Alyssia Brewer seeks to compete

Alyssia Brewer has a guard's eye for the floor and a post player's build in the paint. The 6'3 forward – Tennessee's first-ever recruit from Oklahoma – averaged a double-double in the two exhibition games and although the opponents were overmatched it was still noteworthy that a freshman tallied 12.5 points and 12.0 rebounds per game.

It's that ability to score and get on the glass that should keep Alyssia Brewer on the floor this season, which officially begins Saturday at 1 p.m. Eastern (TV: SportSouth, Lady Vol Radio Network) against San Francisco at Thompson-Boling Arena.

Brewer began her basketball career on the wing with the ball in her hand. She still has a guard's mentality but Pat Summitt sees a solid frame – Brewer may inch closer to 6'4 – that can be a force on the blocks.

"You don't want to say that too much out-loud because Coach wants me to be a more physical player," Brewer said with a smile when asked about having a guard's mentality. "But she does like the attributes I bring with my passing ability. I've always had that since I was younger.

"I've never actually played a true, true post until now. I played post every now and then but when I was younger I was a guard. After the sixth grade I had a growth spurt and I had to learn post, but I would still pop out and what-not."

Brewer, a product of Sapulpa High School in Oklahoma, played on the wing for two years in high school and then moved into the paint. But she didn't completely forego her face-up game, and she can still hit from behind the arc.

In a scrimmage this preseason the Lady Vols were playing against the male practice team with the score tied and a few ticks left on the clock. A sideline in-bounds play was called to get the ball to Angie Bjorklund on the wing. But the practice team sniffed it out and blanketed Bjorklund.

"I was supposed to just be a screener," Brewer said. "Angie was supposed to get the shot from the flare, but I rolled out, and she got doubled, and I was open so I took the opportunity."

Does Brewer have confidence to take that three-point attempt?

"Definitely," she said.

The bounce pass from Bjorklund found Brewer at the top of the key, and she swished the shot.

Confidence is a needed attribute for Brewer as she often finds herself in Summitt's crosshairs for extra instruction.

"People have told me that and I also know from experience that it's good to have a coach yell at you because if they don't yell at you anymore than they've kind of given up on you," Brewer said. "My club coach was constantly on me, and it was only for the better. I know that there's a reason that Pat is doing that. It's not the best feeling to have her yelling at me, but it's because she wants me to be a better player."

Brewer has handled the coach's attention with composure. She knows the questions are usually rhetorical. She knows to nod and say, ‘Rebound.' She knows not to repeat the same mistake.

Brewer also has Assistant Coaches Dean Lockwood and Daedra Charles-Furlow in her ear. They will offer a mix of challenges and encouragement. Charles-Furlow, who played for Summitt from 1988 to 1991, can relate to the current crop of youngsters on another level.

After a particular tough practice session in October, Charles-Furlow called Brewer later that evening to seek her input about a basketball matter.

"I called Lyssi and said, ‘Whatcha' doing?' " Charles-Furlow said. "It was something other than, ‘You've got to do better in practice.' "

"She helps us out a lot," Brewer said. "She still can relate. When Coach is talking to us, she can put it in our terms. Her and Dean definitely. Dean is one of the best post coaches in the nation and Coach Summitt reminds me of that every day. We're lucky to have both of them here."

Brewer wears No. 33 for the Lady Vols because her high school number, 32, has been retired at Tennessee. It belonged to Charles-Furlow and now hangs in the rafters in the arena.

"It's the next number left," Brewer said of her decision to don No. 33.

Brewer has made strides since September in her conditioning and in her power moves in the paint. The lefty is drilled every practice by Lockwood and Charles-Furlow, who use pads to push the players and make contact as they go to the basket.

"She's made good progress," Lockwood said. "She's more physical than she's been. If you look at her now versus two weeks ago, way more physical, her sealing and ducking in. She's got to get to where she plays with that sense of urgency with two or three or four things in a row, which the game demands that you do. But she's made good headway.

"I've been pleased with her progress. She's probably in the last (two weeks) made as much growth as any of our post players have. (Two weeks) ago she was battling to survive but now things that we do in drill work she's executing in scrimmage situations."

Brewer has proven to be a player that perks up when the lights come on, so to speak. It was first apparent in the preseason scrimmages before the exhibition games were held.

