MEDIA MOMENTS

The D word is being used. Not defense. Depth. A freshman is setting the tone. Candace Parker will play on the perimeter. Nicky Anosike is the teammate players want in a dark alley. Those were a few of the tidbits to emerge Thursday at the Lady Vols' Media Day.

"Thanks for coming out," Pat Summitt said as she gazed at a large gathering of press on the floor at Stokely Athletics Center.

That's what a national championship will do. It also indicates the level of interest in the four newcomers, who were quickly surrounded by writers after Summitt made her opening remarks and took some questions.

Candace Parker, the reigning Wade Trophy winner and most outstanding player of the Final Four, also had a crowd around her chair throughout the afternoon session.

The players arrived early for the event and then practiced for more than two hours at an up-tempo pace. After practice seven players stayed on their own for extra work while the other three left for evening classes. Summitt said it has been that way since practice started last week.

"I think this team was motivated by winning and not every team is motivated by winning," Summitt said. "Some think they have already arrived, and there's no need to do anything extra."

Summitt used her time with the media to break down the games of the four freshmen, Vicki Baugh, Angie Bjorklund, Kelley Cain and Sydney Smallbone; extol the leadership of senior Alexis Hornbuckle; discuss the intended style of play this season; and comment on last year's deplorable performance on the boards.

"We were the worst rebounding team in the program's history," said Summitt, which must have been particularly galling for a coach that has pounded the ethos of rebounding and defense into her program for three decades. "However, in the championship game Nicky Anosike had 16 boards. Now there's no secret, and my expectations have changed, not only for Nicky but for our entire team.

"We should be a much better rebounding team this year, and we are placing an enormous amount of responsibility on our frontline game to get the job done. We've got to get it done and inside with the size we have there's no excuse for us not being one of the best rebounding teams in the country and in the history of our program. And that's our goal."

That is an area where Baugh, a 6'4 forward, has already earned the coach's praise.

"Vicki Baugh, she's got a nose for the ball," Summitt said. "Maybe right now the most committed player to rebounding on our basketball team. Just watching her play I think she has had an impact on the other players because of how she pursues the glass. She is all over the boards. I love it."

Hornbuckle also drew kudos from Summitt for how she has meshed the freshmen into the team.

"There's always a challenge of trying to blend in the new players with the veterans, especially if you don't have strong leadership," Summitt said. "I have to say Alexis Hornbuckle has done a phenomenal job of taking those players aside and talking to them, just really going over the plays with them.

"To me, that speaks volumes. She wants to win. You talk about competitive. Alexis is one of the most competitive players that I've coached. The fact that she's willing to give to other people and try and help make this process one that's not a difficult transition but something that they can grasp, I'm really pleased with that. She's by far, right now, been the strongest leader on our team."

But Hornbuckle has to become a better offensive player this season, Summitt said, if the Lady Vols intend to repeat as national champions, and the coach minced no words when she talked to the senior guard.

"I told her we won number seven in spite of your offense," Summitt said. "We can't win number eight without you making shots, and she is probably shooting the basketball as well as she's shot the ball since she's been here. That's going to be key for us. She is going to have to make shots, and it doesn't have to be three-pointers. She is one of the best creators."

Tennessee must replace the outside shooting of Sidney Spencer and Dominique Redding, who could fire from long range and stretch the defense. No team ever intended to leave Spencer open last season – if she was open it was a defensive breakdown – and that would open up the inside.

"The loss of Sidney Spencer and Dominique Redding – they were the two outside forces for us in terms of making long range shots – but in my estimation now we're going to ask everyone on the perimeter to be more efficient," Summitt said.

"Angie Bjorklund, I don't want her passing up shots because she's that kind of scorer. I felt like coming out of high school she had the opportunity to come in and play a significant role for us on the offensive end. I also expect Smallbone to do the same thing. I thing Sydney has a chance to be a player that can take some pressure off the inside with her outside game. We may have to do it more by committee."

Summitt also is counting on offense from Alberta Auguste, who performed in the postseason on both ends of the court.

