The class of four addressed every need for Tennessee next season, and Coach Pat Summitt and her staff had sought to sign four – two guards and two frontline players. In addition they got versatile athletes who can play multiple positions. The four had come to Tennessee on official visits together – a scenario that was as much fortuitous as it was planned.
Bjorklund and Smallbone, who are both shooting guards, had committed as juniors. Cain, a center, and Baugh, a forward/guard, were still deciding between Tennessee and other top schools when they came to Knoxville.
"It was good that we had the guards committed so we had two more recruiters," Summitt said. "I think it was good because they were familiar with each other. They talked about coming together."
The players knew each other from AAU events and USA basketball so they didn't need to be introduced once they got to campus.
"Sydney Smallbone had met Vicki and had met Kelley when she (Smallbone) tried out and made the alternate spot on the junior team," Summitt said. "Angie knew them. Angie played in all the AAU events so she knew them.
"We talked about the fact that this would be the best recruiting class in the country. Certainly one of the reasons that we felt like we wanted to sign (four) in this class was the quality of the players that were in it. … There were times when I was a little concerned because we only brought six people to campus and obviously we signed four. I thought we could sign five in the class, but we really wanted four. It just worked out."
Summitt offered the following assessments of the four players in the class of 2007.
VICKI BAUGH, 6'4 forward/guard, Sacramento, California
The Sacramento High School standout began earning national honors and recognition as a sophomore. She has been recognized as an All-American by Street & Smith in 2005 (Honorable Mention) and 2006 (Third Team). She made the USA U18 team this past summer. USA Today selected Baugh as an All-American as soon as her sophomore year. She is a scorer (20 points per game) and a dynamic player in the open floor who runs with guards despite her size. She can play on the wing or in the paint.
"She's a player I watched all summer, just like the others," Summitt said. "She can play multiple positions. The one thing about Vicki is that she just works so hard. A lot of times when you have a player of her caliber, they take a lot of possessions off. Just watching her play this summer and watching her again this fall when we were out there, she directs the team, and she's the hardest worker on the team."
When Baugh called Summitt on Tuesday evening – the eve of signing day – it was after 10 p.m. Tennessee time. Summitt is usually one to turn in early, but she didn't mind waiting up for Baugh to call.
"I was so excited I don't know what time it was, maybe 10:15," Summitt said. "She called and had her whole family on the speakerphone."
Those listening in from Sacramento included Baugh's grandfather, Calvin Baugh.
"He said, ‘Pat, this is granddad. I just want to know if you'll teach me the words to Rocky Top.' I said, ‘Are you ready?' And he said, ‘Yeah!' So I just started singing it."
And Baugh still signed?
"Yeah," Summitt said laughing. "I said, ‘Aren't you glad I coach and don't sing.' No seriously, they were all in the house, her uncles and her grandmother and her grandfather. She told me she was coming to Tennessee. I told her she had to call (assistant coach) Nikki Caldwell and let her sing the second verse. I don't think Caldwell knows the second verse so y'all have to get on to her."
ANGIE BJORKLUND, 6'0 guard, Spokane, Washington
The University High School star first drew the attention of Summitt when she was in middle school. The assist for that early focus belongs to Fred Crowell, who leads Northwest Basketball Camps and has spent his life in coaching. His camps are Christian-based and he travels the country and overseas with players from youngsters to post-college.
"I have to give a lot of credit to Fred Crowell," Summitt said. "He knew Angie, and I had worked with his guys at Baden's clinics. He told me about Angie. She was in the seventh or eighth grade when he first mentioned it. She had gone to his camps quite a bit.
"He said, ‘Pat, I've never told you about anyone, but I'm telling you about this kid, and she's really, really good.' "
When Bjorklund was in high school Summitt dispatched assistant coach Dean Lockwood and associate head coach Holly Warlick to assess her play.
"I had sent Dean out to Arizona to watch her play (in a summer event) and he really liked her and then Holly went back and watched her during the regular season and then she came to our camp," Summitt said.
At that time Tennessee let Bjorklund know that there was a place for her with the Lady Vols. Bjorklund made visits to UConn and Duke and then verbally committed in her junior year to Tennessee.
"There're a lot of dimensions to her game as well," Summitt said. "She's really skilled and shoots the three ball well. She can put it on the floor. She's a good athlete and at (her size) she can play all three guard spots for us."
Bjorklund has earned raves for her court awareness and footwork and her ability to create space to launch her shot. She averaged 20 ppg in high school. She also has earned national recognition – All-American nods from Parade in 2005 (Fourth Team) and 2006 (Second Team) and Street & Smith (First Team, 2006), among other honors, including the Gatorade Washington Player of the Year in 2006.
KELLEY CAIN, 6'6 center, Atlanta, Georgia
Tennessee needed size inside and it got it in Cain, who joins Vonda Ward (1992-95) as the tallest player to sign with the Lady Vols. The St. Pius High School standout, who committed to Tennessee last month, averaged 21.5 points, 10 rebounds and six blocks per game. She was on the USA U18 team this summer and was an All-American in 2006 (Fourth Team) and 2005 (Honorable Mention). She was AAAA State Player of the Year in Georgia in 2006 and made the AAAA All-State First Team in 2004 and 2005.
Summitt said what stand outs with Cain is "her size and her skills." She has excellent hands and can handle passes in the paint that other players her size sometimes struggle to catch and convert. Cain can do both.
