Briana Bass eager to learn

The 5'2 Briana Bass was bound to be compared to the 5'2 Shannon Bobbitt. But it's not just small stature that the current and former Tennessee guards share. From a wicked crossover in the lane to burying a three-pointer in the corner to being coachable, Bass' game, not just her size, resembles Bobbitt.

Briana Bass does have two distinct differences. Shannon Bobbitt was older when she arrived at Tennessee with two years of junior college experience. Bass is an 18-year-old freshman. Bobbitt had a distinct New York accent. Bass has a high-pitched voice that makes her seem even younger.

Between the voice and the wide-eyed innocence it would seem the coaches might have a hard time raising their voices at Bass.

"Don't let her fool you," Associate Head Coach Holly Warlick joked. "Pat's gotten on her a little bit. I've gotten on her a little bit, and she's taken it. She hasn't pouted or hung her head. She's taken criticism and learned from it so that's what you want your point guard to do."

Redshirt sophomore guard Cait McMahan is expected to take the reins at point this season, but Bass will be asked to be a key contributor at the position. Both play a similar style on offense – three balls and attacking the basket – and both can be pesky defenders on the perimeter.

They also don't hesitate to take charges. Bass planted herself in front of a male practice player that was taller by at least a foot and outweighed her by about 100 pounds in a breakaway play during Saturday's scrimmage.

"She's got tremendous speed," Warlick said. "She should be very hard to trap and contain. She's just got to learn the offenses and the defenses, and she's getting there. We're going to need her quite a bit."

Bass said the biggest challenges for her right now are learning to read the defense with the ball in her hand – McMahan has a year's head start on the court and offensive playbook – and absorbing Tennessee's defensive principles such as switching, help and not just watching the ball.

"I get to ball watching and then I don't see where my player goes," Bass said. "I've got to see the ball and my player."

Bass said she also has to remind herself to be communicative on the court – something she has been much better at since August, when individual workouts began, to now.

"I think I've actually gotten better at talking," Bass said. "When we first started I talked none, not at all. So I think I'm doing better with that."

Coach Pat Summitt, who considers the point guard her extension on the court, wants more chatter, but she recognizes that Bass is a first-year player.

"Bobbitt came here with two years of junior college experience so she had a jump-start on Briana, but I think she's getting better," Summitt said. "She's not naturally a vocal player. She needs to be a vocal player because in that leadership role she's going to have to be mindful of getting the volume up."

Bass hears from the coaching staff quite a bit as Summitt and Warlick are in teaching mode with the young guard.

Bass welcomes the words and said the attention is helpful to her development.

"I feel that if a coach stops talking to you then that means that they have given up on you," Bass said. "I like the fact that she's always coming to talk to me and I need to do this, I need to do that because I feel like she's not giving up on me. She sees something in me."

Bass is also a favorite target of her teammates. They are constantly picking her up and carting her on or off the court.

"I think because I'm the shortest and the lightest on the team," Bass said. "I think that's why they always choose to pick me up. They act like I'm a little present or something."

That camaraderie has been apparent throughout the preseason. Perhaps it's because everything is so new with six true freshmen, but the players arrive early at practice, stay afterwards to shoot and are often smiling, cutting up and engaging one another and anyone who walks in the gym in conversation.

"We get along great," Bass said. "We love hanging out with each other, always laughing and joking around, so it's really fun."

The true test will arrive about the same time adversity does when a young team will have to rebound from tough games and, in all likelihood, tough losses.

The good news for the staff is that after a 2.5-hour practice Saturday that ended with scrimmages against a well-fortified male practice squad, the Lady Vols acquitted themselves well.

Senior forward Alex Fuller, in particular, stood out with her shooting and running the floor, and Summitt intentionally loaded the first five with mostly returning players, who scored 24 points in eight minutes.

"We had our moments," Summitt said. "I think putting a veteran group out there and letting them play, I think that was a good example for those watching. She's (Fuller) been playing well. She's got a lot of energy, too."

Is Fuller playing her way into the starting lineup? Possibly.

Summitt still hasn't tipped her hand to her lineup for this Thursday's exhibition game, except to indicate that her announcement that two freshmen would start may have been premature.

"They've got to understand how you have to play to be in the game when the game's on the line," Summitt said. "That's what we're looking for. They won't take possessions off. I have to see what these freshmen are really going to bring every day."

The remark was intended for freshman Glory Johnson, who had an uneven practice Saturday. She could be back in Summitt's lineup with a good effort Sunday.

"I think with this group it may be day to day," Summitt said.

Fuller, the lone senior, has been the most talkative on the court, and sophomore sharpshooter Angie Bjorklund has improved both her midrange game and putting the ball on the floor to score.

"Angie is playing really well," Summitt said. "She may not be as talkative as Alex but her game is solid right now."

The post game is elevated when redshirt freshman Kelley Cain is on the floor. She had to briefly sub in for the second group after playing eight minutes with the first group and immediately scored under the basket.

"Kelley's presence is really great," Summitt said.

Cain entered because a player took a poke to the eye. It was the third player to briefly exit practice to seek treatment, but all returned.

"That's good," Summitt said. "They're fine."