"I think Alberta is shooting the ball a lot better, too," Summitt said. "Last year, she came in, probably felt like she was a freshman in the program, because she was a freshman in the program but with her experience and two years in the junior college ranks I thought she should be better. I probably stayed on her more last year than any player on our basketball team, but I thought in postseason she was a key to our championship run. And we're expecting more from Alberta at the beginning of the year. I don't want her waiting until postseason."

When Summitt was asked if she had any new roles planned for Shannon Bobbitt, who joined Tennessee last year after junior college, and led the team at the point guard spot, the coach said to laughter, "I don't want to mess up Shannon Bobbitt. She did a great job for us last year."

Bobbitt's long-range shots also were key last season, especially in the title game over Rutgers in Cleveland. She has continued to shoot well in practice and, more surprisingly, the 5'2 speedster is getting to the hoop as defenders sag on the bigs.

"She's getting to the paint," Summitt said. "She's getting a lot more penetration opportunities and looking to score more off the dribble. That, to me, probably the best part of her off-season has been being more aggressive off the dribble."

The size inside is considerable with the addition of 6'6 Kelley Cain, a true center from Atlanta.

"Kelley Cain, at 6'6, has got great size, great hands, great presence on the floor, very smart player," Summitt said.

Cain's classmates have done what freshmen don't often do – they have impressed Summitt.

"As I told our Boost-Her Club the other night the good news is they're better than I thought they were," Summitt said. "And they are better than I thought they were. They fit in, thanks to the leadership of our upperclassmen, and they've just really worked very, very hard.

"Vicki Baugh, the upside to her game is tremendous just because of her athleticism and her competitive drive. With Dean (Lockwood) working with those two every day, I've already seen significant improvement. So I think our inside game is going to have more depth, which is going to allow us to shift Candace Parker to the perimeter some, and perhaps Alex Fuller as well."

After discussing the overall talent on the team, Summitt fielded the inevitable question about playing time. But Summitt intends to let this team run the floor and for that tempo of play she will need fresh bodies. She indicated a willingness to go deep down the bench if the players earned the minutes in practice.

"I would not think playing time would be a problem because of style of play," Summitt said. "I would expect this team to press and run, and obviously up-tempo would allow us to play more players. If we play the way I anticipate we're going to play, we'll play easily eight, nine deep, maybe 10.

"Typically, they separate themselves out in practice, and we're going to play to win. We're not going to play to keep everybody happy. It's their job to get my attention every day so come game time I know exactly what I want to do."

The opening game is Nov. 4 in an exhibition match against the USA Senior National Women's Team. That's not an easy way to start any season, even if it doesn't count, but the players aren't taking that approach.

"I'm excited that we're going to play the USA National Team, because this team is very focused now on getting ready for our first exhibition game because of who we're playing," Summitt said. "I know that will be a big challenge for us. But I think just having that, although it's an exhibition game, to them it's a real game. So, that right there has definitely been a point of emphasis and just getting ready to play against some players that have tremendous experience will really test us very early."

Four of the Lady Vols played USA basketball over the summer, and Parker played last month with the senior team in an Olympic qualifying tournament.

"Alexis Hornbuckle and Nicky Anosike played USA basketball in the PanAm games, and they were very instrumental in bringing home the gold," Summitt said. "The two of them had great summer competition as well. Vicki Baugh and Angie Bjorklund played on the U19 game and also won the gold. So in essence we had five players involved in USA basketball.

"I spent three days in New York watching the USA team practice for the pre-Olympic competition. I felt at that time that Candace was probably playing the best basketball I'd seen her play, much more committed on the defensive end. When she came back it was as if she'd never been gone. We gave her time off. She obviously wanted to come back a little bit sooner than I wanted her to, but you have to almost say, ‘That's a good thing. She's ready to go.' "

The players hovered nearby in their practice gear while Summitt spoke to the media but before they could take the court they had to sit in orange chairs and answer questions. Most questions were about basketball, but Media Day also means asking stuff unrelated to the game. Because of the large contingent of press, Media Day ended before every player and coach could answer some offbeat questions, and the ones who were missed will be asked later. But eight players and one coach did offer some insight in between the laughter and serious replies.

