Lady Vols to raise banner today

For a coach it's the chance to reflect. For a returning player it's a moment to remember. For a freshman it's a powerful message of what's really at stake. When Tennessee raises the eighth national championship banner up to the rafters Saturday a flood of emotions will come down on the people both responsible for it and those hoping to be the reason another one will be put in place.

No. 7/6 Tennessee officially opens play today at 1 p.m. Eastern (Lady Vol Radio Network, TV: SportSouth,) against San Francisco. But before the ball is tipped on the 2008-09 season the crowning moment of the 2007-08 season will be recognized when the national title banner is unveiled and raised to the top of Thompson-Boling Arena in a pre-game ceremony.

That pre-game event can be watched on the Internet at: All-Access Lady Vols.

For Assistant Coach Dean Lockwood it's the chance to remember the five seniors from last season, Nicky Anosike, Alberta Auguste, Shannon Bobbitt, Alexis Hornbuckle and Candace Parker, who led Tennessee to back-to-back championships.

"The first one you're so immersed and the next thing you know you're playing in the Final Four and you're playing in the championship and it happens," Lockwood said. "The second one you realize how stinkin' hard and how things have to go right, a little bit of luck, keeping people healthy, making a player or two a la LSU, a Lex type of deal, Lex's shot against Texas A&M."

Hornbuckle buried a three-pointer from about 25 feet in the regional final against Texas A&M with the shot clock about to expire and then tipped in a missed shot with less than two seconds left to beat LSU in the semifinal in Tampa in the Final Four. The Lady Vols went on to beat Stanford two days later to win the 2008 national title and complete the back-to-back championship run.

"You just realize how fortunate you are and how rare those moments are and how just as easily that could have been LSU winning it, it could have been Stanford, it could have been UConn," Lockwood said. "You're so appreciative. You realize all the hard work that went into it and especially the players. Everything that they did to get this team in a position to be there and then to play 80 minutes where it got done. It's overwhelming. You're just overwhelmed by a sea of gratitude and appreciation for the effort and what happened.

"You don't just think about the moment, you think about everything that has happened that led up to that. You think back and you think about an Anosike, about her warrior spirit that just permeated this team. You think about Candace Parker and all the extra sessions and all the extra time and all the extra work that she put in here and in the tape room in order to be Candace Parker. Shannon Bobbitt, who was the player of the year in juco and came in and completely subjugated and subordinated herself to this team. And Bird, a first-team All-American (in junior college), did the same thing. Lex, who absolutely energized us. These are all the things that go into it.

"And as that thing is lifted a flood of those memories comes back to you, and you appreciate them. You're just so thankful for them and you appreciate them so much."

Sophomore guard Angie Bjorklund, who was instrumental in last's season's journey to Tampa, will get to participate in this banner raising. Last year she was a freshman and stood with the three other first-year players away from the festivities but still on the court close enough to watch.

"I remember watching them line up and us four standing on the side and we're like, ‘Dang,' " Bjorklund said. "Even more so is when they got their rings (later that season). Coach presented them and we're like, ‘We want to be a part of that.' It was motivating."

Fellow sophomore Sydney Smallbone also remembers standing nearby a year ago – close enough to feel it but not yet being a part of the celebration.

"Just watching it last year that was the spot we wanted to be at," Smallbone said. "We wanted to be the ones raising it. I think it's going to be awesome for us and hopefully we get to show the freshmen just what it takes and what it's like to raise a banner."

Six true freshmen will watch Saturday as the returning players and staff, plus Danielle Donehew, last year's director of basketball operations and now a top executive with the Atlanta Dream; Auguste; Parker; and the parents of Hornbuckle, Jerome and Quan, standing in for their daughter, take the floor to send the banner skyward. Hornbuckle, Bobbitt and Anosike won't be in attendance because they are playing overseas.

Those six newcomers can only watch for now and wonder what could happen in the future.

"It's motivation knowing that could be us next year or in the next couple years standing there raising our own banner," freshman Amber Gray said. "All it is is motivation. It proves if you work hard you will accomplish your dreams."

Lockwood will be lost in his own thoughts at that moment, but he also knows what a powerful effect the ceremony can have on freshmen.

"It's like a vision. It's like the old saying: Without vision the people perish," Lockwood said. "It crystallizes in your mind when you actually see it. You see the actual banner going up, the players, the crowd. You see it being lifted up. It crystallizes in your mind one of the reasons you do all this stuff for.

"Let's face it, there are days with Heather (Mason) it's not fun. There are days when you've got coaches climbing your back, figuratively speaking, that it is not fun at all. When you see that moment you realize, ‘This is what it's for. This is what we do it for. This is one of the things that makes it all worthwhile.'

