"Jenny's the one that's going to be the gauge on that every day," Coach Pat Summitt said. "I told her there's no rush for her, there's no rush for Vicki. You just tell me when and if you put her out there and you pull her, it's strictly her call on all that."
Sophomore forward Vicki Baugh, who had ACL surgery on her left knee last May, remains on a rehab regimen and has not been cleared to practice. The goal is for her to be ready for the official start, but the protocol will also be to ease her into action and pull back when need be.
McMahan will get four days off the court, as Tennessee won't return to practice until next Tuesday when the staff will hold a two-hour session at Pratt Pavilion.
The NCAA limits teams to two hours a week in the preseason and with the school's fall break coming up in the latter part of next week Summitt decided to use the allotted time in one session so as to allow her players a respite with the official start – and regular two- and three-hour practices – inching closer.
"It leads them into getting ready for a full practice," Summitt said of holding back-to-back one-hour sessions, and it also allows the players to take a fall break.
McMahan went for the full hour Thursday, but the team split the session into full and half-court work, and she rotated in and out with freshman point guard Briana Bass so that built in some minutes to rest.
Summitt was happy to have McMahan back because it allows her to have a point guard on the floor with some collegiate experience.
"I definitely think it'll help, not only Cait and our team, I think it'll help Bri just to have her out there and be able to follow her lead," Summitt said. "Cait looks good, looks strong, looks confident, comfortable. It makes a big difference when she's on the floor."
McMahan had arthroscopic surgery on Sept. 3 to remove some loose bodies, smooth out the joint surface and fix a small lateral meniscus tear. Moshak has since drilled into McMahan the mindset that she will sometimes have to let up in practice.
"With Cait sometimes her mentality is more is better and with her less is probably going to be more," Summitt said. "Jenny will be the one to tell me day to day what she can and cannot do. I don't think Jenny is going to compromise at all, and I don't want her to."
Moshak will have to tighten the reins on a player who said she would rather be shot with a .22-caliber rifle than be forced to watch practice.
"That's a little extreme," Summitt said, shaking her head and laughing. "I admire her drive but sometimes when you have that kind of drive it can get you in trouble because you think more is better. Cait is going to have to let Jenny be her gauge."
McMahan was anxious to return to accelerate her learning process – she sat out last season after major surgery on her right knee in 2007 – but Summitt said the redshirt guard is further along than she might realize right now.
"Fortunately, Cait's got a high basketball IQ," Summitt said. "I think she's so different now than her freshman year where she just wanted to play the game and didn't understand how to play and the plays. Now she's more of a student of the game, and I think that will help her as well even if she has to sit out some."
McMahan spent the last month rehabbing on the sideline and watching as six true freshmen began the process of learning how to play Tennessee basketball.
"They're doing a great job," McMahan said. "We're doing a great job coming along. It's a Pat Summitt progress."