Faith Dupree fits in at Tennessee

Faith Dupree may be a freshman, but she has some insight the other first-year players haven't acquired just yet. She has watched several Lady Vol practice sessions, so she knows the Pat Summitt they have seen at individual workouts is not the same head coach they will see next week when a full team session can be held.

Faith Dupree's classmates, Taber Spani and Kamiko Williams, don't lack for curiosity, though. They have asked Dupree what to expect from Pat Summitt when the full team assembles for the first time.

"I've talked to them a little bit about it because they asked," Dupree said. "I told them I had come and watched practices throughout the year last year."

Dupree attended Webb School of Knoxville – current Lady Vol sophomore Glory Johnson was a high school teammate – and would occasionally attend the open practices at Tennessee, once with her team and coach, former Lady Vol Shelley Sexton Collier, and other times on her own.

Williams and Spani have seen Summitt at the individual workouts in which she has spent most of the last two weeks observing and letting her three assistants handle the teaching. If Summitt saw something she really didn't particularly like, she would interrupt. Players also approached her for one-on-one conversations.

"They were like, ‘Is she any different?' " Dupree said. "I was like, ‘She is definitely different.' She will definitely get on you if you do something wrong, but she will tell you if you've done something good. I told them to do what she asks, and that's all they can do."

Summitt smiled when asked how her on-court personality could change next week. She pointed out that a lot of teaching remained to be done – it would just shift to full team concepts – but that the freshmen should expect the volume to start rising.

"Keep in mind we've still got a lot of teaching to do," Summitt said. "But once they understand the sets we want to run – and obviously we'll be teaching a lot early on – but after that, yeah, it has to go to a different level, a different tone."

Tennessee began individual workouts on Aug. 20 and held twice-weekly hour-long sessions for the next four weeks with up to four players per group. The NCAA allows full team workouts in mid-September so the coaches will use the allotted two hours for one session next week with the entire team. Full-scale daily practices don't begin until mid-October.

"It puts a little more peer pressure on them," Summitt said. "You put everybody out there and I think there are going to be some players who are going to say, ‘Well, I've got to pick it up.' "

One pattern has been apparent in the past four weeks. Freshman guard/forward Taber Spani's group – regardless of the combination of players – has been the most vocal and the most energetic of the day. Summitt doesn't see that as a coincidence, and she thinks the first-year player can help set the tone for the entire team on the floor.

"Oh, absolutely," Summitt said. "I don't even think of her as a freshman. I think of her as a player and a leader vocally, by example. I think she's got a chance to be a very special player in this program."

All three freshmen have meshed well with the team, and redshirt sophomore Kelley Cain noted that they had outgoing personalities.

"They fit in fine," Cain said. "Faith, if you're on the outside looking in, you think she's quiet, but if you get to know her she talks. Taber, same way. Taber is outgoing. Kamiko, a talker."

Dupree was noticeably quiet on her very first workout, but it turned out she had reason to be – she was petrified. The schedule had her in one group, but she was told to be in another group. As it were, she was late to her appointed session and came running into Pratt carrying her shoes and hurrying onto the court.

"I was scared to death, first of all," Dupree said. "Second of all I didn't know them as well. I had a little mix-up on the times. That kind of messed with my nerves a little bit."

That would be an understatement. Any player would panic over being late for practice. For a freshman it could be paralyzing. But by the second workout session she was relaxed and put on display the outside shooting touch that led Tennessee to sign her.

"I think Faith is working really hard," Summitt said. "She is going to have to really work on the defensive end of the floor. She is going to have to be able to defend in the high-low game. She's got a nice skill set, really nice touch.

"She can shoot the three ball well, which would be a great situation for our post game because we can stretch the defense in the middle of the floor. That is always an advantage. I like her attitude. In our conditioning she has shown great toughness so I am really looking forward to her continuing to get better and get better prepared to get ready to play."

Dupree also used the workouts to get used to being on the floor with her fellow post players.

"Since I know them now I am a little more open," Dupree said. "When I was first came here I was pretty quiet."

The three freshmen spend a lot of time together by necessity. They live in the same dorm, and log mandatory study hall hours at the Thornton Center. Dupree and Williams spent both summer school sessions on campus together.

"This summer we were together the whole first month and then it was just me and Kamiko the second month because Taber went to USA ball," Dupree said. "I think during summer school it helped us get closer together without having all this college and practice and then once we got here we were able to help each other even more."