"It's one thing to talk about it, but when I visually see it and I'm present in the moment … it's symbolic, it's a representation of everything that led up to that."

Pat Summitt remembers how much time elapsed between the 1998 banner and the 2007 one.

"Raising the banner is always a special moment and time; the fact that we went a number of years without being able to win a championship, it's a special feeling in a way and what an incredible senior class and team overall," Summitt said. "That always proves to our newcomers, ‘Wow, this is what they did, and we've yet to be able to do it.' That's always the goal of the student-athletes who come to Tennessee and it's important to have that goal if you ever intend to be champions."

Bjorklund, a 19-year-old second-year player might be too young to put the moment in perspective but she is old enough to have pondered if it's something she can fully absorb right now.

"It really hasn't hit me," Bjorklund said. "Sometimes I think about it. Maybe it will take until I'm completely done playing basketball to look back. The moment when we won that was great. You go back home and you have time to look back and still enjoy it. But now, we're on a mission again. We're going for another one. It will hit me one day."

She has already reminded herself to take a moment Saturday and appreciate what she accomplished as a freshman at Tennessee.

"A lot of time you get caught up in the here and now, and you kind of forget," Bjorklund said. "It will be good to take a step back and remember what you accomplished. It's a good time to just remember and remind you of what you're working for this year, a reminder of that feeling, going the whole year and finally accomplishing it."

The 2008-09 version of the Lady Vols is extremely young with only one senior on the roster and no junior class. The other 11 players are a mixture of sophomores and freshmen.

Defending the national title isn't on anyone's radar on a national level based on preseason media and coaches' polls and Tennessee being picked to finish behind Vanderbilt in the SEC. Those predictions have somewhat rankled the current team, especially the returning sophomores, the ones who stood off to the side a year ago to watch the 2007 banner be lifted to the top of the arena.

"We can't let that affect us," Smallbone said. "We have to come out here, stick to what coach says and try to get better every day. We can't let that affect our minds or affect our attitudes because that's only going to bring us down. We try to keep it positive and keep it simple and stick to our game.

"We come in every day thinking we're going to get that Three-Peat. That's what drives us. We want to get better and better every day."

Sophomore forward Vicki Baugh, who continues to rehab from ACL surgery but has a goal of playing this season, smiles when asked about the lowered expectations.

"That's what I like," Baugh said. "Keep saying that. I want them to. We're going to prove it on the court. We have to prove it on the court and with our practice. The day will come when we can say, ‘OK, what are you trying to say now?' "

"We want to prove people wrong," Bjorklund said. "Put us as low as you want. It's not going to affect what we know we have on this team. We don't let anyone outside our little circle – when we line up there in a circle – that's all we care about. That circle. It's all about that circle. And we know what we have."

STARTING LINEUPS: An assortment of aches and pains has forced Pat Summitt to tinker with her starting lineup and the beneficiary is young players getting some early experience.

With sophomore Vicki Baugh in rehab mode, sophomore Angie Bjorklund out with a back ailment and redshirt freshman Kelley Cain still recovering from a direct shot to the head in Monday's practice, Summitt doesn't have three players for the opener who are expected to play major roles this season.

Summitt initially wanted to deploy her big lineup with freshman Shekinna Stricklen at point guard, but she will move the 6'2 Stricklen to small forward. Sophomore Cait McMahan, a 5'4 guard, will open at point, with Sydney Smallbone, a 5'10 guard, at the two spot on the wing. The paint will be patrolled by senior Alex Fuller, a 6'3 forward/center, and freshman Glory Johnson, a 6'3 forward, who are interchangeable at the four and five spots.

Smallbone, who started in both exhibition games in place of Bjorklund, will get her first official career start Saturday. A team that was already expected to be young will open with little experience on the floor, but Smallbone sees a team that is talented, if callow.

"We've got the skill to get it done," Smallbone said. "We're just going to have to learn quick. With these upcoming games, San Francisco and Virginia, we're going to have to come out and set the tempo and really get things done from the start."

San Francisco is coached by former Lady Vol Tanya Haave, who played for Summitt from 1980 to 1984.

Haave is expected to start: Danesha Wright, 5'2 junior guard, Oakland, Calif., native chose USF to be close to home, played two years at Ohlone College and was league MVP; Shay Rollins, 5'4 senior guard, scored 20 or more points six times last season, hails from Alameda, Calif., brother Jimmy Rollins plays for the World Series champion Philadelphia Phillies, brother Antwon is in the Texas Rangers organization; Rheina Ale, 5'8 freshman guard, averaged 16.2 ppg and 8.0 rpg for Bishop Montgomery High School in Carson, Calif., father Leroy played football for Oregon; Jakkie Boka-Timmerberg, 6'1 forward, San Francisco native played in 11 games as a freshman, was a letter-winner in basketball and volleyball at Urban High School and NorCal Athlete of the Year; and Necolia Simmons, 6'0 senior center, played two years at San Joaquin Delta College and was a Kodak Junior College All-American, played in 30 games last year for USF and reached double digits in half of those games with five double-doubles.

