Lady Vols living well in Spokane

SPOKANE, Wash. – The Lady Vols, with their posh accommodations at the Davenport Hotel, might not want to leave Spokane. From the walk-in showers to the oversized beds with turn-down service, the five-star treatment has been a welcome start to a cross-country trip. But a basketball game is why they're here, and Sunday's practice was typical except for the presence of a cheerful cheering section.

Angie Bjorklund got applause as she took the court from family members – parents, grandparents, uncle, sister-in-law and cousins from California and Oregon – in a reminder that Tuesday's game against Gonzaga is a homecoming one for the sophomore sharpshooter. Bjorklund smiled and waved at the group and then got to work for a two-hour session that was specific to fine-tuning the team on both sides of the ball.

"I was like, ‘Well, the whole fam's here again. Awesome,' " Bjorklund said with a smile. "To have them all come in it's been fun."

After practice the players remained behind at The McCarthey Center for a weight workout while the coaches returned to the hotel, an opulent building in the heart of downtown Spokane.

The hotel opened in 1914 and is named for its first proprietor, Louis Davenport. No expense was spared – the original chandeliers remain at a then-cost of $10,000 each when a home in the city averaged $8,000 – and it was the first hotel with air conditioning and a central vacuum system.

It fell into disrepair decades later and closed in 1985. Local entrepreneurs Walt and Karen Worthy saved it from demolition and oversaw a $38 million restoration that began in 2000. The five-star hotel reopened in 2002 to rave reviews and can be viewed online at The Davenport Hotel.

Bjorklund, a native of Spokane, had never stayed at the hotel and was enjoying the decadence and history of the hotel, which has housed actors Mary Pickford and Tyrone Power, pilots Amelia Earhart and Charles Lindbergh, entertainer and writer Will Rogers and nearly every U.S. president in the 20th century.

"I've never even been in here," Bjorklund said. "I've heard about it. I lived here my whole life and never stayed here. It's nice. I like it."

Assistant Coach Daedra Charles-Furlow, a former post player, raved about the oversized beds and the massive bathtub and separate walk-in shower.

"At night they come in and turn down your bed and put your little peanut brittle on your cover and they close the drapes," Charles-Furlow said. "It's so dark. This morning I didn't know it was light out. The showers are fabulous. The tub is really big. It's very plush. The service has been great. It's pretty – the detail, the molding, the marble. This is really a nice hotel. We are in comfort."

Charles-Furlow took the time for a media interview before bundling up to join the coaches for a short shopping trip downtown. Pat Summitt returned a little while later toting bags from Nordstrom, her favorite clothing store.

The temperatures climbed into the upper 30s Sunday so the snow melt was underway, but the piles and drifts stretched as tall as the post players, and the jokes continued about the possible loss of the 5'2 Briana Bass if she wandered too far off a cleared path.

"They were talking about attaching a little string to her, a little leash just in case she falls off we'll know where she is," Charles-Furlow said. "The kids said that to her. She's like, ‘Oh, y'all got funny jokes.' "

Charles-Furlow, who is from Michigan, welcomed the snow, as did Dean Lockwood, another Michigan native. The players from Indiana, Bass and Sydney Smallbone, and Amber Gray, who is from Ohio, also are used to snowfall.

"I'm happy to see the snow," Charles-Furlow said. "When I see snow it reminds me so much of Christmas because it always snows on Christmas in Michigan. I'm loving it."

Charles-Furlow had her gloves on Sunday and was ready to pack some snowballs and toss them – as the players have playfully done.

"I want to throw some balls, too, but it's got to be snow, not ice, because that will hurt," Charles-Furlow said.

For most of the players the amount of snow was eye-popping, but Spokane has done an excellent job of keeping the roadways passable.

"We were laughing; some of them don't know how to walk in it," Bjorklund said. "They're slipping out there."

The coaches used Sunday's break after practice to take in some sights in the downtown area, along with the shopping trip.

"It's a beautiful day," Daedra-Charles said. "It's not real cold out. Just browse and then we're going to have dinner at the Bjorklunds."

The Bjorklunds hosted the team at the family's home on Sunday night, and Kris Bjorklund, the mother of Angie, was looking forward to meeting the freshmen. Angie's father, Jim Bjorklund, made a visit to Knoxville over Thanksgiving and met the newcomers on that trip.

"It's so exciting," Kris Bjorklund. "It will be fun to have them over for dinner and get to visit."

The coaching staff has mixed work with respite for the players, who are out of school during the winter break so they have down time on the road that doesn't have to be devoted to schoolwork.

"It takes off some of the stress and let's us concentrate more on the game of basketball," sophomore forward Vicki Baugh said.

"You don't have the stress of school and having to do papers and tests," said senior forward Alex Fuller, who graduated in December and will start graduate studies in January. "It does help to not have school."

The players will practice again Monday afternoon on Gonzaga's home floor, as they did Sunday, to go over the scouting report. Sunday's session was centered on half-court drills – unlike Saturday's up-and-down pace – and specific work on offensive sets and defensive principles. Once again the team was at full strength and sophomore point guard Cait McMahan was able to practice – a positive sign after a long plane ride and up-tempo session the day before.

The coaches also have reminded the team to stay focused – it's the first long road trip of the season and it comes after the players had a few days at home. The two practice sessions in Spokane have been productive.

"Especially (Saturday) night I thought we did a lot of good things and (Sunday) I thought their focus was there. This time of the year everybody wants to be home and be with their family and it's hard to go home for a couple of days and then have to leave, but you've got a job to do," said Charles-Furlow, who had just checked in back home in Knoxville with her husband and young son.

"You've got a job to do and you've got to do it to the best of your ability. You're here to go to school and to play basketball. That's the sacrifice that you make. I think our kids are focused. They want to get this win and move on to the next game."

Homecoming games can get tricky for players with the attention and distractions, and last season Candace Parker returned to Chicago to play DePaul to much fanfare. She missed curfew on New Year's Eve and was suspended for the first half of the game. Several rows of family and friends wore shirts with her picture on it behind the team bench and waited patiently for Parker, who stayed for an hour afterwards and signed autographs outside in the Chicago chill, to enter the game.

Bjorklund smiled when she was asked if she knew the curfew times for the next two nights before Tuesday's game.

"Don't worry. Got it," Bjorklund said.

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