Lady Vols begin workouts

Thursday was the first day that the Lady Vols basketball staff could drill players in individual workouts, and the coaches wasted no time in taking the court with seven freshmen on the roster. Alex Fuller, the lone senior on the team, has adopted the role of den mother for the pack despite the teasing from the newcomers that she is old.

"They always have a way of letting me know that I am old, but I guess I am compared to them," Alex Fuller said with a smile after the conclusion of the third session of individual workouts, which officially began Thursday at Pratt Pavilion. "I've always been told I have kind of a maternal motherly side so I am hoping that will kick in."

Fuller, 22, a redshirt senior, and Cait McMahan, 20, a redshirt sophomore, are the only upperclassmen on the Tennessee team. Fuller also came in as part of a recruiting class of six in 2004 so she can relate to the latest Six Pack.

"As far as being new to the program, new to the campus, yes," Fuller said. "But we had other seniors besides one that we could go to. If they want to come to a senior, it's kind of just me so I plan on taking on that (role)."

Classes at Tennessee started Wednesday, and Thursday was the first day that the Lady Vols could work with the coaching staff. NCAA rules permit two hours a week of on-court instruction with no more than four players participating at one time. The 12 players were divided into three groups of four, and the combinations will change in upcoming sessions.

One newcomer, Glory Johnson, particularly liked the format of the individual instruction. She had Assistant Coaches Dean Lockwood and Daedra Charles swatting at her with oversized pads in the paint, and Associate Head Coach Holly Warlick going over the perimeter shooting drills.

"Tough, quick pace," said Johnson, who was drenched with sweat after the hour-long workout. "I like quick pacing. When I was coming from high school you had to work with what you had, but the ability there is different than what we have here. We have great athletes and when you're playing with great athletes they're pushing you and getting you better. That was a fun experience. It was tough, but I still enjoyed myself.

"They're one on one and there are three coaches telling one person something to do so they're looking at you through different angles and Pat watching. If you make a mistake you have three people teaching you the right thing to do instead of with the whole team. Individually we get a lot done."

Head Coach Pat Summitt prowled the sidelines watching the activities and reminding every participant that the pace was up-tempo at this level.

Johnson, a high school All-American from Webb School in Knoxville, and Shekinna Stricklen, also an All-American from Morrilton, Arkansas, stood out in terms of overall athleticism.

"I thought Glory and Shekinna were two of the most impressive players on the floor today just in terms of their athleticism and their skill," Summitt said. "That's a great combination. And while obviously we're not doing things up and down just the experience that Shekinna had this summer with the (U-18) USA team, as well as with Lyssi Brewer, I think that might fast-forward this process with the tempo. At the same time I think Glory Johnson is one of the best athletes on the floor."

Stricklen, Johnson, McMahan and Vicki Baugh were in the first group. Baugh, who is recovering from ACL surgery last May, is not cleared for drills but did shoot on a side basket. McMahan did not play last year to recover from surgery to repair her femoral condyle, the bone at the base of the femur that connects to the knee, and she scooted around the court with ease Thursday.

Sophomores Angie Bjorklund and Sydney Smallbone, redshirt freshman Kelley Cain and freshman Amber Gray were in the second group. Gray has a strained quad and was limited to passing drills on the perimeter.

"I am just taking things slowly," Gray said. "I hope to be able to be full go (Friday for conditioning) but I'll go with what the trainers say."

The team also has started strength and conditioning with Heather Mason in sessions that remind Gray of working out with her father, a former NFL player, in Ohio.

"She gets us where we need to be," Gray said. "She gets us better. She knows what she's doing and obviously it's paid off. I love it. I love intensity."

Cain is coming back from major surgery to realign her right kneecap and had to cut her session a little bit short.

"She just said she didn't feel good when she was cutting," Summitt said. "I think she is going to be fine. We want to err on the side of caution. That's why I pulled her."

The last session consisted of Fuller and freshmen Alyssia Brewer, Alicia Manning and Briana Bass. Bass also was limited to passing work because she is recovering from ACL surgery.

"I'm pleased overall," Summitt said. "We've got some today that couldn't go, but I think they'll all be ready to go full speed sooner rather than later. I think with Briana and Vicki we're going to ease them into it and not go with contact right now. We're going to take it easy. Jenny (Moshak) is at the Olympics. As soon as she gets back she'll be the gauge on that."

With the loss of all five starters from last season – Alberta Auguste replaced then-freshman Bjorklund in the postseason – there is playing time for the plucking this season.

"That helps a little bit (in terms of motivation) but just the fact all the freshmen coming in they were All-Americans, I get the chance to play with them, they get the chance to play with me, and we all like each other, we all click, we all get along," Johnson said. "It's a young team, but the fact that we know each other very well I think will help us a lot."

Another player coming back from knee surgery is sharpshooter Bjorklund, who showed no ill effects from an arthroscopic procedure in July to repair a torn medial meniscus. She has been cleared to participate and drained perimeter shots with Smallbone during their session.

Smallbone is noticeably stronger, especially in the upper body, and said she has developed more confidence as a shooter.

"Yes, definitely," Smallbone said. "I made it a point to get in the gym and shoot on the Gun (an automatic ball feeder) and do more shooting workouts to be more comfortable coming off screens. Coach Summitt always likes to remind me and Angie about making that strong dribble going left and being able to score equally going left and right so that's something I tried to emphasize this summer."

The sessions emphasized offense as post players got reps in the paint and went over footwork and board work. The guards worked on entry passes and perimeter shooting. Fuller worked both inside and outside.

"I think right now just trying to assess their overall skill and their awareness both offensively and defensively," Summitt said. "Today was pretty much all offense. We're in the teaching mode right now. For the most part I like what I saw. We've got players that have to be able to play multiple positions and maybe in high school they just had a set spot. But the versatility of the group it's exciting.

"I'm thrilled. I'm really excited. It's going to take a lot of time and we've got to understand we're not trying to play a basketball game in a week or a month and so having the opportunity to have four players and work on skill development it's an important time for us but it's a great teaching opportunity. As Coach (Billie) Moore said to me, ‘Every moment is a teaching moment,' and that's kind of how I'm thinking right now, and we need every moment to be teaching."

That is where Fuller comes in – as a fifth-year player she knows the system, and she knows what the coaches expect. She has put pressure on herself to deliver this season on and off the court.

"I think personally I am (feeling more pressure), because I know I have to step up and be the role model that all these girls need," Fuller said. "I've been looking forward to getting started the whole summer."

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