"There's a lot of inconsistency," Pat Summitt said. "I think that's what concerns me. We'll have some great practices, and then we'll have practices in which we aren't as efficient."
With 10 scholarship players and four suiting up for the first time in orange – two freshmen and two junior college transfers – that assessment is not unexpected. The jucos, Shannon Bobbitt and Alberta Auguste, and the frosh, Cait McMahan, have earned raves for their early play, but it's also recognized that they have to adjust to Summitt's demanding style of basketball. The other freshman, Nicci Moats, spent the preseason finishing her recovery from knee surgery last winter and has missed a number of practices for illness and rehab. She shows potential when she takes the floor, but the climb to SEC caliber remains steep for now.
"Really it's more our new players," Summitt added. "It's just a matter of getting everyone in tune with being much more efficient in all of our work. Shannon and Bird (Auguste), they've fit in great, but I think long practices and a lot of repetition they've not ever had to be as focused and just stay with it. What we do is we try to make practice harder than games. I think they'll be fine come game time, but they just need the repetition.
"Nicci Moats is just getting back into it now, but she's got to really understand how important it is when she's not practicing to stay connected with everything we're teaching and doing – look at practice tape – so we don't have what we had today. We had some lapses because of it."
McMahan remains out of practice to recover from arthroscopic surgery on Oct. 20 to clean out her surgically repaired right knee. She rode a stationary bicycle Saturday and is ahead of rehab schedule, but her first game action likely won't come until the season opener Nov. 12 against Tennessee-Chattanooga. The Lady Vols will play exhibition games this Wednesday (Carson-Newman) and next Sunday (Houston Jaguars).
Coaches are always more likely to focus on how their players need to improve, but Summitt also has seen aspects of this team that she particularly likes.
"I like the speed and quickness overall of this team," she said. "I like what I'm seeing from our inside game and our outside game in terms of scoring. I think our offense is ahead of our defense, but I think because of our speed and quickness we can be a much better defensive team and cover a lot more ground. I think we can press more, and it will be more difficult for teams to press us."
The exhibition games will allow Summitt to experiment with her lineups and see which combinations of players are the most effective.
"I think it's a gauge for where we are as a team," she said. "I want to see how efficient we are offensively, where we are defensively, what is our endurance at this point in time of getting a lot of reps in without giving in to fatigue. You've just got to go play to learn all those things. Just assess our offense and our defense and how deep we are. How deep can we go and still be efficient in what we do?"
With a short roster of 10 plus walk-on Elizabeth Curry, Summitt expects to experiment early and often and answer some of the staff's questions.
"I think when we go in that first exhibition we'll be pretty flexible in combinations because we need to learn who can do what and how they play together, and then eventually we'll get to what is our best combination and what is our best substitution or rotation of players. I think that's why you have exhibitions, to see where you are, but also you can take some chances. We can experiment more, and I think you should. At least the first one, the second one you start thinking a little bit more about, ‘OK, what do we want to do in game situations now after the first look?' "
COACHING CLINIC: Scores of coaches were in attendance Saturday for the second day of a clinic by Summitt and men's coach Bruce Pearl. Summitt wore a microphone so the coaches could hear her instructions to the team. She explained the drills and spoke directly to the gathered throng during the session. After practice ended, Summitt stayed on the floor and signed numerous autographs and posed for photos. During the Friday evening portion of the clinic, Summitt held a Q&A with the coaches.
"I enjoy teaching; I really do," Summitt said. "This was a great group of coaches. We talked some basketball. I think they ask good questions. They made me stop and think about is this the best way and why do you do this and why do you not switch on the cross screens or switch or the cross screens or why do you trap. It's good to have to not only think about things but rethink about what you're doing."
RECRUIT WATCH: Top prospects Caroline Doty and Alicia Manning attended practice Saturday. Doty, a 5'10 point guard ranked No. 12 by Scout in the class of 2008, plays at Germantown Academy in Pennsylvania. Manning, a 6'1 forward, is ranked No. 6 in the class of 2008 and plays for Etowah High School in Woodstock, Georgia.