Lady Vols strive for consistency

"Consistency is more important than greatness." That was the Lady Vols' thought for the day before practice Monday, and it underscores what the coaches need this season. Greatness could eventually emerge from this fledging group of freshmen, but the staff is seeking steadiness in the early going.

"If you can go day after day and approach it the same way, give it the same high level of effort and give it the same competitiveness, even if it's not going well, you're going to not stop competing and pressing and driving, that's what we're looking for," Assistant Coach Dean Lockwood said.

Monday's practice was pleasing to the coaches for a couple of reasons. The players responded well after the day off Sunday – unlike last week's session following an off day – and were talkative and energetic. Of course, unlike last week, Pat Summitt was there for the start.

"That might make a little difference," Summitt said with a smile.

The players also performed well in the half-court, especially with entry passes to the post from all the guard spots.

"They're very unselfish," Summitt said. "I think our posts are getting better at sealing the defense. We've put a lot more emphasis on securing your position in the post. Syd (Smallbone) had a good day today."

Freshman forward Amber Gray also had a solid practice Monday and showed in the post-practice sprints how much ground she has gained as she catches up on conditioning. Summitt noted some one-on-one film study with Gray likely helped on the court.

"We had a good film session after Saturday's workout," Summitt said. "I'm going to have to watch more film with these young players. I think the one-on-one is good."

The half-court execution overall was the best since practice began, an indication that concepts are beginning to take root.

"They're digesting it, and I think we're seeing evidence of that," Lockwood said. "There's a comfort level that you can only get with repetition. You need time to process information and understand it, but you also need court time to get your timing down, working with players you've never worked with before. You're seeing a little bit of evidence of progress.

"Pat and I said the same thing on the baseline (Monday) with about 20 minutes to go, ‘This was an encouraging day.' "

The next step is for the execution to begin translating as smoothly in the full court on both sides of the ball.

"You go full court you've got a lot of thinking to do up and down," Summitt said. "They'll have to sort things out. That's where the communication has to be."

Monday's session was aided by the fact that freshman point guard Briana Bass was more comfortable on the court with the ball in her hand.

"I think she is," Summitt said. "Her decision-making was very good today."

Two freshmen were held out of practice. Forward Alyssia Brewer was under the weather with an upset stomach, and freshman Shekinna Stricklen was under observation because of the blow to the head Saturday in the scrimmage.

"She feels a lot better," Summitt said. "Unfortunately she's dealing with a death in the family."

Stricklen, who is from Morrilton, Arkansas, lost a maternal aunt.

Sophomore forward Vicki Baugh returned to practice after a week off for rehab because of swelling in her surgically repaired left knee. Jenny Moshak, the Lady Vols chief of sports medicine, had said Friday that Baugh would be evaluated daily depending on swelling and her ability to maintain her rehab regimen in the weight room.

"Jenny is totally the boss," Summitt said. "She said, ‘I want to work Vicki in just half-court.' She did real well."

Baugh was limited to half-court sets, but the difference she could make this season if she were available to the team was readily apparent.

"She came in and she showed me today that just about every concept and principle that she was taught last year she was doing," Lockwood said. "She ducked in a couple of times strong. She did her duck-in stuff with great aggression and really good sealing and contact work. She blocked out the sun. She was, ‘Bam!' She was pretty much up to speed on her reads. She rebounded the ball pretty well.

"You can tell she's not the old Vicki mobility-wise, but in terms of her retention that was good and she did what she could do there without breaking Jenny's trust by saying, ‘I'm going to push it.' I was pleased. I thought she was mentally very alert and very aware. She was tuned in."

Baugh has the ability to raise the level of play by being on the floor and her presence has an effect on the team that reminds Lockwood of Alexis Hornbuckle.

"I'll make this comparison to Lex," Lockwood said. "There's an energy level with Vicki that if she keeps this up, it's just good. She's very likeable. She comes in with that positive energy, and it just seems to create more energy. That is very encouraging."

Baugh also did for the freshmen – Glory Johnson, Alyssia Brewer and Amber Gray and redshirt freshman Kelley Cain – what Candace Parker and Nicky Anosike did for her last year.

"She was talking to other kids," Lockwood said. "She was really coaching some people. It's great to see that passed down. That's the Candace, Nicky thing passed down. They can do things we can't in some ways. There's a place they can go that we can't go. You're in that locker room and you're on the frontlines with your teammates, your teammates have a different status than your coaches.

"Hearing something from your teammate and especially an upperclassman is so important. You sometimes don't realize how important it is that your voice is heard when you're one of the elder statesmen. And it's sounds funny that you call a first-semester sophomore an elder statesman but that's the state of affairs we're in right now. Her voice is important. When she talks, Glory, Lyssi, Amber, Kelley, they all listen, especially the three freshmen."

