Lady Vols return to practice

Most of the Lady Vols team reassembled Friday for practice – two remain on the West Coast and one had a travel delay – as the coaching staff wanted to get the players on the court and get back into basketball habits before departing Saturday for a week-long road trip. Glory Johnson, who suffered a right thigh contusion in the last game, was able to practice.

Freshman forward Glory Johnson, who was injured in the overtime portion of the 79-69 win over Stanford last Sunday, spent the holiday week getting treatment on campus in the mornings.

She was on crutches last Monday when the team practiced before the break and had to watch from the sideline.

"After a couple days being able to walk on it I was pretty excited because I didn't expect to do that," Johnson said. "I can't sleep on that side. I have to sit a certain way. (But) it feels better already. I really didn't think I would be out here this soon. I was in so much pain, but I'm just happy that I am because I don't like watching. I like to be interactive with the team and everything."

Coach Pat Summitt had just rolled into Knoxville on Friday from her hometown in Middle Tennessee in time for practice.

"As far as I know she's good to go," Summitt said as she looked over her shoulder at Johnson getting loose on the court. "She looks like she's ready to go. Glory, you ready to go today?' "

That question brought a yes from Johnson, who kept running up and down the court.

"I'm happy that it wasn't as bad as I thought it was," Johnson said. "It was extremely painful. I could barely walk on it when I got up (Monday)."

Summitt scheduled Friday's evening session as "just a time to get back in the gym and start to refocus about our preparation for Gonzaga" and also for logistics purposes to get the players in one place before they depart cross-country as a team.

"I thought we needed to make sure we got back," Summitt said. "It seems like every year this time of the year we have some issues with travel."

This year it was sophomore guard Sydney Smallbone, who got delayed in Indiana because of a cancelled flight, and wasn't scheduled to arrive in Knoxville until later Friday night. Angie Bjorklund, who lives in Spokane, Wash., and Vicki Baugh, who lives in Sacramento, Calif., will meet the team in Spokane on Saturday. The decision was made to leave those two in place and let the team join them.

"I didn't want them to have to fly back here because it might have taken them two days and we'd already be out there," Summitt said.

The team and coaches will depart this morning from Knoxville and fly commercial to Spokane in one of only two trips this season that is not a charter flight. Commercial travel can't be appealing for the 6'6 Kelley Cain.

"The length of the flight might be a problem," Cain said. "I guess I'll just go to sleep."

The team will spend a week on the road – they depart by commercial flight to New York on New Year's Eve to travel cross-country before the Rutgers game on Jan. 3 – so it will be a chance for a young team to spend even more time together.

"We'll definitely be closer as a team since we'll be spending a week in close proximity with each other," said redshirt senior Alex Fuller. "As far as basketball I think it will show our personality as a team.

"We're going to be rooming together. We'll all be practicing together. We've just got to get each other focused. I think that's the main thing is to be focused."

"We're already close so it won't be a problem," Cain said. "Practice will definitely help us to get refocused."

Cain was referring to Friday's session in which the team went over offensive sets, shooting drills, free throws and conditioning sprints.

The team will practice Saturday, Sunday and Monday in Spokane with the game against Gonzaga scheduled for Tuesday, Dec. 30, at 8 p.m. Eastern (FSN).

It will serve as a homecoming for Bjorklund – tickets sold out within hours the day they went on sale – but one key player will be missing on the court in Jami Bjorklund Schaefer, a senior guard for Gonzaga. Schaefer, who got married last summer, injured her hand and knee in the Dec. 22 game against Wyoming – the last game before the Tennessee one – and is out for up to six weeks.

"It was like, ‘Why?' The timing of it was not good at all," Summitt said. "I know when we were recruiting Angie we set up to play this game to make sure that they would get to play against each other (at home) but injuries unfortunately they don't come at the right time, if there was ever a right time. This definitely was not a good time."

Summitt did contact Bjorklund on Friday to get a weather report. The Northwest has been battered with snowstorms.

