Fuller, who is expected to start inside tonight against Chattanooga, spends the bulk of her time on the floor trying to get people in the right places. The newcomers are eager to get somewhere but not always certain of which spot that should be in various sets.
A typical possession so far on either side of the ball consists of Fuller directing traffic with shouts, arm gestures and constant communication. It's a tremendous leap in Fuller's role, as she came off the bench last season.
"Last year I wasn't the one who was having to do that since everybody had been here," Fuller said. "Everybody was the one who was telling each other where to go."
In time Fuller can likely do less talking as the freshmen become better acquainted with the system on offense and defense.
"I think so," Fuller said. "It comes with getting older and getting to know the program throughout the season."
But, for now, in what is the third game of the season and the first on the road, Fuller remains the one very much in charge of a very young team, from getting everyone lined up correctly to making sure the team is wearing identical sweats for the road trip.
"Alex has really done a good job for us," Coach Pat Summitt said during her weekly media teleconference. "I'm sure she feels like the mother hen of our team and the policewoman of our team to make sure we wear the right sweats or everybody arrives on time at a designated place. No matter what we're doing, I think Alex is one that probably feels like she has to really have the pulse of this group and also have an influence.
"I have a lot of respect for her and her leadership and what she has invested in this team, and I think that started in summer school when the majority of them attended summer classes. I'm counting a lot on Alex. She has not only been a voice for all of our young players, but I feel like she has really nurtured, in certain situations, some of the players that she felt needed that and challenged the ones that needed to be challenged. Without that I think that we might have struggled even more."
No. 5/13 Tennessee, 1-1, faces Chattanooga, 1-0, at 6:30 p.m. Eastern (Lady Vol Radio Network, TV: CSS). Tennessee is ranked number five in the AP poll because it came out several hours before Monday's 83-82 loss to Virginia. The coaches' poll dropped the Lady Vols to No. 13 the day after that game.
The team has struggled on defense – especially matching up in transition – and is missing two of its most experienced players in Angie Bjorklund (back treatment) and Vicki Baugh (knee rehab). Combine that with redshirt freshman center Kelley Cain missing the season opener with a concussion and being limited against Virginia and now back out for the Chattanooga game because of concussion issues, and Fuller has the role of experienced stateswoman nearly to herself.
Fuller does have someone on the team that she can chat with, if necessary, in Cait McMahan, a redshirt sophomore point guard. Both players are from the state of Tennessee and both had to sit out a year after major knee surgery.
"I'll go to Cait and then I'd probably go to Pat if something was bothering me that much," Fuller said. "The first one I would go to is Cait. We've been together for so long and I've known her in high school, too."
In Fuller's estimation the team needs the most work on defense and rebounding, especially boxing out.
"Rebounding and defense would be the first two," Fuller said. "Those are the two main ones right now."
Summitt and her staff get detailed reports after each game and players not boxing out – Fuller's form is textbook and one her teammates could watch on film – stood out in the loss to Virginia.
"Typically we want to out-rebound our opponents by 10," Summitt said. "We out-rebounded by one. The one thing we did we got on the offensive boards but we had enough misses to help us out there."
Fuller, who is averaging 10 boards a game, led the team with eight rebounds against Virginia; Cain had seven.
The post-game report also includes a way to measure how many points a player scored vs. how many she gave up on defense. The goal is to be on the plus side, but about half the team was on the negative side.
"The biggest thing I saw was our poor defense," Summitt said. "We shot ourselves in the foot with turnovers. We had some missed opportunities. In those late possessions we were turning the ball over."
But Tennessee also showed its promise by building a 13-point first half lead with its pressure defense and running game. The issue, however, is getting all five players on the floor to sustain the pace.
"I'm not going to say youth, but I thought we had a lot of lapses," Summitt said. "We would go and be real efficient for two or three minutes and somebody would have a lapse and it seemed like it snowballed on us.
"It's going to be interesting to see how much they learn as we go through this because obviously our schedule is set. It's tough. It's going to be challenging. We've got some real tough road games. They are going to have to fight."
That first test comes tonight at a vertical venue – the upper deck rows are set at a steep incline and the noise funnels down to the floor – that is known for its roundness in shape on the outside.
