The returning players and newcomers have been in and out of Knoxville this summer for assorted reasons, including commitments to USA basketball, with some attending first summer session, some going to second session, which begins Monday, and others going to both. The entire team will soon assemble as the start of fall semester – first day of classes is Aug. 22 – is not too far away.
Summitt was recently asked what each player needed to work on this summer and what she expected to unfold on the floor in the fall.
Four new faces will make their debut as Lady Vols in freshmen Vicki Baugh, Angie Bjorklund, Kelley Cain and Sydney Smallbone. There is essentially not a sophomore class since Cait McMahan will take a redshirt year to heal from off-season knee surgery, and Nicci Moats transferred to James Madison. Alex Fuller and Candace Parker are redshirt juniors, though this is expected to be Parker's final season in orange. The senior class is loaded with Nicky Anosike, Alberta Auguste, Shannon Bobbitt and Alexis Hornbuckle.
The country's No. 1 recruiting class comes to Knoxville with high expectations. Preseason polls aren't out yet, but Tennessee will likely be number one. The team will be looking to repeat as national champions and despite only losing one starter in Sidney Spencer, the Lady Vols' 2007-08 strategy should entail showing opponents new looks.
The key to being able to do so is the development of the freshmen.
"We've got two guards in Sydney Smallbone and Angie Bjorklund that can score," Summitt said. "They shoot the ball well."
Bjorklund is a 6'0 guard from Spokane, Washington – the first Lady Vol from the Evergreen state – who is also fundamentally sound. Her passing skills might be even slightly better than her ability to shoot. Summitt first became aware of Bjorklund in middle school.
"Angie can shoot it well, she can score, she's really good off the dribble," Summitt said. "She could play one, two and three but most likely two and three. She's got a great feel for the game, great court vision. She's got a special package."
Smallbone is a 5'9 guard from Grainger, Indiana. With McMahan out for the season, Smallbone will need to learn the point position to back up Bobbitt and Hornbuckle. Summitt has cited Smallbone's work ethic – her nickname is "Psycho" – and her ability to shoot the long ball.
"I like the fact that Sydney Smallbone can play one or two," Summitt said. "She's a good combo guard."
The Lady Vols will have a huge post presence in the 6'6 Cain, who is from Atlanta. Cain is a big body who can score inside and rebound the ball.
"I think Kelley's got size, she's got great hands, she's getting better and better," Summitt said.
The biggest adjustment for a big is conditioning. Cain will need time to get in shape – Tennessee shape – and will spend some summer sessions with Heather Mason, the team's strength and conditioning coach.
"When Heather gets through with her we can welcome her on the court as a different player," Summitt said with a smile.
Baugh, a 6'4 forward from Sacramento, can play inside and outside. Her versatility will give the team more options in the paint and on the wing. She was the last of the four to commit to Tennessee – she decided on the eve of signing day last November – and has been projected as the Lady Vols' next All-American. That's a lot of initial pressure, but Baugh's overall game has that much potential.
"Play three, four and five, very talented, physically strong," Summitt said. "She really plays hard."
Fuller and Parker, who both spent their freshman seasons rehabbing from major knee surgeries, are two more players who create matchup issues for opponents. Fuller can play inside or outside, though her natural position is at the four spot.
"She's got to get better at defending on the perimeter, working on her quickness, going out and playing multiple positions, which she can," Summitt said. "She shot the three ball pretty well, but I want her to be able to put the ball on the floor and attack off the dribble."
Parker, the reigning most valuable player of the Final Four, also has plenty to work on, Summitt said.
"Same in terms of her face-up game, get better with her face-up game, her pull-up jumper, her three," Summitt said.
The presence of Baugh and Cain means Parker will be able to move out to the wing more this season – if Baugh and Cain can provide valuable minutes in the paint – so Parker has to be ready to produce away from the basket.
"I'd like to be able to play her at the three some," said Summitt, who added that depended "on how these two inside players, Vicki Baugh and Kelley Cain, develop."
Summitt wants to be able to go big at times – she has the 6'6 Cain, the 6'5 Parker, the 6'4 Anosike, the 6'4 Baugh and the 6'3 Fuller on the roster – so the newcomers will "have a chance to come in and contribute to our team."
Summitt could feasibly line up Parker, Baugh and Cain at the three, four and five spots in some player rotations. Anosike can play at the four or five positions, and Fuller can play the three or four spots. Hornbuckle and Auguste are both 5'11 at the wing spots and amidst the giants Summitt will rely on the 5'2 Bobbitt to run the show.
"For us to be able to go big and play the way we want to play we'll definitely look at Candace at the three some," Summitt said.
Leadership won't be an issue this season with Anosike and Hornbuckle, who both have taken the reins of the team since they were sophomores. Auguste and Bobbitt now have a year of experience, the value of which can't be understated in the rugged SEC and with Summitt's style of scheduling.
Summitt's expectations for her seniors are clear.
Anosike must "play around the rim," Summitt said. "She has to do a better job of scoring around the rim, scoring in her face-up game, because people didn't guard her in postseason, and she was hesitant, and she doesn't need to be hesitant because she can make those shots. Obviously, she spends most of her time back to the basket in the paint and must be able to score over people there."
Hornbuckle must "knock down shots for us," Summitt said. "Get to the place where she is very confident, very certain in her offensive game so that she can knock down open shots for us. Because she can create a shot for herself or a teammate any time she wants to."
