Kelley Cain big part of post plans

The Lady Vols held an hour-long practice Saturday and used most of the session in full-court scrimmage situations against the male practice players. Although it's early in the preseason two things are readily apparent: Kelley Cain's ability to stabilize play in the paint can't be overstated, and Glory Johnson has improved her overall game.

That is a positive development for Tennessee this season as Vicki Baugh, a 6'4 dynamo inside when healthy, continues her rehab from a second ACL surgery within one calendar year. She remains under the watchful eye of Jenny Moshak, the team's chief of sports medicine, as they work to strengthen her quad and ensure she plays on balance to lessen the likelihood of future injury.

Vicki Baugh, who had her second knee reconstruction surgery seven months ago, watches Saturday from the sideline, where she did rehab and exercises with Jenny Moshak. (Photo by Maria M. Cornelius)

Of course the performance on the practice court for Kelley Cain and Glory Johnson must make the transition to game time, but Coach Pat Summitt, so far, is encouraged.

On several occasions Cain gathered in passes thrown high, low and off to one side or the other, took a split second to steady herself and softly used the glass to convert the basket.

"When she's in there she establishes an inside game better than anyone on our team," Summitt said. "She plays to her strengths. She knows to go to the rim. She's got good footwork. She's got great shooting touch. Obviously a tremendous key in what we want to do on the floor offensively. She is obviously a good defensive player and can alter shots.

"When Kelley is in the post it really helps us as far as our high-low game. She has just got great hands and great touch. It allows us to be able to really space out and get the ball inside. I just feel like with her on the floor we're a different team. Her shooting touch, I just have flashbacks of what she could do when she was healthy, and now that she is on her way to being fully recovered it's going to give us an inside game and presence that we missed when she wasn't in there."

Kelley Cain boxes out a defender as a perimeter shot falls through the basket. (Photo by Maria M. Cornelius)

Johnson remains the most-athletic player on the team and is working to harness that energy and remain under control. She cleaned up missed baskets Saturday by getting inside rebounding position instead of trying to out-leap the opponent. On one teammate's missed perimeter shot, Johnson's hand was well above the rim for a tip-in, but the ball caught the iron at an odd angle and caromed to the left side of the basket. She shifted her body in mid-air, caught the ball before it hit the ground and went immediately back up to score with her left hand.

"Much more composure from Glory offensively, and defensively she brings a lot to the floor," Summitt said. "She's playing within herself. She's not just going in there, picking it up and trying to create a shot. She's creating ahead of time."

Johnson said she spent the off-season working on her game, especially on her dribbling and her left hand.

"You should see a difference," Johnson said. "I always work on free throws. And my jump shots. Now I can drive or shoot the jump shot. I feel a lot more comfortable."

The other true posts on the roster are Lyssi Brewer, a sophomore, and Faith Dupree, a freshman. Summitt said Brewer must become more consistent day to day. Dupree has displayed a soft touch around the basket and converted a left-handed hook shot in the paint during the scrimmage.

Faith Dupree follows through with her left hand after launching a left-handed hook shot that settled through the basket. (Photo by Maria M. Cornelius)

"I am very pleased with Faith," Summitt said. "She's got a nice touch, good feel for the game."

Freshman forward/guard Taber Spani also got several reps at the power forward position to provide some post depth. Spani is more dangerous at this early stage in her college career on the perimeter, because of her shooting range, but Summitt wants to have options inside and out.

"It all depends on what Lyssi does," Summitt said. "She has good days and bad days. She plays hard one day and then takes (possessions) off. That is not going to get her quality minutes. It needs to happen sooner rather than later.

"But the thing about Taber is she can play multiple positions and I think stretch the defense."

Glory Johnson and Taber Spani keep an eye on the action from the sideline at Pratt Pavilion on Saturday. (Photo by Maria M. Cornelius)

Summitt also would like to play Johnson more on the perimeter on defense this season if she can avoid foul trouble. That would mean Spani would move inside to guard in the paint.

