Glory Johnson ready for dual role

Glory Johnson is likely to occupy two different parts of the basketball court at times this season – in the paint on offense and on the perimeter on defense. Her directions from the coaching staff have been specific – under control around the basket with the ball, aggressive when the opponent has possession – and, so far, the sophomore forward has adjusted to the demands.

Glory Johnson has long limbs, quick feet and a desire to take away the basketball. The coaches experimented with using Johnson on the perimeter last season, but a penchant for reach-in fouls and very little post depth forced them to deploy her mostly in the paint on both ends of the court.

This season 6'6 center Kelley Cain is expected to play a lot more minutes, and 6'1 freshman forward/guard Taber Spani has shown an ability to adapt quickly on the inside and outside. That has allowed the coaches to feel more comfortable with turning Johnson loose on the perimeter.

When the Lady Vols want to use a big lineup this season, Johnson would play in the paint on offense and outside on defense. Spani would handle the perimeter when the Lady Vols have the ball – she has deep three-ball range – and drop into the paint on defense.

Like Spani, fellow freshman Faith Dupree, a 6'3 forward, also can play a dual role – in the paint on defense and outside on offense – and that allows the 6'3 Johnson to continue in her switch role and affords the coaches more possible combinations on the floor.

"I have no doubt that she can guard anyone anywhere on the floor, but she's got to have the discipline not to foul," Pat Summitt said of Johnson. "That was the biggest hurdle to get over with her – taking chances.

"I think we will definitely play her on the perimeter defensively. A lot depends on the matchups. I think Taber and Faith they're going to have to defend in the paint. (Johnson) was out on the perimeter some her freshman year, but I think now she's more mature, and I think she can be much more effective."

Johnson has the potential to be utterly disruptive on defense.

"I enjoy it," Johnson said. "Any chance for us to get the ball, a block, a steal, anything to put us on offense and start scoring, just go ahead and get it to Kelley Cain. It's exciting. It's fun to play out there because not very many big girls can play out on the perimeter. A lot of guards think they can go around post players if they try to guard them out there, so we'll see."

Johnson has always had an interest in perimeter defense and would eavesdrop as a freshman on Summitt's conversations with the wing players.

"In practice when Pat was talking to the guards about how to defend a perimeter player I would always listen," Johnson said. "So it kind of came natural when I decided to start doing it. When Pat put me out there I knew what I was doing when I was guarding a perimeter player."

The coaches' initial concern with the move was Johnson getting into early foul trouble. So, the emphasis in preseason practices has been for Johnson to move her feet and keep her hands off the offensive player.

"I think that's a great position for her because she's long, rangy and athletic," Summitt said. "As long as she's not going for every steal and keeping people in front and anticipating when she can take some risks I like what I'm seeing from her there."

If Johnson picks the ball on the perimeter it's likely a layup on the other end for either her or a teammate sprinting the floor. With Johnson's speed she can get to the rim in a hurry.

When Tennessee has the ball that is precisely where the coaches want Johnson – near the basket.

"Glory has to make that her bedrock," said Assistant Coach Dean Lockwood, who has spent time with Johnson after practice three times in the past week to work on her left hand and post moves. "Her bedrock value is paint scoring. Once she establishes that then it will open her game up to do more."

Johnson also has worked on her outside shooting, but the coaches want her to establish herself as a dominant post presence before she expands her repertoire.

"When she shoots a baseline jumper as the first shot of the game, that's just an OK shot," Lockwood said. "She needs to establish paint scoring and running the floor and stick-backs and drives at the rim. Now, once she has people on their heels a little bit the other stuff is going to be more open.

"She's got to generate paint points. If Glory is going to be a kid that is going to give us double figures night in and night out the core of that is going to have to come through drives and stick-backs, getting to the free throw line.

"We want her thinking attack and paint, those two words together, not separately."

Summitt has made Johnson's post development a point of emphasis – thus the extra sessions with Lockwood and constant reinforcement in practice.

"I think she knows it, but you've got to keep talking to her, make sure she knows exactly what we want her to do," Summitt said.

The messages are getting through to Johnson.

"Always to be physical and don't let up in the paint and always box out and always go to the boards," Johnson said. "No matter what I am always physical on the defensive end and on the post-up I have to be a little less physical. As far as scoring I just need to slow down a little bit. I tend to over-think things and that just leads to turnovers. Slow down, and composure on offense.

"If I get the ball outside I will drive. I'll be physical and post up on whoever is guarding me."

Summitt noted this week in practice that Johnson was sometimes shying away from contact on offense to avoid foul calls. In Lockwood's drill work he is helping Johnson strike a balance between being both aggressive and composed on offense. Last season Johnson was prone to get charging calls as scouting film circulated, and defenders quit trying to jump or move with her and instead just held their ground.