"I honestly don't know," Brewer said about what flips the switch. "I think it's just because it's more game-like than going half-court. You're getting to go through all your plays."

Brewer performed well in both exhibition games by grabbing 10 offensive and 14 defensive rebounds for an average of 12. She hit 52.0 percent of her shots to average 12.4 per game and her 51 minutes in two games were second on the team, just behind the 57 logged by Glory Johnson, the other player with a double-double with 21.0 ppg and 11.0 rpg. Redshirt freshman Kelley Cain came close at 15.0 ppg and 9.5 rpg in 37 total minutes of court time.

Lockwood has noticed the gleam in Brewer's eye when someone is keeping score. But he also noted there is only one scorekeeper that matters.

"She's got to learn to do that in practice so, especially, this one is pleased," Lockwood said with a nod of his head towards Summitt. "But there's no question when we get out there and we're competing and keeping score there's that part of her that kind of charges."

Summitt was intrigued by Brewer's combination of skill and size when she recruited her to Tennessee.

"She's a very skilled player," Summitt said. "I've watched her for several years and I want her to have the combination of finesse and power. She's more of a finesse player. Obviously she can shoot the three ball, but I told Dean she's got to learn to be more physical and get paint points and have a toughness in there. It's all about habits. She hasn't created the habit yet of really being physical and owning the paint.

"I told her to just listen to what he says, and it'll happen. He'll make it happen."

Lockwood and the rest of the staff were busy Thursday trying to make a lot things happen as a young team continues to be a challenge for the coaches.

A practice that was planned to last less than two hours extended to more than three hours and then was followed by sprints and a weight-lifting session.

"They brought it on themselves," Summitt said. "We had a one-hour-and-45-minute practice planned that turned into three hour and 15 minutes, and we play in two days. But what's more important?

"Right now it's to send a message to them that this is unacceptable and we're going to get it right if we have to stay here until midnight. It's just a glaring lack of focus and commitment. Maybe that's what freshmen do, but it was pretty much the whole team."

The team was down two players in Kelley Cain and Angie Bjorklund who both sat out practice. Cain took a blow to the head Monday, and Bjorklund is being treated for lower back spasms. Their availability for Saturday's game hasn't been determined yet.

The youngsters also had a fierce practice squad to contend with – there were up to 11 of them rotating in and out compared to nine available Lady Vols, and they brought the pressure throughout the session.

"I love our practice guys," Summitt said. "They definitely took us out of our rhythm on offense and what we wanted to do, and they didn't fight back (at first). It took them forever to decide to compete. And once they did it was much better.

"For a coaching staff it's very disappointing because we know what we've got ahead of us. They give in to fatigue so we're just going to keep sprinting at the end of every practice. If they would not give in to fatigue during practice then they might not have to sprint after."

Summitt can remain circumspect about the preseason. She knows she has six true freshmen on the roster, and the staff has used the nearly four weeks of official practice to inculcate them in basketball.

"Overall I think we've made a lot of progress," Summitt said. "We've put a lot in. I don't know that we've put this much in at this pace in a long time. Last year you had a veteran team so you didn't have to break things down. This year you're having to teach and then break it down and then put it back together."

The staff spent considerable time this week working on the intricacies of the matchup zone by having the players split into guard and post groups to learn the terminology and shifts and then come together to combine the concepts as a team.

"There have been a lot of years that I didn't work on zone until after Christmas," Summitt said. "But I think the changeup might be something to help us at this stage. If we're going man-to-man and we're not having success I think for a young team you'd better have a backup."

Despite Summitt's frustration during some practices at their level of focus she does see players that can grasp the game at a high level. It also means she knows she can push them.

"I think they have a pretty strong basketball IQ," Summitt said. "They had really good coaches, and that makes a difference.

"I think having six true freshmen and a redshirt freshman is what sold me on working them harder in practice and just demanding more every day. It's the mentality and making sure they fight through fatigue and dive on the floor for loose balls and just communicate. They're communicating better."

Brewer is one of the six true freshmen, and the well-documented demands of Summitt factored into her decision to come to Tennessee.

"I'm not the type of person to give in easily or break down," Brewer said. "It's going to be tough. If I would have wanted it soft I would have gone somewhere else. I wouldn't have come here."

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