"What I saw from her – her last two years in particular – she's just gotten better and better," Summitt said. "It gives us a great presence in the paint. That's (size) something you can't teach. Certainly she's become very skilled. She plays with a great high school team, St. Pius, and also with the (Georgia) Metros. She's playing a lot of basketball, not only during the season, but during the summer.
"She's proud of her height. We went down on a recruiting visit and she brought out some high heel shoes, and I'm not kidding I'd get dizzy if I'd have put them on I'd been so high up. She came out – I guess it was for the prom – and I was like … you talk about someone who is very secure with her size."
Despite that size, Summitt said, Cain can play an up-tempo style of basketball.
"She gets up and down," Summitt said.
SYDNEY SMALLBONE, 5'9 guard, South Bend, Indiana
The St. Joseph's High School star comes from a state rich in shooting guards. Summitt needed only one word to sum up Smallbone: "Shooter." The coach also noted that she was from a state "where people shoot all the time."
The last player for Tennessee from Indiana was Shanna Zolman, who left with the school shooting records for career and season three-pointers and now plays in the WNBA.
"She's just an incredibly dedicated player," Summitt said. "Her work ethic is tremendous. I think all of these players coming in have great work ethic. They love the game. Sydney's specialty is her three-point shooting, but she's really worked hard on her mid-range game. She's got a lot of grit about her."
Smallbone averaged 13 ppg in high school. She made the USA U18 team as an alternate this summer and was hailed as the best shooter in camp. She has earned Street & Smith All-American Honorable Mention honors for three years – 2004, 2005 and 2006.
Summitt and Caldwell went to see Smallbone play at an AAU event in Clarksville, Tennessee and that's when they were sold on her.
"I really liked her game," Summitt said. "I watched her a couple of summers ago. That's when Nikki and I were watching her at the AAUs in Clarksville. I told Nikki then, ‘This is a player that I think would be a good fit for us.' We both agreed."
Summitt smiled throughout the media interview and repeatedly expressed how pleased she was with the entire signing group of four. The coaches believe they got not only top-notch players but quality people as well, because of their work ethic and desire to get better.
"We identified our needs in the class," Summitt said. "We felt like if we could get two guards and two frontline players that we could obviously put together a very successful recruiting endeavor, and we did. The thing about Vicki she can play a lot of positions and Angie can play a lot of positions so I like the versatility of those two, and Smallbone can play one and two. I thought we needed to get some shooting guards in here, and I thought we needed to get size (Cain and Baugh). Obviously with Vicki we're getting a great athlete, a skilled player that plays multiple positions. The versatility that she brings is real strong – it's inside and outside."
Baugh was the final commit in a class that certainly has the potential to cut down nets at Tennessee. She indicated that she decided to join the Lady Vols because she knew of the talent already in place and she knew about the three earlier commitments from Bjorklund, Cain and Smallbone.
"I think maybe in particular in our situation, she (Baugh) knew who she would be playing with," Summitt said. "We only have two seniors so I think she recognized that she would have a core group to join that was very talented. And she wants to win, and I think that probably influenced her – not afraid to come with talented people or join a talented team."
After the phone call from Baugh, Summitt was ready to call it a night.
"I slept great," she said with a big smile.
AP POLL: Tennessee will start the season No. 5 in the AP poll. Maryland, North Carolina, Oklahoma and Stanford were voted into the first four slots. After Tennessee, it's Duke, Ohio State, UConn, Georgia and LSU.
"I thought we might be lower," Summitt said. "You have Maryland and North Carolina and Duke. And then you have Oklahoma and Stanford. That's the big five most people have been talking about. We lose Zolman and (Tye'sha) Fluker. (Shannon) Bobbitt is kind of an unknown. With this schedule it really won't matter. It's not where you start; it's where you finish."
Sophomore All-American Candace Parker wasn't concerned about the team's ranking, and she figured respect would be claimed on the court.
"You know I'm just going to let our play dictate," Parker said. "It doesn't matter where you start; it's where you finish. We're just going to go out there and play as hard as we can. We've fallen under the radar obviously. A lot of teams aren't respecting us so we've just got to earn our respect. It's not like it was before where you were Tennessee, and you just got respect because you were Tennessee. That's not how it is now. There's more parity. We're just going to have to earn it."
DAY OFF: The Lady Vols earned a day off Thursday after going for six consecutives days with either practices or a game.
By the sixth day on Wednesday, practice got a little ragged at times, and the players began to look fatigued.
"They were, but we hadn't done that at all," Summitt said. "Our men have been doing that since they started practice. I purposely did not do that because I felt with our numbers I would cut back a little bit. But I wanted to do it at least one time, and this was the best time to do it just to push through."
Naturally, Summitt ended the practice with a conditioning drill and implored her players from the sideline to go game speed.
"Create a little adversity," Summitt said, again with a smile. "I try to stir the pot up."
Summitt has enough healthy bodies now to mix it up sometimes. When both freshmen, Cait McMahan and Nicci Moats, were missing practice for knee rehab sessions, Summitt was down to eight scholarship players so she was scheduling a couple of more days off so players could recover.
Despite their tired bodies, the players responded Wednesday afternoon to their coach's exhortations to hustle, and Summitt only had to ask once for better execution before she got results. Some teams will either mope a little when challenged while tired or will be incapable of responding correctly on the court because of the fatigue. Not this group.
"They had better not mope," Summitt said. "They'll be on the line."
And for the first time all day, her smile disappeared.