Tennessee will hold a practice open to the public at noon Saturday at Thompson-Boling Arena. Its other allotted hour this week is scheduled for this afternoon at Pratt Pavilion in a closed session.
Pat Summitt initially wasn't sure if she would stick to the individual workout sessions because of having so many freshmen in need of instruction or take advantage of the rules allowing the team to practice together. She said she would base it on their development in the workouts. The coaches also are curious to see how the team looks as a unit. So are the players.
"I really am," said redshirt freshman Kelley Cain. "It's been good to work with individuals, and it's going to be good to work with the others. I want to work with everybody now to help us jell as a team."
Getting the team on the same page is critical as Cain is one of seven players who will suit up for the Lady Vols in an official game for the first time. Cain did play in two exhibition games last season before needing major surgery to realign her right kneecap.
Cain went through the individual workouts last year and said the one-on-one time is beneficial for a first-year player.
"Every player last year worked through it first instead of being thrown in," Cain said.
For Cain the benefit of the workouts this year was a chance to test her reconstructed knee on the court. Her adjustment is as much psychological – believing the knee will hold up – as physical.
"Definitely," Cain said. "For it to work well you have to believe that it's going to work well and trust that it's going to work well. If you don't you're going to be too worried about it and then something is more prone to happen. I try not to think about it."
Cain, a 6'6 center, will be joined in the paint this season by several freshmen, including the 6'3 Alyssia Brewer. The forward from Sapulpa, Okla., spent the seven workout sessions getting pounded in the paint by pads wielded by the three assistant coaches, Holly Warlick, Dean Lockwood and Daedra Charles.
"It's awesome," Brewer said. "They always have so much energy. It helps you get up to speed and keep going one drill after another."
Brewer, who is called Lyssi (pronounced Lee-see), is an intriguing prospect of size – she is a legit 6'3, if not slightly taller – and shooting ability. She also is a lefty – shoots left-handed, eats left-handed, plays sports left-handed.
"I am a lefty in everything but for some reason I kick with my right foot," Brewer said.
A lefty can have an advantage in terms of being harder to guard, especially since Brewer has worked to develop her right hand in the post, too. It's not as strong as her natural side, but she can score from the right without having to switch hands.
"Even in high school people would be like, ‘She can only go left!" Brewer said. "I can go to my right as well, but they're so used to playing somebody that's right-handed they forget that I'm left-handed."
With the exit of five senior starters from last season, playing time is there for the plucking this season. Candace Parker and Nicky Anosike anchored the paint for Tennessee on both ends of the court and both have departed for the WNBA.
The individual workouts meant youngsters like Brewer got to learn Lady Vol terminology, defensive principles and basic drills. Brewer said the sessions were vital for the freshmen.
"Definitely," Brewer said. "It's where the coaches can see what each of us needs to work on more. My biggest thing was playing from high to low and being able to stay low in everything I do. I definitely have gotten better at that. I'm glad we did have this time to where the coaches could see us."
One incident in particular underscores Brewer's preseason approach. In a drill that began on the wing and ended at the rim, she mistimed her steps and didn't finish. The workouts were fast-paced with players sprinting end to end and barely catching their breaths between reps. As Brewer walked back to the line she turned to Lockwood, who was just about to pass the ball to the next player up, and said, "Can I go again?"
"We were about to end the drill and I didn't want to end the drill like that," Brewer said. "I wanted to be able to end on a good note."
Lockwood tossed her the ball, and Brewer executed the play correctly.
Brewer is ready to see what happens when the full team takes the court with 10 expected to be able to go Thursday – six freshmen, a redshirt freshman, two sophomores and one senior. Redshirt sophomore Cait McMahan and sophomore Vicki Baugh are rehabbing from knee surgeries.
"Just being able to start getting our team chemistry and play with each other, it's going to be incredible," Brewer said.
Brewer participated in several workout sessions with Cain, who had the benefit of making it through a preseason a year ago. Cain is both trying to get herself back to form and help the freshmen posts adjust to a college setting.
"She's helped every single one of us – what to expect and what we need to do to make Coach Summitt happy," Brewer said. "She's definitely been a great help."
The assistants ran the workouts with Summitt popping in and out to observe and offer some commentary. But it was a very low-key Summitt, whose intensity will ratchet up a little higher with full team sessions and then rise again with the official start of practice in a month.
"You don't want her to yell at you, but you know it's going to happen," Brewer said. "You've got to accept the fact it's only for the betterment of you and you're going to get good after that."