"She's hearing two things. She is hearing be more physical, score in the paint. And she's also heard a lot about taking your time, go slower, more composure," Lockwood said. "We don't want to make her in any way tentative, but her biggest thing is to read. Read your defender and once you decide to go, we're going full throttle. Your move must be violent, and it must be in attack mode.

"But don't predetermine and don't just catch it and, boom, steamroll somebody. We still want her to score in the paint, we still want contact but we want her to be a little bit more composed in terms of how she reads the defense and when she initiates her move. It's OK when you touch the ball to take a second or two to read the defender. The only time that's not the case is when you get an offensive rebound, just stick it back in. But anytime where she's at all uncertain, take your time, read and then go attack and create contact.

"She's better than she was a year ago."

Johnson is free to unleash her energy on defense and has made the transition easier by enthusiastically buying in to the concept of stalking the perimeter. She has been matched up this preseason against the male practice players and against an improved Angie Bjorklund, who is hitting from long and midrange and using an assortment of screens to get open.

"Pat has put me in that position in practice," Johnson said. "Sometimes I guard Angie, and it's hard because she has that crossover and that fadeaway shot. I try my hardest to guard that player by the concepts I have learned so far.

"I like knowing how to guard each and every player. I can also guard the post player. Knowing the different ways to guard players – sometimes players are kind of restricted; most guards don't know how to guard a post player – but just being able to play and practice a little bit of everything that will help.

"I know how people should guard me. I know how to guard someone who's going to drive or shoot. They make it hard on us, so we should try to make it hard on them."

ATTENTION TO DETAIL: Tennessee has ended its longstanding contract with Baden this season and has switched to Wilson basketballs for one simple reason: It's the ball used in the postseason.

"That's the game ball for the NCAA," Pat Summitt said. "Instead of changing at the end when you start the postseason we're just going to be consistent because that's the NCAA game ball."

ATTENTION TO LEADERSHIP: Former Lady Vol Nicky Anosike was in town during preseason for knee surgery and rehab. She also practiced with the team on occasion and offered her thoughts on player leadership.

That interview can be read in the News Sentinel at: Taking Charge.

PRACTICE REPORT: The Lady Vols will get a well-deserved off day Sunday after three consecutive days of up-tempo practices that left even the best-conditioned players sweat-soaked and gasping for breath.

The majority of the practices – all of which lasted two hours – were spent in full court situations, including Saturday's emphasis on both full and three-quarter court pressure and fast break offense.

"That was definitely intentional," Pat Summitt said. "We wanted to get in our full court pressure. I thought they did a pretty good job."

On three occasions, Thursday morning, Thursday afternoon and Saturday afternoon, Heather Mason, the team's strength and conditioning coach, had sessions scheduled with the team, so the players have been pushed physically for the past three days.

"I think they responded," Summitt said after practice Saturday. "That's the important thing. You can push them, but we had some lapses. I thought today overall we had a pretty good practice."

Taber Spani has been noticeably more comfortable on offense since her practice film session with Summitt earlier this week.

"Taber looked really good today," Summitt said. "She had so much to learn. Our three freshmen are still learning, but she seemed very confident today, and she shot the ball real well. I think she's just getting more and more comfortable learning our sets. I talked to her about the fact that she can play multiple positions, but not to look at it like, ‘I've got to learn the two and the three and the four and the five.' I said, ‘Don't look at it that way. A lot of what we're doing is three out, two in, so you're just a player.' "

Spani's ability to play in the paint has been fortuitous for Tennessee this preseason as Vicki Baugh is limited – she sat out Saturday's session for knee rehab – and Faith Dupree missed her third consecutive practice because of back spasms. That left three true posts on the floor – Kelley Cain, Glory Johnson and Alyssia Brewer – for Saturday's session.

Cain is still adjusting to kneecap realignment surgery – plus the area under the kneecap became inflamed because of the repeated subluxations before the surgery – but she has proven herself to be a gamer and has battled through some tough practices. She may occasionally need some treatment during practice, but she re-takes the floor, and on Saturday she ran a tough series of post-practice sprints with the team.

"I think she's having some pain, but she's pushing through it. Plus, the weather," Summitt said, referring to Saturday's chilly and rainy conditions. "Trust me I know it when I wake up."

Cain is more mobile in the paint this season, and she is also showing improvement in getting up and down the floor. She is under instructions to seek preventive care for the knee, such as ice as needed, during practice.

"I feel like right now with her we can go up and down," said Summitt with an eye on not pushing Cain too far. "I told her, ‘If you're hurting you pull yourself.' "

The first exhibition game is this Thursday at 7 p.m. Eastern against Carson-Newman at Thompson-Boling Arena.

"I'm excited," Summitt said. "Bruce (Pearl) and them already played one."

A year ago the coaches didn't feel ready with a team of seven first-year players and were wishing for more time in the preseason. They seem anxious to tip off this season.

"Definitely," Summitt said.


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