"It would be good for us to go against her," Pat Summitt said last week about the 6'5 center with a career's worth of college, pro and international experience.
On Monday afternoon, Summitt got the complete 10-player roster, which also includes Seimone Augustus, Sue Bird, Kara Braxton, Swin Cash, Katie Feenstra, Kara Lawson, Taj McWilliams-Franklin, Loree Moore and Diana Taurasi.
"The timing is great because we will know a lot about where we are," Summitt said Monday. "We'll see where we are. I was hoping they would load it up. Lisa Leslie will be a big challenge for us, but a good challenge. With Diana and Sue and Kara they've got good guard play, and they can stretch the defense."
Summitt isn't just thinking about her team's response this week to the pending arrival of the senior national team. She has already thought about the fans' reaction to a few of the players on the roster.
"I think it's important that our fans appreciate that we have an opportunity to play the USA team," Summitt said. "I'm sure there's a number of these players that will go on and represent us in the Olympics and while we are competing against players who have played against us in the past, now they're representing our country."
Taurasi has drawn the ire, and boos, of Tennessee fans in the past when she played for UConn. More recently, her published remarks about the ending of the UConn-Tennessee series didn't go over well among the Lady Vol Nation. That's neither here nor there at this point in time, Summitt said.
"We should never boo somebody who is representing the United States in any shape, form or fashion," Summitt said. "This is obviously on the Thompson-Boling Arena floor, and I would be very disappointed if we didn't respect what these young women are doing and how they're representing our country. I think that's very important."
Summitt also noted that Lawson and Candace Parker were cheered when the USA team played in Uncasville, Conn., last August in an exhibition game against Australia before the Olympic Qualifying Tournament in Chile.
"When the USA team traveled and played in other venues, they didn't boo the Tennessee players," Summitt said. "They were cheered for. We need to show the same sportsmanship."
Summitt also very much has her team on her mind, as the players have turned in some uneven practice performances.
"Thus far we are great one day and average or below average the next," Summitt said. "Average at best (Monday). There doesn't seem to be the sense of urgency that needs to be there. It's more of we'll turn it on when we need to turn it on. Living on the edge doing that."
That is part of the reason why Summitt welcomed a stacked USA roster. She knows this is an early exhibition game that will get the players' attention.
"It's what we need at this point in time – a team they respect, a team full of proven players, Olympians," Summitt said.
Leslie, a member of the Los Angeles Sparks, joins the team after taking off last summer because of the birth of her child, Lauren Jolie Lockwood, on June 25.
She has played in 204 games for USA Basketball dating back to 1989. Her career USA totals are 3,222 points (16.0 ppg) and 1,393 rebounds (6.9 rpg), and she was the USA's leading scorer and ranked either first or second in rebounding for the 2004, 2000 and 1996 Olympic gold medalist teams, and the 2002 and 1998 FIBA World Championship gold medalist teams.
"I am excited to get back on the court," Leslie said. "I feel I have a long way to go to get ready for the Olympics, but this will give me a chance to get moving in that direction."
Tennessee is next up in Knoxville on Nov. 4 at 3 p.m. at Thompson-Boling Arena, and then the USA team heads to Waco, Texas, to face Baylor on Nov. 6. On Nov. 8, the USA will meet Arizona State in Tempe, and then returns to the Lone Star State for a Nov. 11 matchup against Texas A&M in College Station.
The tour wraps up in California for the final two games – Nov. 13 against Southern Cal in Los Angeles and Nov. 15 at Stanford.
The 1995-96 and 1999-2000 USA national teams embarked on college tours and compiled a 31-1 record. The sole defeat came at the hands of Tennessee on Nov. 7, 1999, when Lawson, then a Lady Vol freshman, hit the game winner to nip the national team by a point, 65-64.
USA National Team Head Coach Anne Donovan is assisted by Connecticut Sun Head Coach Mike Thibault. Two other USA assistants, Gail Goestenkors of Texas and Dawn Staley of Temple, are now with their college teams.
"I have been looking forward to getting Lisa back in the program for a long time now," Donovan said. "Knowing that she's going to be joining us for the college tour gives me a real sense of excitement in seeing more of our post game develop and take shape.
"Lisa's leadership, experience and her voice are something that we really need to play with again. For our younger players in particular, to have that opportunity to be with her, interact with her and learn from her, as well as to show Lisa all the development that we've done in her absence, it's an exciting time for us."
Leadership is also on Summitt's mind. Right now she is getting it from senior guard Alexis Hornbuckle with spotty contributions from the other veterans.
"I think we're inconsistent with leadership," Summitt said Monday after practice. "Obviously Lex is an exception. She is by far our best and most vocal leader. Shannon (Bobbitt) has to be more consistent. Sometimes that happens when you have someone with strong leadership skills and constantly talking. Other people rely on Lex."
Hornbuckle missed the first part of practice Monday because of an academic commitment. The last time Summitt was upset about a lack of leadership on the floor, Hornbuckle was courtside for some knee treatment. Clearly her absence has an effect on the floor.
A natural complement and replacement would seem to be post player Nicky Anosike. The senior is also very academically oriented and just took the LSAT as part of the process for gaining admittance to law school. Perhaps with that rigorous preparation involving a future courtroom behind her Anosike will have less on her mind on the hard court.
Anosike "hasn't been nearly as vocal as she needs to be," Summitt said. "She's always more vocal in games than practice. The challenge is, ‘Let's speak up in practice.' It's all about hearing a familiar voice. I think it's important for the people that have the leadership skills to be consistent, day in and day out in practice and also in games."
Tennessee will need leadership this Sunday when a proven and experienced team comes to the arena. The Lady Vols are down to eight players, and three of those are freshmen – one of whom, Angie Bjorklund, will likely be starting on the perimeter.
Senior wing Alberta Auguste is sidelined with a severe calf contusion, and freshman center Kelley Cain hasn't been cleared to practice because of a concussion. Both players have been out about 10 days and have lost significant preparation and conditioning time.
Tennessee will hold a short session Tuesday with the emphasis on shooting drills and then will have an up-and-down practice Wednesday before taking off Thursday to rest their legs. Friday and Saturday will be preparation and review days for Sunday's game.
The USA national team has the ability to both pound the ball inside and run the floor with it.
"It's got a great mix – a team that will challenge us inside and out," Summitt said. "They've got enough players on the inside to test our post game. Obviously we'll find out how physical we are or are not."