven games as a true freshman in 2012 before being sidelined to repair her shoulder and take a redshirt year. Former Lady Vol Vicki Baugh, who had three knee surgeries, eventually was called “grandma” by her teammates because she had been around so long.

“I am getting there,” Carter said. “And I used to come up here all the time while I was in high school. I committed as a sophomore and I didn’t take any other visits. I would come up here for games, unofficial visits. My dad would bring me up here all the time, so I’ve really been up here a lot longer than four years.

“So, yes, people are beginning to act like they’ve seen my face longer than they expected to. But it’s a good feeling. I am like a seasoned veteran now, even though I’ve only played two years.”

Carter played in pain last season. She tore the meniscus in her knee in a November game and waited to have surgery after the season ended. She managed to still lead the SEC in steals. While pain management and monitoring wear and tear will always be an issue for any player coming back from any injury, Carter feels healthy to start the season. The redshirt junior, who was limited during the spring and most of the summer, was released to play in August during the Italy tour.

“My knee feels real good,” Carter said. “It’s strong, we did all we could with the surgery, and we recovered properly.”

She will deal with some soreness after practice – and the coaches try to rein her in sometimes – but Carter said her on-court demeanor hasn’t changed.

“Adrenaline is the best medicine for me,” Carter said. “As soon as I get to playing, nothing is hurt. I don’t feel anything. I will dive on the floor. My teammates will be like, ‘Draya, can you not? It’s just practice. Can you relax a little bit?’

“And I can’t. I don’t know how to play any other way. My body is just going to have to keep up with my mind. If I can’t play the way I play, then there is no point in playing. But I feel pretty good. We have tried a couple of different knee braces and are figuring out what’s best – what protects me and what also keeps me mobile.”

Tennessee needs Carter on the court this season. She arguably was the league’s best defender and was, by some estimation, robbed of the SEC award. Carter is expected to be in the starting lineup Monday, along with point guard Jordan Reynolds. Tipoff against Carson-Newman is at 7 p.m. Eastern at Thompson-Boling Arena. The game will be available online.

Tennessee has two freshmen guards in Te'a Cooper and MeMe Jackson, and both should be significant contributors. Both also are making significant adjustments to college basketball, especially with regard to physicality and conditioning. Both have had some peaks and valleys in the early going.

“College basketball is a transition for anyone, even the top players,” Carter said. “In the beginning I don’t think they knew what to expect, especially conditioning and volume and the amount that we do. It was definitely a shocker for them, but they have adjusted.”

Carter’s defense keeps her on the floor for Tennessee – though she knows she has to be an offensive threat, as well – and her eyes widen when asked about the effect of having the 6-6 Mercedes Russell lurking in the paint behind her.

“She is not an excuse to get beat, but she does help us a lot,” Carter said. “I just feel comfortable putting pressure on the ball because I know if I do get beat, Mercedes is probably going to be there to clean it up for me.

“I feel good about everything – on offense and defense. She’s got great hands. She is a great passer. She is a great defender – her strength and her timing, everything has improved. Safety net is probably a great word because we fall back into her.”

Tennessee plays inside-out so the plan is to establish Russell inside at the onset.

“If we get Mercedes going, it’s really going to open things up for us on the outside. We all know that. We want to get her touches. We want to get her the basketball. Her shot, her moves, everything has improved.”

Monday’s exhibition is a trial run and will especially be beneficial for Russell, who last played in the 2013-14 season. Her teammates also will need to get acclimated to having a new inside target and welcoming back Jasmine Jones, who missed nearly all of last season under the concussion protocol. Newcomer Diamond DeShields is not yet cleared to play as she continues to rehab a lower leg injury.

“I am not so concerned about the score, but we are concerned about turnovers,” Coach Holly Warlick said. “What kind of defense are you playing? Are you rebounding? Are you pushing the ball? Those kinds of things.

“That is what we kind of gauge what we want out of it. I think it is good for the fans. They kind of get a glimpse of what to expect.”

Senior center Nia Moore should log significant minutes Monday.

“I think her game has just elevated,” Warlick said. “She has put in the time, has put in the work. She understands our system more. I feel she is playing a little more free and loose. She understands the system, and now she can go out and play the game. I have been the most impressed with her out of any kid we have this fall.”

Carter can appreciate the steady approach that Moore has taken to get to her senior season.

“With Nia, she is just the perfect example of patiently waiting for her time,” Carter said. “She never complained, always did the work she was supposed to do, worked hard and never complained about anything.

“Sometimes, you just have to wait your time and keep working. It shows.”

Andraya Carter video with InsideTennessee

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