NICKY ANOSIKE, 6'4 senior center/forward, Staten Island, New York

If you went trick or treating, what would you wear as a costume: "I would probably be a maid."

On plane fights or bus trips I: "Usually make jokes in the back."

My teammates would describe me as: "Silly, funny."

Best meal you can make: "Shrimp fried rice."

A reality show you would want to be on: "I guess Survivor."

If you could trade places with one person for one day, who would it be and why: "Hmm. Who would I trade places with it? Definitely a star athlete. This is a hard one. There are too many people in the world. An NFL quarterback, probably Vince Young."

Favorite Pat Summitt saying: "Are you going to rebound?"

If you have to walk through a dark and dangerous alley, which teammate do you take with you: "If I'm walking through a dark alley? Why would I be walking through a dark alley? (It's hypothetical.) Who would I take? I don't know. That's a hard one. (Most of them want you. Why?) I don't know. (Are you that tough?) I guess so."

Confidence level going into this season after your performance at the Final Four: "It's definitely starting pretty high, but we can't focus on what we did last season because that's over. This is a whole new team, and this team has never won a championship so we need to start over."

ALBERTA AUGUSTE, 5'11 senior forward, Marrero, Louisiana

Costume: "I'm not going to go trick or treating. (Of course not. But what would you dress up as?) "A devil."

Plane flights and bus trips: "I listen to music."

Teammates describe as: "Bird."

Best meal you can make: "Lasagna."

Reality show: "Flavor Flav."

Trade places: "Bill Gates because he's rich."

If you could go back and witness an historical event, what would it be: "Martin Luther King's speech."

Pat Summitt saying: "Rebound."

Teammate to take with in an alley: "Nicky Anosike."

Biggest improvement on the court since last season: "Confidence."

VICKI BAUGH, 6'4 freshman forward, Sacramento, California

Costume: "Maybe I'll just wear a sweat suit and go as a pumpkin."

Plane flights and bus trips: "Listen to music and sleep."

Teammates describe as: "Great." (Said with a delightful laugh.)

Best meal you can make: "I'm pretty good at instant oatmeal."

Reality show: "Real World."

Trade places: "That's a good question. I would probably trade places with my best friend, Rachel, so she could be here for a day, and I would be in California."

Historical event: "The Martin Luther King march."

Pat Summitt saying: "Rebound."

Teammate to take with in an alley: "I've got to have Cait."

Most challenging part of practice to date: "Memorizing the plays.

ANGIE BJORKLUND, 6'0 freshman guard, Spokane Valley, Washington

Costume: "I don't know. Probably a Ninja Turtle. No, scratch that. SpongeBob for sure."

Plane flights and bus trips: "Listen to my iPod."

Teammates would describe as: "I'm not sure. Hey, Nicky, finish this question. (Nicky offers nothing but a big smile.) Come on. I know you can come up with something. (Still smiling.) We'll skip that."

Best meal you can make: "Cereal."

Reality show: "Probably Survivor."

Trade places: "Probably my mom just to experience a day in the life of my mom."

If you could witness an historical event, what would you go back and see: "Jesus' resurrection."

Favorite Pat Summitt saying: "We had a team meeting and someone asked for different shoes. Somebody said, ‘They just don't do that for any other team.' And Pat's like, ‘Well, we're not just any other team.' That was pretty awesome."

Teammate to take with in an alley: "Anosike, for sure."

Most challenging part of practice to date: "Probably getting used to it being nearly three hours long. I am not used to going that hard that long."

ALEX FULLER, 6'3 junior forward/center, Shelbyville, Tennessee

Costume: "An angel."

Plane flights and bus trips: "Listen to my iPod."

Teammates describe as: "I don't know. Pass. Ask them."

Best meal you can make: "Spaghetti."

Reality show: "The Real World."

Trade places: "Probably one of my parents so I can see what they have to deal with on a daily basis."

Historical event: "Probably the era of Martin Luther King and Malcolm X."

Pat Summitt saying: "Hands high, hips low."

Teammate to take with in an alley: "Nicky."

Biggest improvement on the court from last season: "I think developing my three game a little bit more, shooting the three coming off the dribble and pulling up."

