Regular starters Shekinna Stricklen, Angie Bjorklund and Alex Fuller will be joined by the 5'2 Briana Bass at point guard and the 6'6 Kelley Cain at center for Thursday's game against Alabama at 7 p.m. (TV: FSN-South) at Thompson-Boling Arena.
"The thinking there is Kelley's size should be a good thing for us against them as far as getting the ball inside early," Summitt said. "They play a lot of zone. And I think Alex gives us a lot of calmness. I expect a lot more from Glory than what we got in the last game, and I'll be interested to see how she responds and comes off the bench."
Glory Johnson, the freshman forward who had been the only player to start all 23 games for Tennessee this season, is intended to be a jolt of energy after the game is underway. With Cain available that meant Johnson or Fuller would start at power forward, and the senior's leadership and stability tipped the starting nod in her favor.
The change also reflects the physical improvement of Cain as she comes back from major surgery to re-track her right knee.
The availability of Cain, a pure scorer, rebounder and shot blocker, is too tantalizing for the coaching staff to not have her on the floor at the beginning of the game.
"Nobody else in the conference really," Summitt said of Cain's combination of size and skill as a classic center.
Fuller, who will play the power forward position after being slotted as an undersized center while Cain was working her way onto the court, provides the leadership that the coaches want to open a game. Fuller, who earned her degree last December and is now a graduate student, has been a godsend for the coaches this season as she is the only senior to chaperone seven freshmen on and off the court.
Fuller's voice is a constant in a game – whether she's on the floor or on the sideline – and she is often the one barking out signals and switches like a defensive captain in football. Her knees have endured surgeries – when the season began the coaches were not sure if her knees would physically hold up – but she hasn't missed a game and rarely misses any practice time.
"I really do commend Alex because she could have easily gone out with a national championship and been like, ‘Toodle-do. I'll get my degree in December and be done,' " Assistant Coach Daedra Charles-Furlow said. "But she came back to try and help them because she knew how important it was to have some type of leadership and that if she left it would be scarce. So she opted to come back. I commend her for that, and she's done a great job."
The changes also reflect the need to get Stricklen off the ball and onto the wing. That puts true point guard Bass on the court for the opening tip.
"I want to give Kinna some freedom early," Summitt said. "Take a little pressure off of her. No one was more disappointed after that (Florida) game than she was. I am thinking if we can get her out on the wing and let her have a little more freedom that this should help her. She's not having to do everything."
The freshman guard has had a full plate as she has learned the one, two and three positions on the floor – and had never played point before – so with plenty of reps to this point the coaches want to see her in her natural spot on the wing.
"I think Kinna will definitely be a different player off the ball," Charles-Furlow said. "She's had a lot on her plate but guess what? So did Dena Head. So did Tonya Edwards. So you deal with it. You start defining who you are at that moment."
That attitude is the demanding one from a former player that Summitt has sought from Charles-Furlow, a former player whose voice can be a powerful influence on a very young team.
Summitt had a prior commitment at the start of practice – Tuesday is usually an off day – and Assistant Coach Dean Lockwood was away – that usually means an assistant is out recruiting – so Associate Head Coach Holly Warlick and Charles-Furlow conducted practice until Summitt arrived.
"I can't keep up with Pat," Charles-Furlow said with a laugh. "Holly brought us together, and we needed to do what we needed to do, and we got it done."
Charles-Furlow handled the post players with both some hands-on instruction – she was an All-American center for the Lady Vols – and verbal demands that made it clear she was in no mood to brook any nonsense or lack of focus.
"Dean does such a great job and I admire and I love his enthusiasm," Charles-Furlow said. "Sometimes I get so caught watching him that I get caught not saying a whole lot because he's saying the things that I would say. I know that when I feel so strongly about something that I need to say, I say it. And I probably need to project my voice more.
"I know Pat has mentioned, ‘I need you to have a bigger voice,' and I have done that. But today me having to take ownership and run the posts you're going to see a different person because it's more like, ‘Y'all gotta get this done.' Not that it's not important when he's here – that's not what I'm saying – it's more like I respect him, I don't step on his toes. If I want to say something I pull them to the side and talk to them. But I am starting to do more of that and demand more of that from them."
When some drills weren't conducted with precision, Charles-Furlow stopped the session , delivered some emphatic instructions and reminded her young charges that Summitt would watch every second of the practice tape.
"I just told them, ‘This is being filmed. I am telling you this is what we need to do and you're not getting it done. She is going to watch that,' " Charles-Furlow said. "Bottom line, and even when I was a player you had days where you didn't want to practice and you were tired, but you know you have to do your job and if you don't do your job and do it to the best of your ability it's a reflection of you.
"So you have to stay motivated some kind of way to get it done. So that's what I was telling them. I shouldn't have to sit up here and ‘rah-rah' you every five seconds. I shouldn't have to do this. I told them if you want to be average you're in the wrong place. You keep telling them, you keep telling them, you keep telling them. When is the light bulb going to come on?"
Charles-Furlow and her husband, Anthony P. Furlow, are raising a 9-year-old son, Anthonee, and she laughed out loud and nodded when asked if there were parallels to child-rearing and coaching seven freshmen. It was amusing because during the practice she had reminded the players that she was going to say something once and they needed to execute or else.
"I use this with my son," Charles-Furlow said. "I only need to tell you one time because you're 9 now, and you understand right from wrong. You understand when I say no means no. You understand when I say yes means yes. So you understand that? If I tell you to walk straight, you walk straight."
It's no wonder Summitt wanted that voice heard more at practice. Charles-Furlow's jersey hangs in the rafters. She earned two national titles as a player. She has a Lady Vol resume that commands attention and respect.
"I thought yesterday was good and I thought today was good," Charles-Furlow said of the two practices this week after the road loss to Florida. "I thought it was intense. We worked on some things in the beginning, worked on some plays, worked on us. It's just a matter of them saying, ‘Hey, this is what we're going to do. This is what we need to do and let's get it done.' Quit talking about it and do it."
Summitt opted for a Tuesday practice because she wanted a longer and more intense workout and that's not advisable the day before a game. So the team will take off Wednesday from the court. The office of Jenny Moshak, the chief of sports medicine, will still be open for treatment, which at this time of the season is nearly everyone on the roster. The players will hold a scouting reminder session/shoot-around on the day of the game.
"They need to get their legs back under them and we'll give them that time, and Jenny can do whatever she needs to do," Summitt said.
All 10 available players on the roster are expected to be available for the game.
Despite the roster losses, the freshmen have noticed that Summitt's demands are rising as the regular season nears its conclusion.
"(Monday) was a real hard practice," Stricklen said. "Her intensity really got higher, but it's just making us work harder and that's what we need. We just need to keep getting better."