Summitt watched Spani play in high school and noted she played point guard – she is unlikely to be used there at Tennessee, at least for now, because of her shooting range from the wing – on the perimeter and inside. So Summitt is comfortable playing Spani inside or out.

"When they needed her to post up, the night I saw her, she went straight inside and hit three in a row and then went back out and started bombing threes from half-court," Summitt said. "She just has great composure. Nothing really rattles her. Not anxious at all, just calm, but determined, focused."

Spani also will be on the floor sometimes when Tennessee wants to go with a big guard lineup of Shekinna Stricklen, Angie Bjorklund and Spani. In those situations, Stricklen would play at point. In other situations, the 5'2 Briana Bass would take the helm, and one of the other guards would come off the bench.

Briana Bass and Shekinna Stricklen watch a rep from the sideline with Kamiko Williams at point with Assistant Coach Daedra Charles-Furlow. (Photo by Maria M. Cornelius)

Kelley Cain, left, and Kamiko Williams watch from the sideline with Assistant Coach Dean Lockwood. (Photo by Maria M. Cornelius)

Shekinna Stricklen makes a pass to Angie Bjorklund on Saturday from the point guard spot. (Photo by Maria M. Cornelius)

However, Summitt said she is in no way ready to set a starting lineup.

"It's too early to tell," Summitt said. "I told my staff I want to make Stricklen an option along with Bree and certainly Kamiko until we get another true point guard in the program."

Summitt couldn't talk about it, but a true point guard, Lauren Avant, was in attendance Saturday on her official visit with her family. The 5'9 guard from Memphis has been committed to Tennessee since she was 14 years old and is expected to sign her LOI in November. A second recruit, Meighan Simmons, a 5'8 shooting guard from Cibolo, Texas, also was in attendance with her family. Internet reports out of South Texas have indicated that Simmons will sign in April, and she is choosing among five schools - Tennessee, LSU, Maryland, Rutgers and Duke. To date, she has visited Tennessee and LSU.

Tennessee became interested in a second recruit from the class of 2010 after losing Cait McMahan, a point guard from Maryville, Tenn., for medical reasons because of her knees. This would have been McMahan's junior year at point guard, and the Lady Vols are thin at the position.

After using two freshmen at the vital spot last season – Bass and Stricklen – the coaching staff would prefer not to do so again with Williams, or at least in very limited minutes, especially early in the season.

Sophomore Alicia Manning also could be an option at point guard, but her game and size are better suited at small forward, where she can shoot, drive to the basket and rebound.

Bass, Stricklen and Williams – the three best ball handlers on the team and all of whom can break pressure – took reps at the spot on Saturday, and Stricklen, like Bass, is more comfortable there after a year in the program.

"I think Kamiko's got a lot to learn at that position," Summitt said. "She plays a lot on instincts, and if she's going to play at that position she's going to have to be able to manage the offense a little better."

Williams also has a game that is well suited to the wing as she can take defenders off the dribble. Although she can do that at the point, too, Tennessee needs someone there who will first look to get the team in its offense, especially with Cain inside. But Williams can keep a defense off balance.

"She's athletic, and she can create," Summitt said. "At least we've got options."

For the second time this week the practice session was energetic and upbeat.

"Our intensity was better," Summitt said. "We put in some sets, and I think for the most part they got it."

That is due to the comfort level of the sophomores, and they have each said that they are more comfortable this season than when they came in as newcomers to a demanding program.

"I know the concepts and I know the right way to do a lot of things," Johnson said. "With the freshmen coming in I can explain it to them and talking them through everything. It reminds me that I already know this. I don't need to think about the way to play defense, the way to close out, the way to deny. I don't have to think about it anymore. It comes natural. Just knowing that I have done it before it's kind of comforting."

A freshman class of three is also more manageable. Spani has a maturity that is not common among first-year players, Dupree is very steady, and Williams, while a bit of a free spirit, is talented and willing to listen. None of the trio arrived thinking they already had the answers, and all three have been receptive to instruction.

"It's a good group," Summitt said.

THE FRESHMEN: The three newcomers, Faith Dupree, Taber Spani and Kamiko Williams, will be featured in the upcoming issue of Rocky Top News magazine in which they talk about why they came to Tennessee and how they can contribute to the Lady Vols this season.