Auguste has to build on her postseason performance. She also needs to be ready for Summitt's expectations that she ratchet up her intensity.
"Alberta was terrific in postseason, but I think she has to bring more intensity to her game, which is what she did in postseason," Summitt said. "She dialed it up. Being better off the dribble and her offensive game, just tightening up her package.
"She's a little laidback, and there's no place for that when you're competing and playing the toughest schedule in the country and trying to win a championship. I've really challenged her. I really stayed on her hard. I pushed her daily. I stayed on (assistants) Nikki and Holly to make her better in our drill work. You've got to demand from her. What she did is demand from herself. It works a lot better when they demand of themselves."
Bobbitt has to be the floor leader. The learning curve is now over.
"I told her you've got to become a little bit more vocal on the offensive end," Summitt said. "You've got to become a better screener, because in a lot of our action she's the screener. She's got to have screen assists for us and continue to create for herself, get to the hole, finish better when she penetrates and then just stay committed on the defensive end."
All the players will also hear a familiar refrain from Summitt all summer.
"I will remind them that championships are won in the off-season," she said.
Hornbuckle was already on board last April, as she talked in the locker room in Cleveland right after Tennessee had won the national title by defeating Rutgers.
"We want it more," Hornbuckle said. "We want it again. It's great to have this feeling, but obviously you want to feel this all over again. Our motivation is still the same. We still want to be the best. We want to go out there and work the hardest and feel like we're not outworked over the summer."
PRATT PAVILION: Pat Summitt and Bruce Pearl had to relocate their offices to the west side of Thompson-Boling Arena while the renovations are underway because their old offices were too close to the wrecking ball on the northern side of the structure.
The head coaches, along with their staff and assistants, filled up the Letterman's Room and although they are squeezed in, Summitt does have a nice view from her office of the practice facility being built adjacent to the arena. It is scheduled for completion in November.
Pearl and Summitt paid a visit to the workers in May.
"Bruce and I went out and had lunch and visited with all the workers, the Galyon and Johnson people and the team they put together," Summitt said. "They're making great strides so it was neat to be able to talk to them and sign autographs for them. We gave them T-shirts, and the guys gave them caps."
SEC TURNOVER: The sidelines of the SEC changed considerably in the off-season with new head coaches taking over at Arkansas (Tom Collen), Florida (Amanda Butler), Kentucky (Matthew Mitchell), Ole Miss (Renee Ladner) and LSU (Van Chancellor).
"The SEC is what it is," Pat Summitt said. "It's always going to be tough coaches and very competitive. Obviously it's hard to see some of them go; it is going to be a little bit different – playing Kentucky and (Mickie) DeMoss not being there, playing Ole Miss and Carol Ross not being there and LSU and Pokey (Chatman) not being there."
Summitt will be entering her 34th season as the head coach at Tennessee. It is a tenure that is rare in big-time college basketball because of turnover, burnout and the pressures to win.
"I think our fans really appreciate the longevity," Summitt said. "I think they appreciate the caliber of players and play."
Summitt said she appreciates the loyalty of the Lady Vol fan base.
"I don't think we can draw as well as we do, home and away, if our fans weren't knowledgeable fans and appreciative fans," Summitt said. "But as much as they might appreciate us we appreciate them as much or more, because at home games it gives us an edge, it gives us a boost when we are on the road to have a lot of orange in the stands."
SUMMER COACHING: Pat Summitt didn't take off from coaching this summer. She took over the Tennessee Heat, an AAU team whose point guard is her teenage son, Tyler Summitt.
"It's fun coaching the guys," Summitt said. "They're from different schools, but the majority of them are from Webb. Tyler wanted me to do it, and I couldn't turn Tyler down. A lot of the parents asked me if I would do it. It's not pressure; it's fun. Obviously you want to win."
A few weeks ago Summitt went on the Big Orange Caravan to Charlotte, N.C., and a fan wanted an autograph with an unusual inscription request.
"Someone wanted my autograph because their son was on the team that beat Tyler and wanted me to sign a picture, ‘You beat me,' so I did," Summitt said. "It was somebody in her family that had played against us, and they had beat us."
Summitt brings her same intensity to the sidelines, but she kept it to herself when she was a parent in the stands.
"I've never yelled at him at games," Summitt said of her parent role. "The only time I've critiqued him he's wanted me to watch tape if we tape the games. I'm there to support him. I'm more of a parent than a coach to him, and I can only imagine how much pressure he feels, but if he does he really doesn't show it.
"I've never tried to micromanage his game and tell him what to do. If he's asked me for an opinion I'll give it to him."
Summitt said she learned that the hard way when a very young Tyler was playing soccer.
"I didn't realize he was the goalie," Summitt said. "I had him running all over the field because he wasn't aggressive enough. He was four years old."
The goalie, of course, isn't supposed to stray too far from the net.
"I didn't know," she said. "I was like, ‘You need to be more aggressive. You need to kick the ball and pursue it.' His coach was upset with him for playing out of position. It's the most-embarrassing moment as a parent in sports. I just backed off.
"I've been around parents that just live through their kids' sporting events. I think that's the worst thing parents can do. Kids feel enough pressure anyway and so having been around a number of sporting events and watched it I never want to behave in that fashion."
NCAA rules allow Summitt to coach her own child in AAU competition, but she wishes the rules went just a tad further.
"Assistants can't help," Summitt said. "I wanted to put my assistants out there and run practice like we do the Lady Vols."