Cait McMahan to take reins at point

Tennessee may be replacing all five starters from last season, but the heir apparent at point guard does have collegiate experience at that position. Cait McMahan is back on the court after a year off for knee surgery and is both getting up to speed and shepherding a young protégé through the process in Briana Bass.

The Lady Vols held their second session of individual workouts Tuesday with drills on both sides of the ball.

The players, once again, got quite a workout as Assistant Coaches Daedra Charles and Dean Lockwood took turns slamming them with pads as they drove to the rim and rebounded. Associate Head Coach Holly Warlick drilled them on defensive principles. They also squeezed in free throws and perimeter shots in the hour-long sessions for each group.

The coaches mixed up the players from last week – Pat Summitt has said she wants different combinations on the floor for the workouts in which four players can drill with the assistant coaches for an hour twice a week – and freshmen Amber Gray and Briana Bass were cleared for basketball drills. Gray missed the first workout session last week because of a strained quad, and Bass was held out as she recovers from ACL surgery, but both were participants Tuesday.

Bass' presence on the court is key for Tennessee, as she will back up Cait McMahan at the point position.

McMahan missed the 2007-08 season to recover from knee surgery to repair her femoral condyle. Bass, a freshman from Indianapolis, has had a pair of ACL surgeries – on her right knee in her sophomore year of high school and her left knee in early March. Both will be called upon to replace Shannon Bobbitt, who graduated and took her game to the WNBA.

McMahan is the front-runner for the position based on her familiarity with the system and the fact she played as a true freshman in 2006-07. But the redshirt sophomore said she wouldn't let that make her complacent.

"That doesn't work here at Tennessee," McMahan said. "There are no excuses, and there is somebody behind me (in) Bri. She's the quickest guard in the nation, and I'm not that quick. She could easily take my spot so I've got to stay on top of it."

Bass is looking to McMahan for guidance on leadership and being vocal on the floor. Bass went to the second session of summer school, so McMahan took her around campus, and the two got to know each other before the fall semester started.

"I am real anxious to get back out on the court, and I'm ready to learn a lot this year," Bass said. "I'm looking at Cait trying to learn from Cait as well. I feel like I can bring leadership and lead the team to another championship."

Bass arrived in Knoxville with confidence that she could compete at this level, but it likely doesn't hurt to hang around McMahan, who has been doubted most of her career. The 5'4 guard hails from nearby Maryville, Tennessee, and was told she would not play D1 basketball, and then that she would not go to Tennessee. When she beat those odds, McMahan heard that she wouldn't get playing time.

"When you're from here you go to somebody's house and hang out with friends, you know they've been talking," McMahan said. "That's one of the reasons I came to Tennessee – for the pressure, for all the doubting comments, for all the trash talking and being able to hopefully prove a lot of people wrong."

Bass is 5'3 – her feet are so small that her official Lady Vol shoes had to be special-ordered so she has been working out in her own shoes until the new ones arrive – but her speed has been noted by those who have seen her in workouts. Even more impressive is that Tennessee still has her in slow-down mode.

"I can go a certain pace," Bass said. "They wanted me to jog, but I kind of pushed it, too. When I am out there I go out there and play my hardest. I really don't look at my knee injuries as a setback. It set me back for a little bit, but it's motivation to get back out on the court and work hard."

"She's just been able to jog, but her jog is the same as some of our fastest speed," McMahan said. "She still makes the best times."

McMahan is already a vocal presence on the court, and Bass has taken note.

"I'm more of a shy person so even last year in high school I talked but not as much as I should so I am trying to learn different techniques from Cait so that I can talk more," Bass said.

"She'll show me something and be like, ‘This is what you do here, here, here.' "

McMahan also is making up for lost time, and the first item on her to-do list is to thoroughly learn the playbook.

"That is probably the most difficult thing for me coming to Tennessee is I am not good at remembering plays and that hindered some of my playing time my freshman year so I've got to do the best I can and get a lot of repetition and get in coach's office watching film," McMahan said. "It's a big role, but I'm excited and I'm very blessed to be a part of that role.

"The biggest (adjustment) is trying to get back in shape and trying to gather everything together of what I can do when I'm in shape. Staying focused and staying confident is the main thing I'm trying to do myself."

McMahan was on the bench in Tampa when the Lady Vols won the program's eighth national championship. She celebrated on the floor, but she also knew everything was about to change.

"I knew right when the buzzer went off in the championship game that everything was going to be on my shoulders and I'm ready for that," McMahan said. "I think I'm good for the job and hopefully I will do the job and if not I won't see the floor. It's that simple.

"The first thing I think about when I wake up in the morning is that nobody thinks we're going to do anything this year. We lost 98 percent of our offense. I like proving people wrong. I like being part of a team that wants to prove people wrong. Determination is the background of all of it."

As far as those doubting Tennessee because the roster is full of freshmen and players who must elevate themselves from role players to go-to players, McMahan delivered a one-word message: "Watch."


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