Vicki Baugh makes debut

Vicki Baugh's knee took a dip in the practice pool Tuesday evening for the first time since she tore a ligament in the title game in Tampa last April. The 6'4 sophomore forward was very limited in what she was released to do, but her recovery and return remain on track.

"I was really excited, a little too excited," Vicki Baugh said. "It felt good to jump. I was trying not to be passive on it."

Jenny Moshak, the Lady Vols chief of sports medicine, kept a close eye on Baugh and limited her to no more than an hour of work only on the offensive side of the ball. Baugh did left her feet to shoot, made sharp cuts and sprinted the baseline.

Baugh tore the ACL in her left knee in the win over Stanford for the 2008 national title and had surgery in mid-May. This fall, she had shot on side baskets and occasionally stood on the floor to make passes to her teammates, but Tuesday was the first time she participated in full-speed basketball drills.

"So far that was the most basketball stuff," Baugh said. "I know nothing about severe injuries so it's different for me. I want to be back now, but I just have to take it a step at a time like Jenny told me. I can feel myself not being where I used to be and that's frustrating for me, but I am just going to keep working on it. That's all I can do."

Baugh has never sustained a serious injury in her career, and she will have to deal with the emotional recovery as much as the physical one.

"I went in to do a layup, and I kind of backed it out," she said. "I'm nervous, but I'll overcome it. I can't really do much coming out the first time. I have to be careful. Not really go easy because I don't want to get an injury from worrying about it too much but I've just got to be smart in this whole thing. I was smart there."

In the same session Baugh also drove to the basket from the high post, hit the left-handed layup and landed on her left leg on the baseline. It was very similar to the play in which she injured herself. But this time she looked down at the knee and saw it was fine.

"I think Jenny wants to gradually work her in," Coach Pat Summitt said. "Having not been out she may be a little shy at first, but I think she'll get more comfortable with every opportunity that she has to be on the court."

The plan for Baugh is to ease her into practice and see how the knee responds. If she has swelling or pain, she stops the court work until the knee settles down. It will be an incremental process in all likelihood. Her return to play this season is the goal, but it is not at all guaranteed at this point.

"The knee responded well," Baugh said. "I lasted longer than I thought I would. It's right on track. I'll continue to rehab and continue to lift heavy weights and probably practice a little at a time and eventually I'll be practicing full time.

"We've got to take it a step at a time. If my knee is ready and I can practice again next week, I'm going to continue to practice. If anything else happens I'm going to rehab and continue to try to get it stronger."

Baugh got a little winded in the drills, but she laughed and said, "I just think I like to breathe heavy. I was fine today. I didn't get too tired. It was more my knee got a little fatigued."

The team held a two-hour practice Tuesday because fall break begins after classes end Wednesday, so Summitt opted to use the weekly allotment of time in one session. It was the longest of the preseason.

"Overall, I thought it was pretty good," said Summitt, though she noted not all the freshmen are comfortable on the floor in the offensive sets.

The players will return next Tuesday for another two-hour session and then official practice begins Oct. 17. Once full practices begin, the coaches can schedule film sessions "and maybe we can settle them down a little bit and help them out," Summitt said.

"It's just part of the process," she added. "It's hard to fast-forward things like this. You've got to do a lot of teaching and a lot of repetition, which we will. We've thrown a lot at them. I don't think we'll pile on any more information. I think we'll take what we've got and really try and drill them and refine some of the things we've been working on, sharpen it up."

One clear thing has emerged from these sessions. The offense needs a heavy dose of 6'6 center Kelley Cain.

"She looks good," Summitt said. "Glory Johnson has been impressive, too."

The post players conducted a drill in which they repeatedly jumped under the basket without the ball, then with the ball several times, then a tip drill off the glass a few times and then the conversion to a bucket in non-stop succession. Johnson kept touching glass in a display of jumping ability and athleticism that was impossible not to notice.

Before the session ended, former Lady Vol Alexis Hornbuckle, fresh off winning a WNBA championship, made a stop at Pratt Pavilion to say hello to her former coaches and team. Hornbuckle joined the team circle after practice ended and was applauded by the group.

"I'm really proud of her," Summitt said. "She really stepped up. It was obvious to me she made a lot of good things happen. Her defensive intensity was terrific. I think she had a strong impact on her teammates."

Hornbuckle had nine points, nine rebounds, five assists and no turnovers in Sunday's clinching 76-60 win over the San Antonio Silver Stars.

She became the first player in league history – 2008 was the WNBA's 12th season – to win NCAA and WNBA titles in the same year.

"I was really happy for her," Baugh said. "I wanted some Lady Vol – we're all spread out through the WNBA – but a Lady Vol that I was familiar with to get a championship. I am not surprised at Lex making history. That's a great accomplishment."

Hornbuckle was aware before the playoffs started that she could claim a first.

"I tried not to concentrate on it during the playoffs, but it was obviously in the back of my head (that) I had the opportunity to do something that's never been done," she said. "I'm excited and feel very blessed to be a part of that."

Hornbuckle was in downtown Detroit on Monday for the team celebration and ended up toting the trophy most of the time.

"They kept passing it off," she said. "They said it was heavy. You know rookies always get the worst jobs, but I didn't mind holding the trophy."

Hornbuckle still seemed a bit bleary-eyed by the recent events, especially winning a pro title so close to a college one.

"It's different," she said. "A championship is a championship. I won't complain about that. But it's weird coming in your first year and having that opportunity and to actually pull through with it. It's mixed emotions right now. Did this really happen? It hasn't completely set in yet."

Hornbuckle saw similarities between her two championship coaches, Summitt and Bill Laimbeer, but she noted there was a big difference as well – the former "Bad Boy" of the Pistons can let loose with his vocabulary.

"They're both intense," she said. "They seek perfection from their players, and they harp on defense. But the difference is Laimbeer and his mouth. He's a lot more blunt and open. Doesn't matter who's around. But I like that. He's crazy. We have fun in practice."

The Shock had to move its home game in the series to Eastern Michigan University because "Disney on Ice" had the Palace, and the Red Wings had the downtown Joe Louis Arena, but the team hauled some familiar equipment to the new venue.

"It didn't bother us. It was still our floor and our rims," Hornbuckle said. "So it still felt like a home game."

Hornbuckle said most of the team scattered after Monday's celebration to get ready to go overseas to play. The salaries are better in the international game but the paychecks aren't the best part of being a pro.

"That's one of the bigger perks, but that's not the best part," she said. "Just having more time to rest and do whatever you would like to enjoy."

Hornbuckle looked like she could use some rest, but she leaves for Istanbul, Turkey, on Monday with the first game scheduled for Oct. 15.

"Very quick turn-around, but it's OK," she said. "I'm tired. I wish I had a little bit more time, but that's something that just goes with it. I'll be all right."

She was looking forward to the adventure and said she would come back speaking Turkish, a language spoken by about 60 million people, though there are several Turkic variations. She didn't sound inclined to sample the local culinary fare.

"They say it's a good spot, very Americanized, which I need," Hornbuckle said. "I have to eat. They have KFC and everything so I'm excited to go there."

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