ALEXIS HORNBUCKLE: 5'11 senior guard, Charleston, West Virginia

Costume: "I don't do Halloween. (It's hypothetical.) I really don't know. (Anosike wants to be a maid.) A maid? That's Mama Nicky. (Pick any costume). I might be Superman."

Plane flights and bus trips: "I do a lot of sleeping."

Teammates describe as: "Special."

Best meal you can make: "Shrimp Alfredo. I can't take all the credit. Dom taught me how to make that dish. It's good."

Reality show: "Real World."

Trade places: "Coach Summitt. I would travel. I could go anywhere I want. If I choose to drive I'm not going to get a speeding ticket. I have a lead foot."

Historical event: "That's a good question. (Long pause.) I'm thinking. I'm a sociology major, so there's a lot of history involved in that and social outcomes. I don't want to be back in those days but when the Black Panther movement was happening I would sit back and watch Malcolm X and Eldridge Cleaver. I want to sit back and watch what those guys did and how they handled themselves. Just reading about it you're kind of amazed."

Pat Summitt saying: "I'll think about it. She'll say something in practice and trigger something."

Teammate to take with in an alley: "Nicky."

How does a title team fight complacency: "I think I came into the right atmosphere because nobody on this team is complacent. We're all way too competitive for that. It's never, ‘OK, we won this year so we'll be able to repeat because we have four of our five starters back.' We look at it as we have four of our five starters, but now we've got to throw in another person so that's the chemistry, as well as substitutions, so you've got to mix that chemistry. So we're all trying to get it together and get it right now."

CAIT McMAHAN, 5'4 sophomore guard, Maryville, Tennessee

Costume: "I'm Batman."

Plane flights and bus trips: "I either talk, do homework or listen to music."

Teammates describe as: "Crazy."

Best meal you can make: "Eggs."

Reality show: "Fear Factor."

Trade places: "Probably my brother. He works real hard."

Historical event: "I would like to see Jesus. I want to see him perform miracles."

Pat Summitt saying: "The one that made me laugh was, ‘Cait, I want to lay my head down and go to sleep and not have to worry about what you're doing.' "

Teammate to take with in an alley: "Nicky Anosike (Why are most people saying Anosike?) Look at Nicky! If I have a husband and he's getting crazy, I'm calling Nicky up. I'm not calling the police. I'm calling Nicky."

McMahan had major knee surgery last June and is expected to miss this season and take a redshirt year. McMahan had the same surgery that wiped out the freshmen seasons of Fuller and Parker in 2004-05.

"I am keeping my spirits up because it's life," she said. "I know my purpose with God. I keep happy with that. I am doing great. I am a month ahead of schedule. I'll probably get to run or jump in January. It's kind of frustrating having to watch practice, but it's my teammates and my friends, and they're having fun and they're competing for a national championship so I am happy with that."

McMahan could possibly come back late in the season, but she would rather take a full year off the court to heal.

"I don't want to lose a year," she said. "I talked to Candace and Alex, and they said you're not 100 percent until a year."

McMahan played through pain last season because her mother was terminally ill with cancer, and they both knew her time was limited. It was a lifelong dream of McMahan to play for Tennessee, and she wanted her mother, Teresa McMahan, to see her on the court.

"My mom got to see me play," said McMahan, who has no regrets about playing last season when she knew her knee would likely need off-season surgery and wipe out this season.

Teresa McMahan died last May, and McMahan has spent the time since then focusing on her rehab and coming to peaceful terms with the loss, a process made smoother because of McMahan's deep convictions and faith.

"I'm doing better than last year (after having to) see my mom and what she had to go through," McMahan said. "I'm doing great because I know she's up there skipping around and having a great old time."

CANDACE PARKER, 6'4 junior forward/center/guard, Naperville, Illinois

Costume: "Barack Obama."

Plane flights and bus trips: "Play on my Nintendo DS."

Teammates describe as: "Hmm. Crazy, talkative."

Best meal you can make: "I can cook. Turkey with candied sweet potatoes, green beans and corn pudding. I cooked Thanksgiving last year."

Reality show: "Probably Run's House. I love that show."

Trade places: "Oprah Winfrey because she is the most influential black woman in the world."

