Saturday's two sessions at Thompson-Boling Arena were rather sedate compared to Sunday's single session. The ‘loose ball' drill resembled a fumble on the football field. Two players paired up and scrambled for the ball, which was rolled across the paint by an assistant. Whoever came up with the ball had to drive for a basket while the other player defended. It was required that both players hit the floor, making the drill look like a round of water polo without the pool. Tye'sha Fluker and Sybil Dosty dove across the floor, but the ball squirted loose and rolled towards the scorer's table. They both darted after it and landed under the table. At other times the tussle for the ball resembled wrestling with neither player letting go. When the team drill ended, Hornbuckle was bleeding, and Dosty was limping to the sideline.
The team also practiced sliding into defensive position and taking a charge. Remarkably, everyone emerged unscathed from that one.
After two days of practice, Summitt was asked for a quick evaluation of her relatively young team with three seniors, Shyra Ely, Brittany Jackson and Loree Moore; two juniors, Fluker and Shanna Zolman; two sophomores, Dominique Redding and Sidney Spencer; and four freshmen, Nicky Anosike, Dosty, Hornbuckle and Sa'de Wiley-Gatewood. The team also includes injured freshmen Alex Fuller and Candace Parker and also includes two first-year walk-ons, freshman Abby Canon and senior Aubrey Guastalli.
"The speed of our ‘bigs' - our inside players - is really good and the overall aggressiveness from the guard play as well," Summitt said. "We have a lot of players that can create their own shot. It's just a matter of blending all this talent together. I feel like I need to be like a first-grade teacher. I really need to keep it very fundamental. Repetition is key."
Although Summitt used a first-grade teacher analogy, she said it's as if she has an entire class of gifted students. "At the end of the first practice, my first thought was that we certainly have talent here," she said.
BURNING EARS: The bad news for Hornbuckle is that Summitt is on her at practice. The good news for Hornbuckle is that Summitt is on her at practice. "I love her game. I feel she's very instinctive," Summitt said. "I'm on her because she's a great playmaker, but she has to be able to make plays and take the shots that are there. She's always looking for the next player. That's a good thing, but at the same time I want them all to make the right reads. If you're the first option, and you're open, you've got to knock down shots."
STARTERS AND ROTATIONS: Summitt has always felt that "too much emphasis" is placed on who starts. When asked who might start anyway, Summitt said: "I'm not ready to say who the first five are. Obviously Loree looks good. Sid and Dom both have improved in the off-season, Shanna certainly. I think Brittany and Shyra look good in practice. Fluker looks good. (Anosike) is finishing better every day." The Lady Vols have 11 scholarship players, two walk-ons and two freshmen out with injuries, Alex Fuller for the year and Parker for at least two more months. Summitt was asked how many players she intended to use in a game. "I think I'd be comfortable playing nine," she said. "It just depends on our rotation - an eight, nine-player rotation is something I think that's very favorable."
LEAVING ON A JET PLANE: Parker will be honored Monday night as the high school athlete of the year by the Women's Sports Foundation. She left practice early with assistant coach Nikki Caldwell, who is accompanying Parker to the event in New York. New graduate assistant and former player Tasha Butts helped Parker shop for a dress this weekend for the black-tie dinner. Parker, who is recovering from surgery on her left knee to repair cartilage damage, received detailed instructions about elevating and icing her knee as soon as she steps off the plane.
COACH ON COACH: Assistant coach Dean Lockwood is fitting in just fine on the Lady Vols staff. His energy and enthusiasm rivals that of Caldwell, who is a very vocal teacher on the court. Summitt said of Lockwood: "Great hire. I was just thrilled to bring someone in with Dean's knowledge, his experience, his positive approach to teaching."
PUBLIC PRACTICE: Practices at most basketball programs are closed to the public. Not at Tennessee. Summitt has had a longstanding policy of letting people watch practice. She said her philosophy is partly to teach the team to block out noise and distractions. "You play here, there's a lot of chaos," Summitt said. She also has philanthropic reasons for keeping the doors open. "People that come in here, I trust. I trust the people that I let come into practice, that they're here not as spies, but that they're interested in the program, or they want to learn or they just want to see and get a preview of our new talent and our team," Summitt said. "If it becomes a distraction then I would close it, but we have some longtime boosters that want to watch. And I appreciate that they want to spend three hours and watch our team."
FUTURE LADY VOL: Alex Fuller's little sister, Aliah, 8, was at practice Sunday with her little brother, Alandon, 4. They visited with their big sister while she rehabbed her knee courtside. "I'm going to come to college here, (and play for) Coach Pat," Aliah said. The siblings' mother, Debra Price, said after Fuller made her official visit to Tennessee they returned home with some photos of Fuller with coach Pat Summitt. Aliah, who has taken a liking to the color orange, was looking at the photos and told her mother: "That's going to be me one day," Price said. Price wouldn't have any qualms about entrusting another daughter to Tennessee. Although Fuller's knee surgery was difficult to bear, Price feels better knowing her daughter's physical rehabilitation is in the hands of Moshak. "I feel a lot better. Jenny is just awesome," Price said. "I feel like she's getting top-notch care right now."
MORE SPENCER FAMILY LORE: One of Spencer's older brothers, Scott Spencer, is a senior at Auburn. He often brings a carload of Auburn students to Tennessee's home games and decks them out in Lady Vol T-shirts. They once filled up an Auburn sports bar with about 50 spectators for a televised Tennessee game. A man came in the room and asked if the TV could be changed to "something other than women's basketball," according to Janice Spencer, the mother of Scott and Sidney. Scott told his mother, "All 50 of us turned around and looked at that guy." He quietly left.
PRACTICE OBSERVERS: It's not unusual for coaches and players from area schools and colleges to be at practice, but they are usually from Tennessee or somewhere close by. But on Sunday the front row seats in Thompson-Boling Arena were filled by a team from Hillsdale, Michigan. Hillsdale College assistant coach Tracy Bruno said the Lady Chargers lost the use of their gym this weekend because of a school fund-raiser so they decided to go on a retreat to Camp Summitt in Knoxville. Lockwood, who previously was the head men's coach at Saginaw Valley State University in Michigan, was very familiar with the Division II program and spent time chatting with the coaches and players after practice. Pat Summitt also welcomed the guests and talked with them.
"If you're going to be laid back, I'm going to be crazy."
-Pat Summitt to her team when asking what type of personality they would take.
"I like that Sid." -Assistant coach Holly Warlick to Sidney Spencer after she ran from half-court to applaud Shanna Zolman's effort diving for a loose ball. Spencer, who was not a part of that drill, helped up her teammate.
"Who's bleeding?" -Several Lady Vol players after blood was spotted on the baseline. It belonged to Alexis Hornbuckle, who cut open her knee diving for a loose ball.
"If the ball goes out of bounds, let it go. Don't go off the court." -Summitt, after Sybil Dosty banged up a knee diving for a loose ball that had dropped off the court.
"She can't score from out there." -Summitt to Dosty, who was guarding Fluker during a full-court press drill and had her played too tight. Fluker was about 35 feet from the basket.
"I can shoot from out there." -Fluker's laughing response.