Lady Vols hold first team workout

The Lady Vols' first full-team workout session left Pat Summitt smiling about the effort. With freshmen all over the floor there was a little confusion and some busted plays, but there was also speed on the floor - Briana Bass can push tempo; athleticism on display – Glory Johnson plays at the rim; nifty passing – Alicia Manning drew applause from her teammates for a no-look; and a lot of chatter.

Some of that chatter came from returnee Cait McMahan, who rehabbed her right knee on the sideline and shouted encouragement. She had arthroscopic surgery earlier this month to clean up the knee and is expected to be ready when practice officially starts in a month.

But the freshmen must have received the word that the coaches want to hear them on the court as they all talked and reminded each other to communicate.

Pat Summitt chatted for a few minutes with Briana Bass to reinforce the need to be patient. Bass, a freshman point guard, said she was so anxious to get to work with the full team that she went a little too fast.

"It was an exciting experience and I was really looking forward to going out there for the first time and playing with my team," Bass said. "I think that's why I was so anxious and so worked up. I haven't played in awhile. I was ready to play. I was too excited."

Bass had knee surgery last March to repair the ACL in her left knee and had been limited on the court, though she did take part in individual workouts. She showed no ill effects from that surgery Thursday and was motoring up and down the court.

"They're fine right now," Bass said of her knees. "So far, so good."

"She's tough," Summitt said. "And her quads are strong."

As soon as the practice ended at Pratt Pavilion, Summitt took Bass aside and told her, "You're overanxious. It's OK to have the ball in your hands longer."

"She's feeling like she's got to make a pass," Summitt said.

Bass can push tempo and get the team in an offensive set – the flip side of passing too quick is at least the ball isn't getting stuck in her hand – and she proved to be a quick study.

"Learn to be patient," Bass told herself afterwards. "Things are going to come, and we have time right now so be patient. We're a new team. We have to build chemistry, but we're going to get ourselves together."

If Bass is feeling the need to fast-forward the process, it's understandable. She is one of six true freshmen on the roster plus redshirt freshman Kelley Cain.

Cain was moving well in Thursday's session and showed what could become a staple this season for the Lady Vols half-court offense – receive a low-post feed, score the bucket.

Freshman forward Glory Johnson stood out with her overall athleticism. She cleaned up the glass on one offensive possession and was at the rim before the defense even reacted. That was impressive considering the male practice players were on the floor for the first time.

Assistant Coach Dean Lockwood is in charge of finding the male players on campus – he got some size this season with 6'4 and 6'5 post players – and said he needs two athletic wings to complete his team.

"The size on that doesn't matter," Lockwood said. "We'll take anything from 5'10 to 6'5. Slashing, attacking wing."

The practice players are male students who must pass through the NCAA Clearinghouse in terms of eligibility. Lockwood wants a pool of about 15 players to ensure that he has enough for each practice because class and work schedules vary for the students.

"There're about 11 cleared," Lockwood said. "I think we're going to have closer to 14, 15. Fifteen gives you about five or six a day."

The male practice players could not be used during individual workouts per NCAA rules, but programs were permitted to have them on the court beginning Sept. 15 when full team sessions were allowed to start.

Summitt and her coaches wanted to see how the youngsters handled getting defensive pressure from skilled guys who match them in height and exceed them in strength and speed.

"We put them out there against the guys with not a lot of structure to see how they respond," Summitt said. "We've got a number of players with good instincts."

Manning showed her ability to pass the ball with a no-look entry pass into the paint. She also didn't back down. The first time she dribbled to the elbow and released a mid-range shot, the male practice player sent it back. On the very next possession, she dribbled to the same spot, backed up a step and drained the shot over the player.

With McMahan rehabbing on the sideline, the coaches tried various guards at the point with Bass, including Manning.

"I could see her playing the point for us," Summitt said. "I definitely could. With Bri and Cait, I don't know how many people we'll get into that mix, but I think Manning is definitely one of them. We may have point guard by committee this year and that doesn't bother me as long as we've got good handlers and decision makers."

A lot of those decisions could come in the open court. Tennessee intends to run this season and that directive was made clear by Summitt and the coaches in every drill. The Lady Vols definitely have the personnel for that style of play, especially with the ball in the hands of its pint-sized point guards, McMahan and Bass.

"I like up-tempo," Bass said. "I love to run up and down the court. We're a quick team, and I'm quick myself. I love to get up and down the court."

Bass is running in orange shoes now thanks to a shipment from adidas of smaller sizes. Bass had been wearing red shoes and then switched to some blue ones that Tennessee had to special order.

"These are a size seven," Bass said. "I am surprised they fit. I am just happy to have orange like everybody else."

McMahan is expected to be back in time for the official start of practice Oct. 17. Vicki Baugh also remains out and is rehabbing from ACL surgery that was performed last May. Freshman Amber Gray has a tweaked quad muscle and has been somewhat limited in sessions.

The team will hold a practice open to the public at noon Saturday at Thompson-Boling Arena. Tennessee is hosting three recruits that day from the class of 2009 – commits Kamiko Williams, a 5'11 guard from Clarksville, Tenn., and Faith Dupree, a 6'4 post player from Knoxville and high school teammate of Glory Johnson; and 6'1 guard Taber Spani of Lee's Summit, Mo., whose final two are Tennessee and Kansas State.

The individual workouts emphasized defensive and offensive concepts, spacing, screening and shooting. The team sessions will retain that focus and ease into installing systems on offense and defense.

"Right now, team concepts, probably a week from now a combination," Summitt said.

On Saturday, though, the coaches may turn the players loose a little more so they can observe them in a scrimmage-type setting. That is good news for fans anxious to get a look at all the newcomers.

"We'll probably try to scrimmage a little more," Summitt said. "It depends on how many healthy bodies we have, but the guys are going to be here. We definitely want to go up and down."

Summitt had reason to smile at the conclusion of the first hour-long team session. It's not a lot of time, but it was enough for the coach to like what she saw.

"We're long, we're rangy, we're athletic, and we've got some good skill players," Summitt said. "I'm excited, really excited."


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