Historical event: "Probably to watch my dad play basketball because I've never seen him play. I think that would be hilarious."

Pat Summitt saying: "You can't catch what you can't see unless you catch it in the back of your head." (The point is to keep players facing the ball.)

Teammate to take with in an alley: "Nicky Anosike."

Playing at the three spot more this season: "I got enough of that my freshman year. I was fine with where I was."

This is said with a huge grin. Parker has been wanting to play more on the perimeter since she arrived at Tennessee.

"I'm excited about it," Parker said. "It's a new challenge. But I like the four."

What? Now, she wants to be a power forward?

"I like the four! I like the three!" Parker said with mock indignation. "I like wherever she puts me. As long as I'm playing basketball on the court I'm all right."

Summitt just smiles when this exchange is relayed to her.

"Candace devoted a lot of time to her face-up game," Summitt said. "When I saw her on the floor I knew, one, she was a lot more comfortable off the dribble and, two, she was very comfortable to face up and knock down shots.

"I think it all depends on how games play out. If our inside game, if we're productive and we're establishing a strong inside game without her in there, we've got her as a strong perimeter player. We all know when we need paint points, especially in the playoffs last year, she was our go-to."

Parker practiced at both spots Thursday – the session was held at Stokely so that the media and fans could attend – and showed an ability to both consistently hit outside shots and put the ball on the floor and get to the basket, both in the half-court set and on the fast break. She also moved to the blocks for some possessions.

"She knows we play inside-out most of the time," Summitt said. "Our inside players get a lot of touches. I think the thing with Candace now is her versatility and a much better feel for the game, a lot more physical."

Assistant Coach Holly Warlick also managed to spare a few minutes before practice to take the questions. Most of her answers were delivered tongue in cheek.

Costume: "Pat Summitt."

Plane flights and bus trips: "I watch film."

The coaching staff would describe you as: "The most intelligent coach on the staff."

Best meal you can make: "Anything on the grill."

Reality show: "Deal or No Deal."

Trade places: "I'd probably be Nikki Caldwell because everybody thinks she is so cute."

Historical event: "That's a tough question. A day in history that I missed … I would have liked to have won a national championship as a player."

Pat Summitt saying: "Probably when she doesn't say anything at all."

Player to take with in an alley: "I'd probably take Alexis, because she would have my back."

But of course the biggest question in the preseason is what are Tennessee's chances of repeating as champions. When players sign with Tennessee they say they did so to win a national title. Last year's team ended a nine-year drought after the program had reeled off three consecutive championships in 1996, 1997 and 1998.

"It was relief," Parker said. "You wanted something so bad and when you finally do it, you can't believe it. I was really excited."

Summitt has seven titles on her resume as a coach. She has won them when the team was favored – most polls have Tennessee No. 1 to start the season – won them when the team was not (last season) and seen her teams fall short of the Final Four and a shot to win one.

"You always worry about what happens after you win a championship – where you go from there?" Summitt asked. "Certainly for this team, because it's the first for any one of the players on this team and our freshman class, they haven't been there (in position to repeat), but I think this team has demonstrated through their practice and their off-season that they like being on the big stage, and they are very motivated.

"But starting right out with our first official practice was this is one of the hardest things to do in sports, and that is to repeat the performance of the national championship. It's not going to be easy. You have a big target on you; we understand that. We have to not look ahead, but it is about daily improvement in practice.

"I'm more concerned right now about us, as a team collectively committing each and every day to improve on our weaknesses and to play together as a basketball team. Two years ago we didn't particularly like each other, we didn't play well together, and we didn't get to a Final Four. Last year we had great chemistry. What I see right now appears to be something that's going to be a special chemistry."

Chemistry, talent and depth certainly are keys to winning a championship. But will the team be ready for the bull's eye – always on a Tennessee jersey but even bigger now – that comes with the crown?

"I think that they are not aware and they can't be because they haven't had the experience – I've sat and watched this many times – of carrying the big national championship on your back every possession, every game, every venue that we go to," Summitt said. "It's going to be a challenge for them, but can they live up to it?

"In my estimation, we have the talent to do so."


Inside Tennessee Top Stories