The Dons also are a young team but Haave, who is in her third season, has a goal of getting USF into the NCAA tourney out of the West Coast Conference, which also includes Gonzaga, San Diego, Santa Clara, Pepperdine, Portland and Loyola Marymount.

"We lost three seniors, all three starters," Haave said. "That's a lot of minutes, a lot of points and a lot of leadership. We have to take on a new identity now."

Opening the season at Tennessee is quite a test for a young team, but it means Haave gets to come home and the Lady Vols will make a trip to the picturesque campus of USF in the future.

"It'll be great to go back and play there," Haave said. "It will also be a challenge of course, but being able to play against one of the premier programs will be good for us."

Pat Summitt was ready to welcome Haave – a native of Colorado and one of Summitt's first national recruits and the first west of the Mississippi River – back to Knoxville. Haave was a Kodak All-American in basketball and honorable mention All-American in volleyball at Tennessee.

"I was really excited when we added San Francisco because I'm so proud of Tanya and I think she is a really dedicated coach," Summitt said. "She's been in a couple of times and we've had Xs and Os sessions together and I think she is really invested in her team and the game."

PRACTICE OBSERVERS: Tanya Haave and her staff and players watched part of the Lady Vols practice Friday after the Dons concluded their workout in Pratt Pavilion.

One member of the staff is Assistant Coach Abby Conklin, who played for Summitt from 1993 to 1997 and won two national titles at Tennessee. Conklin understands what the young Lady Vol players are enduring right now as they learn to adjust to Summitt's system and demands. Conklin realizes in hindsight that there was a method to the madness.

"It built mental toughness," Conklin said. "If you can endure three and a half, four hours of Pat there are not many teams in the country that can throw anything at you that you're not going to be able to handle. She can push people and push people and she gets the best out of everybody. It's mental toughness. That's such a big key in her program, at least it was when I was here. We were called mental midgets on a daily basis."

The phrase has come up a few times this preseason.

"She pulled that back out this year?" Conklin said with a smile. "I thought my middle name was mental midget."

Conklin laughs about it now and even hears Summitt in her own voice.

"I find myself telling my players, ‘Your mind is telling you you're more tired than you are,' " Conklin said. "Because Pat used to tell me that all the time: ‘Your mind is letting you think you're tired. Your body has got a lot more to give.' "

The point of watching the practice was for the young Dons to see how high expectations are for teams that want to win. Haave's goal for USF is to compete for the WCC title.

"This is a shoot-around and it's not a 100 percent full go like practice but still the intensity is different here," Conklin said. "We're still coaching our players to not walk after they finish a drill. We have to stay on them, ‘Run to the next spot!' That's something that just comes naturally here, just the expectation.

"I hope they see the communication, how smoothly the drills transition because we're a young team as well. We've got seven newcomers and our transitions aren't real smooth yet. Our upperclassmen know where to go and where to be but we still don't have the communication to get everybody moving quickly in the right direction, and hopefully they're seeing that."

The Dons watched practice from the upper observation area of Pratt and also took a tour of the facility, which opened last season.

"It's amazing," Conklin said. "It's Tennessee. Tennessee is the best and the Lady Vols are the best and this facility again shows how amazing this place is."

BJORKLUND'S BACK: Shooting guard Angie Bjorklund has been out of practice for a week being treated for lower back pain. An MRI revealed a bulging disc, and she will be treated conservatively by Jenny Moshak, especially since it's November and the goal is to have her healthy over the long haul.

Bjorklund has yet to play a game this season – she missed both exhibitions – and she remains day to day. A scheduled return date is not yet determined. For Bjorklund the down time is difficult and she is anxious to get back on the court.

"Very anxious," Bjorklund said. "Jenny has helped out with that a lot being patient with it and not pushing it. It's really testing my faith, testing my patience."

Bjorklund said the experience of being sidelined has given her newfound respect for Cait McMahan and Kelley Cain, who both missed last season to rehab from knee surgery.

"I have a lot of respect for Cait and Kelley," Bjorklund said. "Me sitting out is a small fraction of what they had to go through sitting a year out."

COUNTDOWN TO 1,000: The first game means the countdown officially starts for Pat Summitt to reach 1,000 career wins. With 983 the legendary coach is 17 short of the milestone.

At Media Day in October, Summitt was asked if her young team had at least 17 wins in its basketball holsters.

