Lady Vols strive for consistency

The Lady Vol players watched film before practice Friday – they saw clips of their preseason sessions plus a compilation of hustle plays by Tamika Catchings – and then held another high-energy session in yet another sign of their maturity: There was no drop-off despite the day off Thursday.

The coaches still had to implore a few players from time to time to pick up the pace, but one that had been singled out since practice started, freshman Kamiko Williams, found another gear Friday.

"Kamiko stepped up a little bit better," Pat Summitt said.

The key, of course, is consistency. The team will reassemble Saturday and Sunday – the coaches plan to practice for five consecutive days, though that is always subject to change – and the sessions continue to be accelerated, compared to a year ago, in terms of how much information the players are receiving.

The returning players have retained a lot of information from last season and are absorbing new concepts. That has allowed the coaches to hold sessions that are specific to certain concepts and drills and then transfer the lessons to scrimmages to evaluate who is performing well at this time. The second-year players are well ahead of where they were a year ago when the flow of practice was constantly altered to correct mistakes. Those stops still occur, but they are fewer and take less time to resolve.

"I think they're more in to practice," junior guard Angie Bjorklund said. "The freshmen are still working on it, but I think almost all of the sophomores and juniors are really keyed into what we need to do. We'll hear the same comments here and there but for the most part it's just building on last year. We've got that year under our belt."

Friday's session began with a perimeter defense drill – even the post players, including Vicki Baugh, picked up the ball outside – and ended with full-court scrimmages against the male practice players and Nicky Anosike, who is working her way back from knee surgery before heading overseas to play professionally in Romania.

Participation on the practice squad is not for the feeble as those players often take some blows, especially as bodies collide in the paint. Practice player Tyler Summitt has several scrapes across his arms and chest.

"They scratch," Tyler Summitt said. "They are definitely scrappy. They are going after me even harder than everybody else."

Anosike isn't immune either as the practice squad is there for the team's benefit, not the other way around. She laughed when asked about taking what she used to dish out on a regular basis.

"They get away with a lot out there," Anosike said with a smile. "I guess I had my share of giving it to people and now it's coming back on me so I can't complain that much."

Anosike estimated that she was at about 80 percent right now – she is coming back from surgery last month to repair a meniscus tear in her left knee – and her presence has been a big benefit, especially to the post players. Bjorklund has also taken advantage of Anosike's experience as a Lady Vol.

"I might ask her, ‘What do you see?' " Bjorklund said. "And she'll give some advice here and there, which has been great. She's tough to box out. Having her there has really helped all the posts."

When Summitt spoke at SEC Media Day on Thursday, she mentioned the need to use practice footage as a teaching tool. The players watched film before taking the floor and also saw clips of former Lady Vol and WNBA All-Star and Olympian Tamika Catchings. That was the idea of Associate Head Coach Holly Warlick.

"We just showed some good things that they did and then some things we need to get better at," Summitt said. "And then Holly had a clip on Catchings. Basically Holly wanted to make sure that they had an example of one of the best, most athletic players that played here playing hard all the time."

Consistency has been the theme for this preseason, and the seeds for that are planted in the fall before the games get started.

"I think Coach has really stressed this year consistency in defense and rebounding and start having a 40-minute game," Bjorklund said. "That was the quote of the year last year was the 40-minute game. I think it's going to start. It has started in practice every day. In the middle of practice I will be like, ‘OK, we have to keep this energy up.' We can't have ups and downs like we did in games."

At SEC Media Day, Bjorklund was asked what it was like to play for Summitt. She smiled and said the answer could fill up the afternoon session.

"You could go on and on," Bjorklund said. "Playing for Coach Summitt, there is no slacking. You can't take a day off. She's consistently the same day in and day out. Her whole coaching staff is. I think that's what makes her so great is that consistency in staying on her players and setting her expectations so high. She is going to push you to be the best player that you can be, and that's why I came there because I want to be the best player I can be, and I know she is going to push me to that point.

"It's straight and to the point and this is what you need to work on or you're sitting. A lot of people can't handle that, can't play under her because of that, but the players that do are the ones that want to get better, want to improve, are willing to invest and just play with intensity. Off the court she's great, but once it's on the court her intensity is so through the roof. I love it. You can't complain about playing for her ever. She is a great coach."

Anosike has watched the team at some workouts and practices while she worked on her rehab and also participated in a few sessions with them. That gives her a bird's eye view of their progress.

"I think they're getting better every day," Anosike said. "I think the effort is starting to get there. I think they're starting to remember what it felt like last year and I don't think they want to go through that again.

"I think they're focused. I think they really want to get it right this year."

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