It was originally called the UTC Arena but its nickname of the Roundhouse stuck, and the structure tied into Chattanooga's railroad tradition. The building that housed the mechanism to turn around locomotives when they reached the terminal was known as the roundhouse.
It was renamed The McKenzie Arena on Feb. 21, 2000, after a donation from supporters Toby and Brenda McKenzie of Cleveland, Tenn.
The venue was the site of Tennessee Assistant Coach Dean Lockwood's first game as a member of the Lady Vol staff in 2004-05. The team had two exhibition games at home but officially started the season on the road that year.
Lockwood had made a side trip to nearby Cleveland, Tenn., to scout a high school game. He expected a quick trip on Interstate 75 to Chattanooga to get to the Lady Vol game.
"I get on 75 and the traffic is backed up," Lockwood said. "I had an hour to spare and that hour got used up."
Lockwood was nowhere to be seen when the team took the bench. The lights went off for Chattanooga's player introductions and when the lights came back on, Lockwood was courtside.
"The next thing you know I'm busting in there and I actually went in on top – they didn't know who I was; fortunately I had a card (of UT identification) – and I went right down the aisle like a fan and walked to the bench."
It's an in-state venue, but the crowd should tilt well to the Lady Mocs on Friday, and it's a difficult locale for a young team's road debut.
"It's much more so than people think," Lockwood said. "The place is (nearly) sold out. They've had a tradition of success. They've done very well in that building. It will be a tremendous opportunity for us to go into an environment of an opposing team and a place where the opposing team has played well and to try to establish what we do."
Fuller will be on hand to herd the proverbial cats, if need be.
"They don't pay attention," Summitt, a dog owner, said with a frown.
Fortunately, Summitt was indeed talking about cats in this case, not her players.
"Once the season goes on hopefully I won't be the only one talking on the court and getting people where they need to be, but right now that's just how it is and that's my role," Fuller said. "I think we'll respond positively. After a loss like that we've got to come in here and work on the things that we didn't do and work on the things that we can improve on to get better and move on from it.
"We'll definitely bounce back from it. We have in the past and we will now."
STARTING LINEUPS: Coach Pat Summitt had, once again, pondered using her big lineup with freshman Shekinna Stricklen at point, but the absence of Kelley Cain funnels Alex Fuller inside, so Stricklen will be needed at that wing spot.
With that in mind, Summitt will likely start: Cait McMahan, 5'4 sophomore guard, No. 2 (7.5 points per game, 1.5 rebounds per game); Sydney Smallbone, 5'10 sophomore guard, No. 20 (9.5 ppg, 1.0 rpg); Shekinna Stricklen, 6'2 freshman guard/forward, No. 40 (12.0 ppg, 6.5 rpg); Glory Johnson, 6'3 freshman forward, No. 25 (15.0 ppg, 9.0 rpg); and Alex Fuller, 6'3 senior forward/center, No. 44 (4.0 ppg, 10.0 rpg).
"I have to game time to decide, don't I," Summitt joked during her weekly teleconference and was told she did indeed.
Summitt may have one other option during the game. Sophomore forward Vicki Baugh participated in the pre-game practice on Chattanooga's court Thursday and could be cleared to play Friday evening, depending on how her surgically repaired knee responds overnight to the session.
Baugh has been held out of practice for 11 days to focus on quad strengthening in the weight room, and Jenny Moshak has been pleased with her progress.
Tennessee has yet to be full strength this season. When Baugh does play it will be her debut. Angie Bjorklund has yet to play because of a bulging disc in her lower back, and Cain is out again because of her earlier concussion. There is not a definitive timetable for Bjorklund or Cain's return. It will depend on symptoms and response to basketball activities when they are cleared. Both areas of the body – the brain and the back – require time to heal.