Dupree also is close to Johnson, because of their playing days together at Webb.

"Definitely," Dupree said. "She gave me a little bit more confidence because I played with her before and I knew how she played so it kind of helped me out a little bit knowing that she was there."

For Dupree the individual workouts gave her a chance to observe the tendencies of the other post players.

"Getting to know the posts so in a game I know who can play high-low," Dupree said. "I know who can catch a certain pass or who can shoot outside. It lets me know my teammates a little bit more."

The sessions revealed to Williams that she had to "learn how to play defense," she said.

"I have never, honestly, had to play defense a day in my life, besides AAU, but then again AAU I really didn't have to either," Williams said. "I played offense.

"I didn't know my feet could be that jacked up. It's like, ‘Kamiko, you're doing this with your feet. You should be doing this.' I am like, I am sorry, timeout. I get mad at myself because I know I could do what y'all are telling me to do. I just don't understand why my feet aren't cooperating. I have to get into a habit, too, because I have some bad habits on defense, and I realize that. I'm trying not to point my foot this way, but it keeps going that way.

"I apologize. I am going to have a one-on-one talk with my feet. That's what I'm going to do."

Williams was especially curious to find out how Summitt will be on the court when the players segue into team workouts.

"I am trying to figure out how she coaches," Williams said. "She will pull me to the side and say something and then five seconds later she's yelling at me. So normally does she yell all the time? Or is she calm all the time? Or does she do both? I pull her to the side and ask her questions."

The answer, of course, is both, and Dupree tried to convey that to the other freshmen, but they will have to experience it on their own. And Dupree won't be watching from the safety of the sideline. She will now be on the floor.

"I think it's going to be a lot of fun to finally get everybody together," Dupree said. "We play pickup, but pickup is nothing like practice. I got to watch her practices last year and I am excited for it to start."

With a heavy emphasis on drills, the players can sometimes end up playing to the specifics of the drill, instead of playing the ball. That will change in a five-on-five format, and will be especially challenging when the male practice players arrive.

"I can't wait to see all of us playing," Williams said. "I like doing drills and then I don't. I'd rather us play."

Williams is an irrepressible spirit with a boatload of basketball talent and a casual swagger to her personality. It's a combination that should lead to some interesting exchanges this season between her and Summitt.

"Right now Kamiko is trying to find her way from one drill to the next," Summitt said wryly. "But that's because she didn't come in with quite the background. But I think she can catch up."

Some of those catch-up sessions occurred over the summer with Heather Mason, the strength and conditioning coach who has Summitt's ear and complete endorsement of her programs.

"I am getting along with Heather," Williams said. "I love Heather to death. She keeps getting on to me about a sense of urgency thing. I am still trying to figure out what that is. It's my body language. I am running hard. There's no smile on my face, but who smiles when they run?"

Mason hasn't had the team run the ramp at Gate 10 at Neyland Stadium yet. But it's coming soon. Williams went to take a look at the ramp Thursday and walked away wide-eyed.

"I love Heather," Williams said. "After these four years I am probably going to thank her, too. I think this is the best shape I've ever been in and I am probably not even in shape yet. I didn't know you had to run this much for basketball."

Williams has had Assistant Coach Dean Lockwood in her ear quite a bit during the workout sessions in his classic style, which is high energy, mostly praise and constant motion. When Williams was asked what kind of creature Lockwood would be were he not human, she selected a gecko because of its fast movements and eyes always on some target.

"That's pretty funny," Dupree said. "Very energetic. Probably some kind of rabbit. He is always moving."

"I say like one of those birds that never stops talking but is always going and has some bite to it, a little attitude, which is good," Spani said.

Dupree appreciates the energy Lockwood brings to his sessions with the post players.

"He helps me a lot because I see him having that much energy and I am like, ‘Why don't I just do that?' " Dupree said. "Because he is definitely much older than me and still has that much energy, so I can find energy somewhere in me to be as energetic as him."

Summitt is pleased with what the players and coaches accomplished in the past four weeks.

"I think we got a lot of defense in and that was a priority for our coaching staff going into it was to make sure they understood all of our defensive action and how we want to defend everything – down screens, back screens, ball screens, curls, you name it," Summitt said.

"I think one of the first things we want to do – we'll keep the emphasis on defense – but we've got to start putting together our offensive schemes because they, particularly the freshmen, they've got a lot to learn."


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