They also answered some oddball questions to allow fans to get to know them a little better off the court.

FAITH DUPREE

Faith Dupree (Photo courtesy of Lady Vols Media Relations)

What would you wear if you went trick or treating on Halloween: "Oh, Lord. Probably a gangster outfit."

Dupree explained that she likes to speak in slang and is being influenced by Williams.

"Kamiko says stuff like, ‘True,' instead of ‘OK,' " Dupree said.

Favorite song: "I love the band Paramore so I want to say their new song, ‘Ignorance.' "

Food you could eat every day: "Steak."

If Pat Summitt was not your coach but instead a pet that you brought home, what would you name her: "Oh, gosh, I don't know. That's a hard one. I have no idea. It would be kind of like Scruffy."

Favorite movie: "My favorite right now is ‘Taken.' "

Favorite smell: "Probably fresh cotton smell. I have that as my car freshener, like laundry." (When told that Cait McMahan said gasoline as a freshman, Dupree said, "Wow, that's weird.")

Item you can't make it through the day without: "My phone."

If you could name yourself, what would it be: "I like my name."

There is a very good reason for that. When Dupree's mother, Gena Bryant, was pregnant with her second child, she was taking Accutane, a drug known to cause severe birth defects.

"She didn't know she was pregnant when she was taking it," Dupree said. "She found out while she was pregnant, and she stopped that. They told my mom to have an abortion but she told them she didn't want to and she was going to have faith in God. And I was fine so she named me Faith."

The only issue Dupree has is that her right ear is slightly smaller inside and out than her left one, and she has reduced hearing in that ear. She agreed that could be an advantage if Pat Summitt was particularly mad at her one day, because she could slightly shift her head and still hear but get lesser volume.

"Faith can be my middle name," Dupree said, to answer the original question. "I like the name Chloe for some reason. I don't know why. (What would your last name be?) I don't know. Smith."

TABER SPANI

Taber Spani (Photo courtesy of Lady Vols Media Relations)

Halloween outfit: "It's actually my sister's birthday so we don't do that, but if I dressed up as anything, football player. It's my dad (a former linebacker for Kansas State and the Kansas City Chiefs)."

On football Saturdays, Spani is at Neyland Stadium.

"I love football. I am a football fanatic," Spani said. "So my Saturdays, if we're not working out, I am all for football. Tennessee has an amazing atmosphere. It's a great feeling for guys to play in front of 100,000 a game. It's awesome."

Favorite song: "I have a few. I listen to all Christian music. One is called ‘Every Moment,' and it's about capturing every moment. I only get four years here and so it's about capturing every moment and loving that. Another one is called ‘The Motions.' Don't go through the motions. Obviously it's a Christian song so don't just go through the motions, but make every moment count for our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. That is just what I am about."

Food you could eat every day: "Mexican or barbecue ribs."

If Pat Summitt was not your coach but instead a pet that you brought home, what would you name her: "I would call her Champ. That is what I would call her."

Favorite movie: " ‘The Robe' and ‘Chariots of Fire.' "

Favorite smell: (Also told of McMahan's answer.) "Diesel fuel is kind of good but probably barbecue."

Item you can't make it through the day without: "My Bible."

Your full name is Taber Chalee Spani. If you could name yourself, what would it be: "That's hard. We could go with my mom's name, Stacey. (Middle name?) Hmm. (Dad's middle name?) Leland. (Last name?) Westering. (her grandfather)."

KAMIKO WILLIAMS

Kamiko Williams (Photo courtesy of Lady Vols Media Relations)

Williams spent the first 14 years of her life in Germany – her father, Vincent Williams, is a master sergeant for the U.S. Army – and her family is now in Clarksville, Tenn.

She learned discipline and manners from her parents, and said her father trained her on the basketball court like he would a soldier.

"We always had to say, yes ma'am, no ma'am," Williams said. "That was a given. If you didn't he popped me on the back of my head and said, ‘What did you say?' I meant yes ma'am, not yeah, I apologize.'

