Lady Vols officially open basketball practice

After the first official practice of the 2005-06 basketball season, coach Pat Summitt was talking about flowers. And she was smiling. The Lady Vols sweated through a two-hour up-tempo practice that saw the introduction of defensive intensity (a first), a Candace Parker dunk (relatively routine now) and was witnessed by a large crowd of several hundred who filled the lower seats along the sidelines.

After completing their session at 9 p.m., the players hustled to the locker room to get showered and get home. They will return to the court at 10 a.m. Saturday morning for another two-hour session.

The fans that attended Friday evening were treated to about 90 minutes of stellar play with offensive efficiency, defensive intensity, superb passing and sharp shooting. The last 30 minutes were a little ragged as the sweat-soaked players began to fade during the non-stop session.

"I think for the first hour and an half, they looked great. Intensity was there. They just really were sharp," Summitt said after practice ended on a court now named for her. "I said it's kind of like a flower that is blooming. It just looks beautiful and all of a sudden it's looks like the sun's shining too much, and it starts to wilt a little bit. I thought that's what we did the latter part of practice."

She was smiling as she talked and was obviously pleased with both the team's performance and its focus.

"I'd like to say the intensity level is always the same when you walk on the court, but it's not the truth. Today is the official practice," said redshirt freshman Candace Parker, who was drenched in sweat afterwards. "The first game is within reach. We're just excited. I think we stepped it up and brought it to another level. Defense was introduced today. That stepped up practice."

The fact that Parker was on the court, along with redshirt freshman Alex Fuller and true freshman Lindsey Moss also brought a smile to Summitt's face. Last year, Fuller and Parker were recovering from knee surgeries when practice began and missed the entire year. Before the season ended, two more players, Sidney Spencer and Sa'de Wiley-Gatewood, would also be lost to knee injuries.

On Friday, only sophomore Sybil Dosty was held out for treatment of a strained quadriceps muscle. She did rehab and exercises on the sideline.

"It's the way you hope you start every year and end every year," Summitt said. "Hopefully we can stay healthy. It's great to have them on the court, along with Lindsey Moss, who's our only true freshmen. The addition of those three is obviously I think a strong addition to this team. It makes an impact to have the players of their caliber on the floor with this team. Candace has a great presence. I think Alex has really stepped in and blended in nicely with our post game. Lindsey gives another outside points threat from the three and off the dribble. It's a nice mix."

Spencer showed no ill effects of her absence from the court, and Wiley-Gatewood, who must still nurse her left knee through patellar tendonitis, was electrifying for the first 100 minutes of the 120-minute practice and then iced her knee for precautionary reasons as she will have to do periodically all season. She ended the session on the sideline with an ice bag on her knee and a huge smile on her face.

Wiley-Gatewood elicited audible reactions from the crowd with her passes, including a no-look feed to the post, and her penetration drives to the basket. One of the best matchups in women's college basketball will never take place in an official game this season because they're teammates. Wiley-Gatewood and her roommate, fellow sophomore Alexis Hornbuckle, go against each other in practice. The defense is smothering, and they're evenly matched. At the end of each encounter, they're smiling and congratulating the other.

"They really compete against each other," Summitt said. "And when you have that every day – and they're competing with the intensity they're competing with – it's healthy. It's more game-like than anything, as opposed to just going through the motions and not taking the challenge. I think for both of them they're just stepping up and trying to be the best they can be and go against each other."

Other highlights for the fans were a Parker dunk and the emergence of Dominique Redding as not just an excellent shooter but a playmaker and vastly improved defender. Several fans took photos of the floor, which features The Summitt signature logo underneath the redone Tennessee lettering at center court. The Power T and Lady Vols symbols are now permanent logos on the floor along one sideline.

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