It's also a change in philosophy from the past two seasons when a veteran team was long on talent but short on numbers. The coaches would let up on the accelerator at practice to guard against injuries. This preseason the collisions have been at full speed.

"Oh, sure," Summitt said of the reversal of approaches. "They have no clue of what it's going to be like once we start playing games. That's why we're emphasizing the sprinting and the spacing and the communication and getting five people in sync with what it is that we want to do. A lot of times we'll have three or maybe even four, but it only takes one person to break down on defense, break down on offense."

Summitt continues to get McMahan, Bass and Shekinna Stricklen repetitions at point guard with McMahan having the edge on experience.

"I am expecting a lot from Cait," Summitt said. "Before our day off I thought she did some good things, and she did a good job today. The communication has got to be there every day."

When McMahan was a freshman she backed up Bobbitt. Bass finds herself in a similar role as she backs up McMahan.

Bass asked a member of the Lady Vols support staff to put together clips of Bobbitt, who now plays for Los Angeles Sparks, so she could see firsthand how a point guard of similar size ran a Lady Vol team.

"I had one of the tape ladies make me a tape of Shannon Bobbitt from last year and I watched that – her shooting, running the team, running the offenses, different stuff like that," Bass said.

Bass, like McMahan, is coming off knee surgery – a torn ACL in February in her senior year of high school at North Central in Indianapolis that was fixed in early March. The jump from high school to college meant Bass gives herself some pep talks.

"I talk to myself," Bass said. "I especially talk to my knee and tell my knee, ‘It's going to be OK.' They're a little tired from all the working, but they're OK. No swelling."

The moment this week that most reminded the coaches of Bobbitt was when Bass nailed a three-pointer from the corner to break a tie against the practice squad as the shot clock went below two seconds Wednesday.

"She hit a three in the corner to win the game," Warlick said. "She has a lot of what Bobbitt does. She just has to get the experience. We got (Bobbitt) as a junior, but she reminds me a lot of Bobbitt – her speed, her quickness. Bri is pretty darn quick. She takes chances on defense that Shannon was taught not to do so we've got to clean that up a little bit, but she does have a tendency to remind you of Bobbitt."

Bass has a solid shot – she releases high, which is key for a short player, and the coaches want her to hunt for some open looks.

"Yes, and I think she will," Summitt said. "When we got into close games with our practice group she's been looking."

"She tells me all the time that I've got to read the defense so that's what I'm trying to do right now," Bass said. "Containing all the info, talking to everybody out on the court, being loud and vocal and then just reading the defense."

Bass has been a delight to coach so far as she is attentive and willing to listen.

"That's very accurate," Warlick said. "She's extremely coachable, attentive to what we're teaching and retains a lot. She's pretty conscious about getting better and learning our system."

Bass also has proven to be physically tough. In Tuesday's session she head-faked a practice guy so completely that he flattened her as he came down. A few plays later she was leveled in the open court while on defense.

"I hit my elbow, got knocked down and hurt my neck," Bass said. "Everybody was always roughing me up (in high school) … everybody was always out to get me."

Bass also uncorked a crossover move in the paint that afternoon that corkscrewed her defender.

"I did that all the time in high school so I hope to someday bring it out here," Bass said.

Every sentence from Bass is delivered with a smile on her face, even when talking about the demands at Tennessee.

"I've been telling a lot of people that high school is totally different from college because back in high school practices were not as intense but here they're looking for you to bring it every day," Bass said. "You have to bring energy, intensity every day. It is a huge adjustment because we have to get mentally prepared and physically prepared for practice every day."

AP POLL: The first Associated Press poll of the 2008-09 season has the Lady Vols pegged at No. 7. Pat Summitt didn't react to the ranking and instead immediately talked about what the team needs to do. Preseason rankings and conference predictions are not on her radar right now.

"I haven't thought much about where we're going to be ranked," Summitt said. "We've got bigger fish to fry here. We've got to keep teaching. Repetition is going to be so important in practice – all the teaching and the learning that has to take place. At some point you think they're probably going to get overloaded or confused. That's our goal as a coaching staff – a lot of repetition, a lot of running.

"This is a game where you have to run and a lot of these player didn't run very hard in high school, and it's showing in practice. That's why we're doing so much up and down and making them go extended minutes."

The Lady Vols will scrimmage again Sunday afternoon in game-like situations and insert their sideline and baseline in-bounds play. They were at full strength Saturday as Amber Gray returned to practice after spraining her left ankle earlier this week. Vicki Baugh continues to practice on a very limited basis.

Summitt's relative disinterest in the preseason rankings doesn't mean her team hasn't been reminded of what's expected at Tennessee. The cover of the media guide says "Lady Vols of the Rings," and has images of all eight national title rings. Nearly every page of the guide has photos of all eight along the bottom.

"They haven't won it," Summitt said. "Those freshmen haven't won. That's all about the rich tradition of our program. Coming off back-to-back championships … I thought it would be good.

"The players can't hide from it. This is who we are. We have to have high expectations every year, and when you put it out there you'd better have them, not only high expectations but a high work ethic and a great commitment to upholding the traditions of Tennessee."


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