"Always treat people with respect. Always be responsible. If I missed an appointment or I was late he would get on me like I was one of his soldiers. … My dad has pushed me to the point I'm dribbling down the court crying, ‘I'm so tired.' Y'all would probably feel sorry for me if you knew how my dad was on me, but my dad has been rock solid. I think I was like one of his soldiers. Yes, sir.

"When it comes to basketball it's like he's a whole other person. He's not even my dad. He's just like Pat, my coach. He would get on me for everything. But I appreciate everything because it got me here."

Summitt tells her players to call her Pat, but Williams is conditioned to say ‘yes ma'am' and ‘no ma'am' when Summitt calls her name. That was drilled into her by Angelita Williams.

"My mom is all about manners," Williams said. "Always yes sir, no sir, yes ma'am, no ma'am, please, thank you. Mom told me to always be polite to people and to always say hello because it might make somebody's day."

The strict upbringing did nothing to dampen Williams' spirits, and she is usually talking, smiling and listening to music, often at the same time.

Halloween outfit: "Last year I was an old school basketball player. I had my dad's 1970s something uniform. The shorts were all the way up to here (pointing to the top of her thighs). The jersey was skintight. I put on a little Afro wig. I put on my headband on the Afro. I had the high socks and the high tennis shoes and I was kicking it with the basketball. I took my little brother around. I loved it."

Favorite song: The song that gets me (fired up) the most is Swag Surfing. (She starts to sing it.) Y'all know that song? (Nope.) Y'all will have to listen to it. Swag Surfin' by … I forget who sings it. (Fast Life Yungstaz) It gets me pumped. Or ‘You're a Jerk.' "

Food you could eat every day: "Tacos."

If Pat Summitt was not your coach but instead a pet that you brought home, what would you name her: "Squattie. My grandfather used to call my little brother Squattie and every time I nickname something I call it Squattie. I wanted to name my dog Squattie, but we gave him the name Rocky."

Favorite movie: " ‘Two Can Play That Game' with Vivica A. Fox and Morris Chestnut. Whoa! He is so sexy."

Favorite smell: (Also told of McMahan's answer.) "We might need to check on her. … Hmmm, probably apples. I love apple."

Item you can't make it through the day without:"Cell phone. And my headphones."

Your full name is Kamiko Mercedes Williams. If you could name yourself, what would it be: "Probably Charde. I just like that name. (Would you change your middle name?) No, I like Mercedes. (Change last name?) I love being a Williams."

WNBA FINALS: A year ago Pat Summitt didn't choose sides in the WNBA title game. She had two former players on the competing teams – Alexis Hornbuckle plays for Detroit (the eventual winner) and Shanna Crossley, though she was out that season with a knee injury, is a player for the San Antonio Silver Stars.

But Summitt has no divided loyalties in the 2009 Finals between the Indiana Fever and the Phoenix Mercury. Former Lady Vol Tamika Catchings plays for the Fever, which is coached by Lin Dunn (Dunn and Summitt both have bachelor's degrees from Tennessee-Martin and master's degrees from UT in Knoxville and have been friends for years), and there are no former Tennessee players on the Mercury roster.

"Lin Dunn has been a super coach this year," Summitt said.

Catchings was one rebound short of a triple double – 19 points, 11 assists and nine boards – in Indiana's 93-84 win on Thursday.

"I just thought she laid it all on the line," said Summitt, who watched the game on television. "She was terrific."

Tamika Catchings, playing in her first WNBA Finals, is guarded by former LSU star Temeka Johnson of the Phoenix Mercury. (Photo by Barry Gossage/NBAE/Getty Images.)

The series is even at 1-1 with game three in Indianapolis on Sunday afternoon at 4 p.m. Eastern (ESPN2). Summitt will see this one in person and will also attend the Colts-Seattle Seahawks game. Indy is led by former Tennessee quarterback Peyton Manning. Kickoff for the NFL game is 1 p.m. Eastern, and both venues are downtown.

"I am going to watch Peyton, and then I am going to watch Catch," Summitt said.


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