"I don't know," Summitt said. "I know one thing. I hope we can get there in a hurry and get it over with.

"Yet when I think about 1,000 wins, I can't believe I've been doing it this long and we've had the success we've had. There's a correlation there to winning and the success comes from having the best talent. We had three players on the (2008) Olympic team and that speaks volumes for the great players that have played at Tennessee and we've had even more All-Americans and more Olympians.

"Certainly for this young team it's a big challenge, because everyone obviously feels like now they have a chance. I felt that at SEC Media Day (earlier in October). There were a lot of coaches that feel like, ‘Now it's our turn.' That's fine, but we will lace them up and we'll go after it every game, and I don't want to underestimate what this group can do. I think they've got some greatness in them."

The players were not all aware of the milestone before the season began, but word has filtered through the team and the chance to be a part of history obviously has its appeal.

"We're very excited," freshman Amber Gray said. "We can't wait, but at the same time you can't be overexcited. It's a basketball game and you have to know that you have certain things that need to get done. But we are very excited. We can't wait to get coach those 17 wins to help her out with her career statistics."

STEP UP: The best line written in Tampa post-championship may have come from Tampa Tribune writer Martin Fennelly, who said by now you'd think the Lady Vols would just bring their own ladders. On Saturday, they will get two.

Werner Ladder, the official ladder of the NCAA championships, will present Pat Summitt and the team with a pair of ladders in honor of their 2008 title. The ladder used to cut down the net will be given to Summitt. The second one will be signed by Summitt and auctioned with proceeds going to the Kay Yow/WBCA Cancer Fund. The presentation will be made before today's game.

The presentation is being done in conjunction with: Werner Ladder; Kay Yow/WBCA Cancer Fund; and WBCA.

"I can always use a ladder," Summitt said.

DESTINATION NASHVILLE: It's a few years away, but the Lady Vols destination of choice will definitely be Nashville with the announcement Friday that the Tennessee capital was award the Final Four in 2014.

"I think it's awesome," Pat Summitt said. "When we've been there for the SEC Tournament they've just done an incredible job. It's been a great venue for us. I'm excited because I think people will support it all over the Southeast. I think that's going to be special."

Knoxville was the site of the Final Four in 1990 – campus sites are no longer used and host cities must now have an abundance of top-rated hotel rooms – but Tennessee fell short in the regional final in a game that Summitt has never gotten over. Summitt said the pressure to get to Nashville wouldn't compare.

"Oh no," Summitt said. "That's a whole different pressure. Coming back here that obviously was the ultimate goal and when we lost to Virginia I just remember while we weren't in it, the people around here came out and supported it. We felt like at the end of the tournament all the teams that played, as well as the people that attended, they had a very special experience here."

The Final Four will be held in St. Louis in 2009 followed by San Antonio in 2010, Indianapolis in 2011, Denver in 2012, New Orleans in 2013, Nashville in 2014, Tampa in 2015 and Indianapolis in 2016.

The support Tennessee as a state has shown for women's basketball likely factored into the decision to bring the game's showcase event to the Volunteer State.

"I would think so," Summitt said. "I would think any committee looking at the state of Tennessee and knowing the passion they have for women's basketball and having Vanderbilt right there in Nashville and we're not that far away and certainly it's already been demonstrated that people in this state support women's basketball, that had to be a plus."

ODDS AND ENDS: This will be the first-ever meeting between Tennessee and San Francisco. Tennessee does have a 6-0 record versus the West Coast Conference – 2-0 vs. Gonzaga, 2-0 vs. Portland, 1-0 vs. Santa Clara and 1-0 vs. St. Mary's (Calif.). … Pat Summitt's record in season openers is 31-3. Summitt lost the first game she ever coached at Tennessee by one point, 84-83, to Mercer on Dec. 7, 1974. The other opening day losses were to Stephen F. Austin on Nov. 21, 1981 and to LaTech on Nov. 14, 1999. … Tennessee is 2-1 in games played on November 15. The last game played on this date was a win against Oklahoma, 70-67, in 2007 in Tampa at the ESPNU Invitational. The other win was against Austin Peay, 80-59, in 1996. The sole loss on this date was to Purdue, 78-68, in 1998. … Tennessee can claim another milestone sometime this season. The Lady Vols have a 293-18 record since moving into Thompson-Boling Arena to start the 1987-88 season. Seven more home wins will get them to 300. … Tennessee's three recruits from the class of 2009 have all signed their letters of intent to play for the Lady Vols. Taber Spani, a shooting guard from Lee's Summit, Mo., signed Wednesday. Kamiko Williams, a combo guard from Clarksville, Tenn., signed Friday. Faith Dupree, a post player from Webb School in Knoxville, also signed Friday.

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