Lady Vols basketball practice report

"Dean, you're on." With those three words, Pat Summitt officially opened practice for the Tennessee Lady Vols' 2004-05 basketball season at 10 a.m. Saturday at Thompson-Boling Arena.

"Dean" is new assistant coach Dean Lockwood, who was participating in his first practice of a women's team after a career in men's basketball, including a stint as an assistant under former Tennessee coach Don DeVoe. Lockwood set the team up under one basket and started the first drill: full-court fast break, all passes, no dribble until one player reaches the paint for a lay-up.

The rest of the two-hour practice was devoted to learning offensive sets and the importance of balancing the court with an emphasis on player spacing. Summitt had said before the season started that with four newcomers – Sa'de Wiley-Gatewood, Alexis Hornbuckle, Sybil Dosty and Nicky Anosike – a lot of time would be committed to teaching. The other two newcomers – Candace Parker and Alex Fuller – are out with knee injuries, Fuller for the season and Parker until at least December.

When the emphasis shifted to defense, Summitt's was the primary voice heard in the arena, which had a rock concert-type feel. Because of construction, power was off to portions of campus. An overhead array of stage lights – such as those used at concerts – was raised above the court with cables snaking into the concourse area to a generator hookup. Summitt taught her defensive essentials: no easy passes, contest every shot and block out.

"Bring the heat," shouted assistant coach Nikki Caldwell, and the players responded.

Summitt then moved onto her other area of emphasis, rebounding, and told the team: "We want to be the best rebounding team in America. Period." During rebounding drills, four players crashed the boards on offensive possessions with one player responsible for getting back on defense. On defensive possessions, five players went to the glass.

After practice ended at noon, Lockwood said, "I love the energy of our kids. I love the tempo that they set. I was very impressed with them as a group and how they attacked practice. As coaches we didn't feel a lag or a lull effort-wise. They were boom, boom, boom, ready for the next thing."

Defensive mechanics stood out as an area to work on, Lockwood said, such as "getting through screens on the weak side or closing out in the right way when the ball would be going from help side to a closeout position. Those things we can go back and drill."

Lockwood enjoyed his first official practice with a women's team. "Once the ball went up and practice started, it was players and coaches. It was a lot more cerebral. Sometimes with guys you have to hammer, hammer, hammer to get them where you need to go. With these ladies you just talk them, ‘Hey, we need you over here,' and they're over there."

The second practice session was held at 4 p.m. and again was teaching-oriented. The freshman post players learned defensive footwork inside. The players also learned the nuances of offensive sets with an emphasis on shooting drills. Saturday afternoon's 3-point shooting stars were Brittany Jackson and Loree Moore. Shanna Zolman and Wiley-Gatewood also shot well from long distance.

"It was hard because I wasn't in shape. I just came back," said Wiley-Gatewood, who missed a lot of preseason conditioning while healing up from patellar tendonitis. "The other freshmen said it was what they expected."

RECRUITING NEWS: Brittany McCoy watched practice from a courtside seat. The 5'10 junior guard from Loyola High School in Lincolnwood, Ill., was making an unofficial visit to Tennessee. She was a 2004 Street & Smith All-America Honorable Mention.

PRACTICE GEAR: The players wore a ‘Survivor' style T-shirt at the first practice. A logo on the back said: "Outwork. Outthink. Outlast. No Question."

THE PARKER HOP: Candace Parker did courtside rehab during both practice sessions, including riding a stationary bike and strengthening exercises. Before the 4 p.m. session started and directly after the men's practice ended, Parker shot on a side basket – right-handed and left-handed – without leaving her feet while two staffers for the men's team rebounded for her. After an errant carom off the rim, Parker went hopping on one foot after the ball nearly to center court. The men panicked at the sight of the Lady Vol star-in-waiting hopping free, grabbed her crutches and escorted her safely to the sideline. "I wasn't going to be blamed for that," said one while a group of onlookers laughed. Parker is out until at least December after undergoing surgery to repair cartilage in her left knee.

PARENTS' PRESENCE: Alex Fuller's mother has spent the week with her daughter, who underwent surgery on her left knee Wednesday. Fuller will miss the season and will redshirt. Debra Price, who just moved to Charlotte, N.C., to join her husband and Fuller's father, Troy Price, said the family "knew it was a possibility," but were still "a little shocked" when they found out Fuller needed season-ending surgery. Troy Price, who works for Eaton Corp., was transferred to Charlotte three years ago, but Debra Price and Fuller remained in Shelbyville, Tenn., so Fuller could continue playing at Shelbyville Central and so that she could continue in her advanced high school curriculum. Fuller is a pre-med major who wants to be a pediatrician. Price said she would remain in Knoxville until at least mid-week to care for her daughter by cooking for her and helping her get dressed. "She's spoiled rotten right now," Price said.

The first day of practice coincided with Alexis Hornbuckle's 19th birthday. Her parents, Jerome and Quandora Hornbuckle, made the trip from Charleston, West Virginia, to Knoxville. "She did OK," her mother said after the practice sessions ended. "I think she'll be able to hold her own." Alexis Hornbuckle had noted her birthday also marked the first day of practice and had said she couldn't ask for a better present. "I'm like a kid on Christmas Eve," she said last week. "I haven't been this excited about practice in a long time." Just in case the start of practice wasn't present enough, Hornbuckle's parents also got her some gifts - a necklace with a No. 14 charm (her jersey number), clothes and cash.

Sidney Spencer's parents made the trip from Hoover, Ala. It isn't hard to see where Spencer gets her exuberance after meeting Janice and Steve Spencer. "I think she got the best of both of us," Steve Spencer said. Janice Spencer said her daughter thrives in a structured and disciplined basketball environment. "This is what she wanted to do all her life," Janice Spencer said. After attending one of Pat Summitt's summer camps in the eighth grade, Sidney Spencer was voted "Most Likely to Become a Lady Vol." An assist for Spencer's presence in Knoxville – she was heavily recruited by Alabama – goes to her middle school coach, Carol Chestnut, who brought the entire team to Knoxville for a camp. Chestnut is a "big fan of Pat Summitt's," Janice Spencer said. Sidney's high school coach, Lori Elgin, wanted two things: a state championship (won in Sidney's sophomore year) and a player to be recruited by Summitt.


Inside Tennessee Top Stories