Chattanooga Coach Wes Moore is expected to start a three-guard, two-forward lineup: Andrea Neil, 5'9 freshman guard, No. 25 (3.0 ppg, 3.0 rpg), Tennessee Miss Basketball nominee from Briarcest High School in Cordova, had three assists in the season opener; Jenaya Wade-Fray, 5'9 junior guard, No. 15 (14.0 ppg, 4.0 rpg), started 32 of 33 games (stepped out of lineup for Senior Night) last season, hit 44 three-pointers; LaCondra Mason, 5'9 senior guard, No. 24 (10.0 ppg, 7.0 rpg), local product from Chattanooga Christian, transferred from Middle Tennessee at the start of the 2007 spring semester and played half a season last year, saw action in 25 games, can shoot and get to the rim, expected to be Lady Mocs' top defender this season; Shanara Hollinquest, 6'0 junior forward, No. 50 (18.0 ppg, 15.0 rpg), had 13 points and five rebounds off the bench in last year's game against the Lady Vols, scored a career-high 31 points last season against Georgia Southern, led the Southern Conference in field goal percentage at 58.2 percent; and Erin Ogan, 6'1 senior forward, No. 50 (11.0 ppg, 8.0 rpg), standout at Powell High School in Knoxville, played in 32 games last season and started four, had 11 rebounds against Wofford.
The Lady Mocs defeated East Tennessee State, 77-71, on Monday night at home after trailing by 15 points early in the second half being going on a 25-10 run to tie the game. Five players were in double figures – every starter except Neil, the point guard. Tagan Hatchett, a 5'8 junior guard, had 10 points off the bench, and hit the three-pointer that gave Chattanooga the lead and then hit another three to stretch the lead.
The Mocs shot 48.5 percent in the second half – and hit four three-pointers in the first half and five in the second half – and finished at 43.1 percent for the game.
SCOUTING REPORT: Assistant Coach Dean Lockwood handled the scouting report for the Tennessee-Chattanooga game. Here is his assessment.
Like the Lady Vols, the Lady Mocs lost some senior starters, but not the entire lineup as Tennessee did.
"They got a little bit back more than we did with (Jenaya) Wade-Fray and (Erin) Ogan and (LaCondra) Mason was a kid that was with them last year and (Shanara) Hollinquest," Lockwood said. "Their three biggies are Hollinquest, Fray and Ogan, and they all return."
When Chattanooga has the ball: "You can look at their box score and tell a lot about them. They shot 27 threes. They can really shoot the ball well. They were 9-27 so they were 33 percent – it wasn't like they just rocked it – but 33 is solid. They can really shoot.
"They play a lot of four out, one in. They set ball screens and they execute very well. They're going to try to space you out, dribble drive and kick and use screens. They get good shots for the people they want shots for. It's not a helter skelter team. It's a very disciplined team. They had five players in double figures and their shot distribution was exactly how you would want it to be. They've got the people taking shots that they want taking shots. They do a good job of that."
Defensively the Lady Vols will need to apply pressure, especially on jump shooters.
"We've got to pressure," Lockwood said. "We've got to not let them get comfortable. They can't get too comfortable running their stuff. For a team that plays back, a sagging man to man, they'll cut you up after awhile. We've got to really, really get into them."
When Tennessee has the ball: "I look to use our depth, which right now we're a little short on, but we definitely want to run, we want to establish an inside game, making the game physical, making it strong, playing through our post game. That doesn't mean we're going to score a ton in there, but we want to play through that and get paint points."
When on defense the Lady Vols want to mix up their looks.
"I anticipate some (full court pressure)," Lockwood said. "We're going to see how the game goes with that and how they handle the pressure. I think at some point you'll definitely see that. I don't know that we'll go start to finish, but I would be very surprised if at some point in time we didn't press them."
The assistant coaches devote hours to a scouting report and present it to the team in concise detail with film clips, diagrammed plays and instructions on guarding specific players. The players are also given written reports to read about the next opponent.
For the freshmen it's another first – getting detailed information on an opponent, digesting it and putting it to use once the game is on.
"I think it takes them awhile to really understand how important our scouting report defense is, for the new players," Pat Summitt said.
The scouting report on Virginia was clearly not adhered to as Monica Wright roamed at will to score a career-high 35 points.
That was frustrating," Summitt said. "But then to not have players coming in and running the floor hard, and I'm sure they thought they were running hard. We still have to work through that aspect of the game and to where they understand the game is played in four-minute segments.
"If you can't compete hard for four minutes, what are you telling our team? You do it in practice because there's accountability. We can stop it, and our coaching staff is in charge. You don't how much of it is the youth and the big jump from high school to college."
