Pat Summitt doubles practice

Pat Summitt brought a mirror with her Thursday, passed it around the pre-practice circle, and had each player look at the reflection as a reminder of what it meant to be a Lady Vol. She had planned the lesson before the bulk of her players disappointed her with a sloppy practice the day before, but the timing was apropos.

On Wednesday Pat Summitt traveled to Birmingham, Ala., with senior Alex Fuller and sophomore Angie Bjorklund for SEC Media Days. They returned by plane in time to join practice in progress, and Summitt discovered a languid team and an agitated coaching staff, including Associate Head Coach Holly Warlick

"We basically lacked leadership, and Holly was probably the most frustrated I've seen her," Summitt said. "To me it was a sign of our youth and also that we didn't have leadership, which we should have."

Summitt reacted by converting that practice to a conditioning one and then scheduled a 6 a.m. session Thursday with a return at 3 p.m. to Pratt Pavilion.

How did the players perform at daybreak?

"Real well," Summitt said. "I think if I was a player that I would make sure that I got it and that everybody else got it."

The players attended class and then returned for the afternoon session, which also was productive and energetic, so the past 48 hours for Summitt were both discouraging for how Wednesday went but encouraging by how the players responded.

Summitt was circumspect by Thursday – citing the youth, absence of Fuller and Bjorklund and the fact the team was coming back from a day off – but chastised the players for the way they treated the assistants.

"I told them, ‘Don't ever disrespect our staff,' " Summitt said. "We have the best coaching staff in my opinion in the country and how are you going to be disrespectful? They're an extension of me and of our program and all the people that have played here understand that, and you'd better get it."

It will be a season of firsts for the freshmen and Wednesday was the initial practice after a scheduled day off Tuesday.

"They had a day off before (Wednesday) so they didn't know exactly how to come back after a day off," Summitt said. "I think now they'll probably figure it out a little bit better."

That is not necessarily an indictment of the freshmen. Even the stellar group that included Candace Parker, Alexis Hornbuckle and Nicky Anosike had some pithless practice sessions until their junior season when they developed into an efficient practice squad.

That class learned it was mandatory to follow a day off with an inspired performance, and they ended up as seniors with more days off than Summitt could recall ever giving a team in one season. They earned them by how they responded in practice following a break.

Even veteran teams will have drop-offs along the way and the back-to-back national championship teams were not immune. During the 2007 season, then-Assistant Coach Nikki Caldwell stopped a listless practice to remind the players that they came to Tennessee to win championships. Last season, Warlick marched the entire team to the top of the arena after an uninspired performance against an overmatched team.

On Wednesday a young team got into a funk and couldn't find its way out.

"Once they got into playing the way they were playing they couldn't get out of it," Summitt said.

Fuller has emerged as someone who can ride herd on her young teammates, but she was on the plane with Summitt and Bjorklund. Her absence in the early going of practice was apparent.

"I think Alex and Ang both," Summitt said. "I think Cait tried, but she needed some help."

Fuller is the only upperclassman on the roster. Point guard Cait McMahan is a redshirt sophomore so she is in her third year in the program but hasn't played in a game since 2007. The only other returning players are sophomore Vicki Baugh, who is sidelined with a knee rehab regimen, and Sydney Smallbone, a second-year player who in a bit of foreshadowing talked earlier this week about Fuller's ability to get the team on track.

"Alex might come up and say something, and I think they respect her as a leader enough to want to change it," Smallbone said. "They're going to respect what she says."

Summitt talked to Fuller during practice Thursday, and the two exchanged observations and smiles. Summitt will need Fuller, a quiet player by nature with a deadpan sense of humor, to step even more out of her comfort zone this season.

"Alex has not always been real vocal, but she's going to have to be more vocal now," Summitt said. "I think she and Angie both would have stepped up and said something (Wednesday). I went to others and asked them (what they did). (Saying) nothing is not acceptable unless you're a freshmen, and then that's not acceptable for very long."

Summitt had been thinking about how visible her players are in the community and with so many new faces she wanted them to take a closer look at themselves. That had been on her mind her before Wednesday but that practice provided the perfect lead-in to her lesson.

"It's all about how they see themselves and then how other people see them," Summitt said. "They sometimes see themselves as giving enough or doing enough or being something that maybe we're not seeing.

"But I think other people are going to see everything they do. They're role models. They're going to see them on campus. They're going to see them off campus. They're going to see them on the court. They're going to see them in the mall. They are so highly visible, and they are role models, and with that comes great responsibility. As they look into that mirror as a Lady Vol basketball player there is a lot that goes into it, and they have to be mindful of that."

Summitt went home between practices to change outfits because of other work commitments before the team was to reassemble in the afternoon.

"I went in to get a change of clothes and I looked in the mirror and I said, ‘It's time for them to look into the mirror,' " Summitt said.

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