"I texted Angie today and said, ‘Tell me how much snow,' " Summitt said. "She said, ‘46 inches.' Bree would be lost if she stepped into four feet of snow."

Summitt was referring to the 5'2 Briana Bass, who does need to not wander into any snowdrifts.

Summitt, like the rest of the team, was packing accordingly.

"I am definitely going to get out my winter coat and gloves," Summitt said.

Johnson, who is originally from Colorado and moved to Knoxville at the age of seven, was looking forward to the scenery.

"I'm ready to head over that way," Johnson said. "It reminds me a little bit of home because I was born in Colorado Springs."

Fuller, who is from Middle Tennessee and whose family now lives in North Carolina, wasn't sure about the impact of that much snow.

"I like playing in the snow but as far as being in it for long periods of time, not really," Fuller said. "Everybody is kind of in awe right now. And Kelley, she's a city girl."

"I am not sure if I have enough clothes that will allow me to function well in the snow because we don't get a lot of snow in Atlanta, maybe one or two inches, and when we do everything shuts down," said Cain, who noted she did not have a pair of snow boots. "I'm not used to moving in a lot of snow. I do like snow to a certain extent. As long as I don't have to be out in it for a long time I'm good."

It's the cold weather leg of the Lady Vols schedule as the next stop after Spokane is landing by plane in New York, followed by a bus ride into New Jersey.

"I've never been to Washington, and I've never been to New Jersey," Cain said. "It's going to be exciting, my first time in both places."

The players were grateful for the break, albeit a short one this week, to spend time at home. For Fuller that meant a trip to and from North Carolina. For Cain it was a dash to Georgia and back.

"It was good," Fuller said. "It was short, but it was good."

"Much needed, rested, got to be with my family," Cain said.

Baugh was one of two players excused from Friday's practice since she was already out west.

"I'm excited to see my family. I'll probably visit Can when I'm out there," Baugh had said before she left Knoxville. "Can" is Candace Parker, who makes her off-season home in Sacramento, where her husband, Shelden Williams, plays for the Kings.

"I'm looking forward to having that extra day and I'll meet up with them when we get to Spokane," Baugh said. "If everyone does what they're supposed to do and just rests like Jenny (Moshak) said, this break will definitely help us and maybe we'll be a totally different team, as in healthy, when we come back."

The orders for the players were to rest, as Tennessee's team has been battered in the first two months of the season with concussions, a back injury, a broken nose, knee mishaps and a thigh contusion.

Summitt was happy that the team went into the break off of a win.

"I think for a young team that's always important if you can end with a win before you go home for Christmas because they're all excited about going home to see their families," Summitt said. "Not many of them have been home since they got here. As a coach and a coaching staff I can tell you it was wonderful. Last year I had a hard time enjoying Christmas and that's the last thing you want to do is go home and be with your family and not enjoy Christmas. This year it was a great Christmas for us."

Summitt's presents were clothing items but her holiday memory is the time spent with her mother, Hazel Head, and teenage son, Tyler Summitt.

"My family gives me clothes all the time. I guess they know I like clothes," Summitt said. "That was pretty much what I got. The main thing is I got to spend three nights – Tyler and I did – with my mom. She's 83, she's a great cook and I spent a lot of time in the kitchen with Mother cooking, which is always a good memory for me."

Summitt will now hit the road with her extended family of Lady Vols.

"I think anytime you go on the road you learn a lot about the players, and they learn a lot about the coaches," Summitt said. "I think this will be good for us. It's a long trip. Hopefully we will have some bonding time. I think they're coming off their Christmas break feeling good about themselves having the opportunity to close out the last two games with wins.

"I didn't give them any assignments when they went home. I don't know if anybody picked up a ball or not, but my whole thing was they needed a break. As young as this team is I think that break came at a great time but now we're going to have to really be focused. We're going to be traveling. We're going to have some days of preparation before we actually play. It's going to be a challenge for us."


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