Team mixing rest, preparation

Pat Summitt walked into practice Friday wearing a furry raccoon hat much to the delight of her players, but it was all business after that as the Lady Vols are using the time between tournaments to work on themselves. Practice ended with a fast-paced layup drill and free throws – vital pieces of a successful postseason.

The team practiced Thursday and Friday after three days off, and Pat Summitt was pleased with the effort.

"I thought they did well," Summitt said. "I thought they worked hard."

The three days of rest after winning the SEC Tournament in Nashville was welcomed by the players and by Jenny Moshak, the assistant athletics director for sports medicine.

"These three days off were very good timing – healing up some of the bumps and bruises, some of the swelling, tendonitis, things like that," Moshak said.

The head coach also is doing well after dislocating her right shoulder last week knocking a raccoon off of her back deck. The raccoon, intent on getting into the garbage, encountered Summitt's yellow Labrador retriever, Sally Sue, and Summitt came to the dog's rescue.

The faux raccoon hat, complete with a tail, was sent to her office by the pupils at Farragut Intermediate School in Knoxville, and Summitt showed it to Jim Rome on Friday during an appearance on his national sports show on ESPN. The shoulder injury put Summitt on Moshak's treatment list.

"She's got full range of motion, she's got decent strength, and we're going to continue the rehab process," Moshak said.

That list includes several members of the team, including Candace Parker, who tweaked her right shoulder against LSU; Alexis Hornbuckle, who has chronically sore knees; Alberta Auguste, who tweaked her shoulder injury; and Alex Fuller, whose knees needed a respite at the end of practice. Friday's rain and cooler temperatures don't help players who battle tendonitis.

With that in mind Summitt decided to practice Saturday and then allow the team two days off.

"I'm giving them Sunday, Monday off," Summitt said. "It's not about over-working; it's about keeping them sharp. I talked to Jenny because she's my gauge. I just decided to go three off, three on, two off, back in the gym (Tuesday)."

Saturday's session will be much like Friday's – up-tempo and up and down the floor. Summitt made use of the male practice players being available – next week is spring break so most will be off campus – by getting in a lot of scrimmage work.

"Put in a couple of new looks, good repetition against our practice guys because they force us to pick up early on defense, they force us to be smart on our post feeds," Summitt said. "It's like playing the best competition we can get under the circumstances without playing a game."

The players arrived at practice Thursday after taking updated personality tests that were provided to Summitt by Mike Hamilton, the men's athletics director.

"We did personality profile tests just to look going into postseason," Summitt said. "If we get one thing to say to one player to make a difference for one player I'll be happy."

It's such attention to detail that can separate teams in postseason and that focus centers on the court, as well.

"I really believe that at this time of the year the postseason practice has an awful lot to do with the mindset of the team," Summitt said. "If they are focused and ready to come in and practice we're not going to have long practices, and we won't go for more than three days in a row. So we want to keep their minds fresh and their legs fresh.

"I do think this team responds to that. We took the day off before we played at the SEC. (Tennessee traveled Thursday and didn't practice the day before last Friday's game). Fresh legs, fresh minds. Would I do that with a real young team? Most likely it wouldn't happen. But with a veteran team we've done that before (including at Georgia to end the regular season).

"It makes our job a lot easier. I'm not drained when I go home. Sometimes I have to go home and take a two-hour nap before I can ever cook dinner."

The results this week have been encouraging for Summitt. The team came back from three days off and was ready to get to work.

"We're definitely not resting in practice. That was nice to be normal for a few days," senior center Nicky Anosike said of the time off. "We don't have school (next week), so we have time to come in here and get some extra shots up. That's always nice. Also not having to scout because we don't know who we're playing yet, that's nice, too. It's kind of like you get to do more of the physical and not really the mental part as far as the scouting."

Practice was definitely physical Friday. The players scrimmaged against the practice guys and among themselves in assorted drills. Free throws were shot while still fatigued.

Instead of conditioning runs, Summitt put in a layup drill in which players had to sprint the floor for two minutes without missing a single layup. If anyone missed, the clock was reset. The drill was run to the right side of the basket and then to the left. It took a few resets – Parker and Vicki Baugh notably never missed a layup – but the drill was completed.

"We used to run that," Summitt said. "I watched the guys practice that the other day and they were running it and I thought, ‘I haven't run that in awhile.' The thing about it is they're running with the ball and there's a purpose, rather than just running."

The speed and ease with which Baugh sprinted the floor – while handling the passes and finishing at the rim – was eye-popping to everyone watching.

"When I was here on the men's side I had a good friend who was in the NBA and he was assessing the draft one time and some players in the SEC (were mentioned) and I said, ‘Well, he's an NBA athlete,' " Assistant Coach Dean Lockwood said. "He said, ‘Dean, there're a lot of NBA athletes. I'm asking is he an NBA basketball player.'

"I think that's right now where we want Vicki Baugh to go. Vicki Baugh is as athletic at it gets. Now what we want is to transfer more and more skill, and she has. From December to now she's gotten better. What we're wanting to see is for her to be able to take that athleticism and get up and down the floor like that and have the skills package that can really slice people up as well."

Baugh gives Tennessee an athletic option off the bench in postseason – she answered the bell against LSU in the SEC championship game – and Summitt also has Alberta Auguste and Angie Bjorklund competing for a starting spot in the postseason.

"We need competition," Summitt said. "They need to fight for it right now. For whatever reason Angie got complacent (in Nashville), and Bird came in and did a super job for us. We don't have to make a decision for a bit."

Both players have performed well in practice – and in a sign of team camaraderie encouraged each other with hand slaps for good plays – and Summitt said they both are vital for the postseason.

We need them both," Summitt said. "It doesn't matter who starts or who comes off the bench. They've both got to help us."

Summitt could lose one of her bench coaches after this season in Nikki Caldwell, an assistant since 2002 and a former Lady Vol player. The University of Memphis has asked to talk to Caldwell about its head coaching vacancy, and they will speak next week.

"My first and foremost concern is our team," Caldwell said. "I would never want to do anything to divert any of that energy towards me. … I am getting our team ready, whatever I can do, to prepare us for NCAAs. That's our primary focus; that's my primary focus, and that's the staff's primary focus."

Memphis requested this week to contact Caldwell, and Summitt knows she has an assistant in Caldwell, the lead recruiter and an excellent Xs and Os coach, who will draw interest from suitors.

"The great thing about working here at Tennessee and for Pat Summitt is she knows a goal of mine is to become a head coach one day," Caldwell said. "She's always told me that if there's any job out there that you are wanting to pursue I will make any phone call to anyone at anytime, whoever you need to see. To me that's a sign of her really caring about me as a person. She always has said, ‘I would hate for you to leave, but I know you have goals and aspirations.' That's just the quality of person that Pat is.

"I have not actively put my name out there in the past, but it's definitely a goal of mine. If there's something that comes available that interests me then I'm going to talk to Pat, see what her thoughts are, see what she would recommend, because not only is she my boss but she's been a great mentor and a great friend. I would want to see what her thoughts are about whether that administration or that institution is serious about women's basketball and how serious are they and how serious are they going to be committed to the women's game. Those are things that I definitely want to research.

"I'm with Pat Summitt, and you get spoiled here. The thing that is so special about Tennessee is the people. It's a friendly atmosphere and very family oriented. That's what makes this place. Everybody's got great facilities. Everybody's got an academic program that helps their kids. But what is it about Tennessee that is unique? I definitely think it has to be the people, the community, the fan support, the type of players we get in here."


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