Summitt's frustration after the Virginia game also centered on the bench, and she shortened playing minutes rather quickly.
"We could not rely on our bench," Summitt said after the game. "We had some freshmen come in off the bench and basically didn't compete hard, and didn't give us what we needed. So hopefully we're going to learn. It's not going to get any easier. There are going to be a lot more teams that we're going to face on our schedule that are going to be really tough."
"I think it was just shortening the rotation (for that game)," Summitt said. "I just went with the people in that situation that I felt the most comfortable with and I didn't want to rotate people for the sake of just getting them playing time."
In hindsight, some of the players on the floor could have used a break and with Kelley Cain out again, Gray and Brewer become vital in the paint. Cain played Monday and practiced Tuesday but had some dizziness after conditioning sprints and will likely miss the next two games. Manning also can provide minutes on the wing at the two and three spots.
Alex Fuller said it's not so much that all the freshmen need to learn the system as much as is to play it every minute on the floor.
"Committing to it all the time," Fuller said. "That's sometimes hard for anybody. I'm not a person that doesn't make mistakes on the floor. I make mistakes, too.
"We've just got to make plays in crucial situations. We've got to basically be smart and play as a team and make stops at crucial points of the game."
FIVE DAYS, THREE GAMES: Tennessee's coaching staff won't have much teaching time in practice for the next five days as the schedule is full with Chattanooga on Friday, Louisiana Tech on Sunday and Western Carolina on Tuesday. The players won't get much rest or any time off.
"It's going to be hard but if we're all sold out to getting to where we need to be then that's just something we're all going to do together," Alex Fuller said.
There is a silver lining for one person – Jenny Moshak, the chief of sports medicine for the program. Games mean less intense practice sessions, which eases the wear and tear, especially for the players coming off knee operations.
"I think the challenge comes two-fold," Moshak said. "I think it's a challenge not necessarily physically for the team it's a challenge mentally for the team. You put one game behind them, learn from it one way or the other and then get ready and prepare for the next one. That's the challenge for the coaches.
"I think the challenge for me comes in is that if somebody is hurt because we're playing back to back to back like that you have a chance of someone missing three games. But I'm hoping that's not going to be the case."
With three games so close together practice essentially becomes a light pre-game workout and scouting session.
"That's a very good thing from my aspect of things and that's where their mental maturity needs to come in," Moshak said.
ODDS AND ENDS: Tennessee leads the series with Chattanooga, 22-6. The last win for the Lady Mocs came Dec. 26, 1973, a 58-55 decision in Knoxville when Margaret Hutson, who hired Pat Head Summitt, was the coach. Chattanooga last won at home, 60-52, on Feb. 4, 1971. Since then Tennessee has won 16 consecutive games over the in-state school. The average score of a Tennessee vs. Chattanooga game during the Summitt Era is 84.8 (1,272 points) for the Lady Vols. and 60.9 (914 points) for the Lady Mocs. … Tennessee is 8-0 in games played on Nov. 20. The last game on this date was a 67-49 win over West Virginia on the road in 2007 for Alexis Hornbuckle's homecoming game. … Chattanooga Coach Wes Moore is ranked fifth in the country in winning percentage among active coaches. His overall record is 445-122 for a winning percentage of 78.5 percent. He has led the Lady Mocs to nine consecutive Southern Conference titles, and his team is favored to win again this season. The Lady Mocs got eight coaches' vote for first place. Western Carolina, which is coached by former Lady Vol Kellie Jolly Harper, got the other three first-place votes. … Tennessee is 1-1 and in unfamiliar territory by being out of the top 10 in the coach's poll. The last time Tennessee opened the season 1-1 was in 2002-03 with a win over Oklahoma, 94-68, and then a loss to Duke, 76-55. Tennessee met Duke again that season and prevailed 66-56 in the NCAA Final Four semifinals in Atlanta. … The last time Tennessee lost on the road was Dec. 22, 2007, at Stanford. Since then the Lady Vols are 11-0 in road games. The last time the Lady Vols lost on a neutral court was against LSU, 63-54, in the SEC semifinal game on March 3, 2007, in Duluth, Ga. Since that time, Tennessee is 16-0 on a neutral court.