Lady Vols to get early start

The Lady Vols will get an early wakeup call this morning with practice starting at 6 a.m. Friday. It also means they'll get a longer mini-break since Pat Summitt will give the team off on Saturday, and the players can sleep in for the first time in several weeks.

Pat Summitt and Assistant Coach Dean LockwoodHolly Warlick and Daedra Charles-Furlow were absent and presumably recruiting – put the team through a 2.5-hour workout that was full go and full court, except for the interspersed free throw repetitions.

It wasn't enough for freshman forward Glory Johnson. She stayed after practice with Lockwood to work on short jumpers in the paint and free throws.

The players will spend 45 minutes on the court Friday morning and then 45 minutes with Heather Mason, the strength and conditioning coach. Following that they will go to class and then – with spring break officially underway – will be released from on-court obligations until Sunday afternoon.

"It gives them a longer time off," Summitt said. "I have no idea what they will do. You know better than to ask me that now."

Summitt was smiling when she said that – she has enjoyed their youthful vigor as much as it has driven her batty at times this season – but her young team hasn't always had a bounce in its step at practice after time off from the court. They have sometimes come back needing to get back in gear, and, in Summitt, they have the coach who can find that extra gear in a hurry.

Nevertheless, they were visibly excited to hear of the early practice time – likely the first time the announcement of a crack-of-dawn session had elicited smiles – and an earlier start to time off. With missed classes, back-to-back-to-back games in Little Rock, midterms and demanding practices, a break from the class and the court should rejuvenate players not accustomed to such demands on body and mind.

The break between postseason tourneys has meant intense practices – and the chance to also get a young team some much-needed rest – and Thursday's session left players sweat-soaked. The theme for this week has been extended minutes on the clock in game situations to force players to fight through fatigue.

"Because we've got a number of players that give in to fatigue," Summitt said. "This is the time we can watch tape with them after we have a couple of good days to work out because film doesn't lie. What we're trying to do in practice right now is get them to just focus on what it is we're working on and trying to accomplish in every possession versus thinking they're tired.

"We're doing a lot of up and down and obviously our practice guys have been great. One of the reasons we're going early (Friday) is so we will have them because they'll be on spring break. And then we'll have to scramble and do the best we can do. Holly and Dean and Daedra can play defense."

Summitt was kidding about that last part – Warlick and Charles-Furlow might stay on the road recruiting if they hear about that plan – so the Lady Vols will mostly have to square off against each other next week. On Monday, they will learn who they're playing next when the brackets are announced that evening at 7 p.m. on ESPN.

Because of the time between the SEC tourney and Selection Monday, the Lady Vols are practicing without knowing who the next opponent will be.

"It might be better to know so we would be able to scout, but now we're going to work on the basics and the things that we will need to be able to do in the tournament," freshman forward Alyssia Brewer said. "Whoever is in our bracket is in our bracket, and we're going to deal with that and play them."

The past two practice sessions have meant reinforcement and repetition. Defensive and offensive concepts have had to be repeated and drilled.

"I just say it's this generation," Summitt said. "They don't always pay attention."

Summitt is saying the same things in March that she said in October, a sure sign of a young team that is still absorbing the Lady Vol system, a process that sophomore Angie Bjorklund said took her a full year to grasp on the court.

"I'm sure I do it in my sleep," Summitt said.

Summitt is using this practice time to push the team, but she's not piling pressure on them, as seven players will be participating in their first "March Madness."

"I think for this team to me it's not a situation where you try to put pressure on them," Summitt said. "Let's talk about the opportunity they have, and they've gotten so much better. As far as us sticking together and being a 40-minute team that's the main emphasis right now. We have to be a 40-minute team, and they have to focus in the moment and not just be spinning amount and thinking, ‘Where am I,' or ‘Where do I need to be?' Just staying in the moment."

Summitt doesn't at all mind the break between conference and NCAA tournaments and plans her practice schedule, accordingly.

"I like it," she said. "Obviously you have time to rest, and you have time to prepare. You can get your lifts in, you can your sprinting in, you can add new wrinkles offensively and defensively, which is what we're working on right now. I think that's been really good for us, and it should be in the next few days as well."

Postseason is Summitt's favorite time of year, and the surest sign of March is the Wilson basketballs at practice. The Lady Vols use Baden balls in the regular season, but Wilson is the brand used for the NCAA tourney so they are practicing with those now.

And despite taking seven freshmen, two sophomores and a redshirt senior into postseason, Summitt is excited about what happens next. She has been both intense and upbeat at practice, taking time to praise and scold. She has had one-on-one conversations with players that were sometimes serious and other times left both player and coach laughing.

"I still have a lot of confidence in this group, and we're going to continue to challenge them in practice," Summitt said. "We're going to try to make that as much like postseason as we can.

"I think they're focused, and they want to win. We've just got make sure they do the things that will help them win."


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