HALL OF FAME: Dean Lockwood has now joined the other three coaches on the staff with his own Hall of Fame nod after his hometown feted him earlier this month in Bay County, Michigan: Dean Lockwood Induction.

The working class town has produced its share of athletic success with Bill Hewitt in the NFL; Keith Miller in Major League Baseball; Terry McDermott, an Olympic speed skater; and Elmer Engel, a legendary high school coach who built a football dynasty at Bay Central.

"It was a very, very good evening," Lockwood said. "It feels warm and you're very thankful that people think enough of you and remember you in a positive light to include you. Bay City is a very proud athletically rich area. To be included in their Hall of Fame means a lot."

Lockwood's accomplishments noted his position on the Lady Vols staff for the back-to-back titles in 2007 and 2008.

"Above everything else, cutting down nets these last two years the minute the horn went off and all the bedlam ensues the first thing you think about is all the people that helped you get there and how lucky you are," Lockwood said. "That's one of the things that went through my mind that night. My grade school coach showed up. One of my high school teammates was there. Another buddy from high school flew in from New York City to be there.

"You just think about all the people that helped you. At every turn in my life I've had terrific people. I feel incredibly blessed. I told them as much fun as it was to win championships the last two years and as great as it is standing here, it's so much about relationships and the people who helped you get there. I talked about my parents. It was so nice to be able to talk about my mom and dad. If I've done anything worthy of a Hall of Fame it's because of the Hall of Fame upbringing."

Lockwood's mother has traveled to see the Lady Vols play on two occasions. His father, a Marine who died in 2001, was a World War II veteran of Iwo Jima.

"He was an outstanding baseball player and was looked at by a couple of Major League scouts," Lockwood said. "He played at Western Michigan. He was a middle school teacher and coach and he always took me out to hit fly balls or go to the gym. He had a great respect for athletics and great competitors, people who did it the right way."

Lockwood's only regret about the Oct. 19 evening was that Nicky Anosike was being honored the same night at nearly the same time in Indianapolis as the NCAA Woman of the Year for her accomplishments on the court, in the classroom and in the community.

Lockwood did get to visit with Anosike in Knoxville in September before she left for Israel to play pro ball, and they discussed her chances for winning. At that time Anosike was a finalist.

"I took her to lunch," Lockwood said. "I said, ‘I can now buy your lunch.' We talked about it for a couple of minutes. You could tell she was fired up about it. It's performance and character. When you put those two together to me it doesn't get even better. Character is your life. You have a very small window to be an athlete. It speaks so much to her character, what kind of background she came from, what was instilled in her.

"I am very biased, but I would tell you that there is absolutely no one more deserving, nobody who's done more than Nicky to be there in all areas of what that award represents. When Pat told me that it was the (same) Sunday, I said what time. It just killed me. I just so wanted to be there."

Summitt taped a congratulations message that was played at Lockwood's induction and it nearly sparked a mini-riot at the Doubletree Hotel because the AV operator was having trouble with the audio portion.

"I don't think she realizes it – I told her and she laughed – her stature and how she's regarded, not only her accomplishments but her integrity as a coach," Lockwood said. "When they said, ‘We have this special intro,' there were two large screens in the Doubletree Hotel and Pat's face flashed up there. She was at her desk. She had done something else that day at a function so she was dressed nicely. She had her speaking clothes on. It was rapt attention.

"Then her mouth started to move and she was using hand gestures and there was nothing. There was no sound. First of all they looked at me like I could do something. Almost in unison – they said there were 500 people – I probably saw 250 to 300 heads just (swivel) to the AV guy. There were shouts, ‘You hit the mute button!' They were coaching the guy up. They were visibly not pleased. They kind of got it working and they said, ‘Run it back! We want to see it from the beginning!'

"I might as well have been sweeping up at that point. All eyes were on Pat, and they wanted to hear her start to finish."

With the research assistance of Debby Jennings, the Lady Vols chief of media relations, Summitt relayed a tribute rich in background about Lockwood growing up in Bay County.

"They thought that was the best thing," Lockwood said.

Summitt is in the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame, along with Associate Head Coach Holly Warlick and Assistant Coach Daedra Charles. Now, Lockwood has a rejoinder if the topic surfaces. His induction also includes being honored at the Green Hut, a local watering hole of much renown where sports have been discussed for years.

"You go to Bay County, it doesn't get any better than that," Lockwood said with a laugh. "You go to the Bay County Community Center and go the Green Hut and look on that wall, there's a record in both places."


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