"She's physically and mentally stronger," Pat Summitt said.
In between the stints with Mason, the coaches conducted a two-hour practice session that was notable for its up-tempo pace and the continuation of specific work on offensive and defensive formations. A team that was callow a year ago and still remains quite young has shown that it can absorb a lot of instruction this preseason.
The first chance to see how well they transfer that information from practice to a game comes Thursday against Carson-Newman at 7 p.m. Eastern at Thompson-Boling Arena. The Lady Vols will provide a free webcast of the game: Tennessee vs. Carson-Newman.
"I think we are definitely way ahead of where we were a year ago at this time," Summitt said after practice Tuesday. "We're not giving in to fatigue, the majority of us. We seem to understand the level of conditioning that it takes. Even in their sprints, they're working hard. In the weight room they've worked hard.
"That started this summer. They really invested this summer. You can tell the difference in those that are not giving in to fatigue. They are playing hard and playing hard all the time, as opposed to we still have even upperclassmen that give in to fatigue. That's why I said we've got to have at least eight (ready to play), maybe more."
This season Summitt considers any player who is not a freshman to be an upperclassman, because the now-sophomores played a lot of minutes a year ago because of the graduation of five starters and injuries to key returning players.
By class designation, Tennessee actually has just three upperclassmen – junior guards Angie Bjorklund and Sydney Smallbone and junior forward Vicki Baugh, who is coming back from two ACL surgeries. Cain is a member of that junior class academically, but she is a redshirt sophomore on the court and was hobbled most of last season following knee realignment surgery.
Bjorklund and Smallbone have been acting like upperclassmen – they are often among the first ones on the court well before practice starts, and both have increased their efforts to be more vocal. Baugh, despite her physical limitations, is taking the practice court as much as possible with her teammates, and Cain continues to show that she can absorb blows in the paint and keep fighting.
The team will return to the practice court Wednesday in what should be a taper-down session. The Lady Vols were not at full strength Tuesday as freshman forward Faith Dupree continues to be held out with back spasms, but she could be cleared soon.
Summitt will likely announce which players she intends to start in the first exhibition, though no lineup this early in the season will be set in stone. The coach and her staff planned to discuss possible lineups and could vary it for the two exhibition games.
At Monday's Media Day, Summitt was asked if she was rejuvenated after a difficult season a year ago.
"I always think I've got energy and passion for what I do," Summitt said. "I always said if I didn't, I'm cheating the team, the university and the program. Last year was frustrating at times. I said it was a lot like pulling teeth. It was hard to get them to buy in and commit every day.
"But I see a whole different attitude and commitment. I'm excited about it."
MEDIA DAY PART II: Time ran out Monday before two players, Glory Johnson and Shekinna Stricklen, could answer some offbeat questions. They graciously took some time Tuesday, as did Pat Summitt, to handle the quirky queries.
Best childhood memory: "We had a lemonade stand when I was around 6. I was in Colorado Springs. We made maybe $10, and we went to Albertson's, which was around the corner, and we bought all this candy. As we walked back we ate all the candy. There was one guy who left his Butterfinger on the table, and I ate his Butterfinger and just ran home. I was happy with his Butterfinger, and he never knew. I ate all mine, and his Butterfinger was calling my name. I had to take it. He should have guarded it."
What do you do when you first wake up in the morning: "The first thing I have to do is go in the bathroom and wash my face."
What really annoys you: "That's a really good one. I'll come back to that one."
If Pat Summitt didn't coach basketball, what would she do: "I think she would probably be a dog caretaker. Because she loves her two dogs."
If you go swimming, do you pick the ocean, lake or a pool: "I would have to say the ocean, because a lake is normally swampy and it has a lot of mud at the bottom and stuff that you don't want touching your feet. Little kids pee in pools a lot, so not a pool. The ocean, it's saltwater and you don't have to go deep. You can stay where the sand is and you can see the bottom."
What food have you tried that you never want to eat again: "Little crawdads. My friend's dad had a crawdad cookout and there were millions of them in this one big pot. And it was kind of spicy, and I didn't know, and you have to suck out their insides. You break them in half. (That's disgusting.) Yeah, I'll never do it again."
What's in your refrigerator: "Chicken, French fries, yogurt, it's Go-GURT actually. It's the little long things that you can take, drive and go. Cinnamon rolls, my favorite, and croissants. I just started eating croissants this year. They're really good. I cook all the time, probably four or five nights a week. I live with my sister (off campus), and one of her best friends from high school. I was going to live with Amber and Shekinna, but my sister really wanted me to live with her and she came back to Knoxville."
When Pat is yelling at you what are you thinking: "Man, I hope she doesn't say she's going to bench me the first game."
What scares you: "When she tells me to come here and she stops everything in the middle of practice, and she tells me to come there by myself. It's different if she tells the whole team to come, but when she says, ‘Glory, come here,' it's not so good. (Anything else?) I actually saw a walking stick (insect) outside my apartment the other day. It's weird looking, because you think it's a stick."
Back to what annoys you: "When people are at a red light and it doesn't say no turn, it's just a red light. You can stop and still turn. People just stay and hold up a line of cars."
If you have to walk through a dark alley late at night, what teammate do you want with you. (And, by the way, I heard all about the haunted corn maze. Only Kamiko Williams selected you for alley assignment, and that was because you could run fast and inspire her to do the same.)
"Long story short, the monsters scared me pretty bad and I was behind Faith, and I was holding her for dear life. I think I was choking her. She couldn't breathe half the time. I tried to stick my arms underneath her arms because she couldn't breathe when I had my arms around her stomach.
"The monsters would come to the side that I was looking at, so I would try to hide my face to one side, and they would just come around me and they would just walk with me. They knew that I was scared of them, so they just walked with me and sometimes they came up behind me, because they knew that I was scared. At the end a guy dressed up as Michael Myers (Halloween slasher movie series), was just walking with the Lady Vols, and we were like, ‘What is going on?' He was walking behind me and he was breathing on my neck, and that freaked me out.
"After the corn maze experience I would have to take Faith (into the alley). Miko stayed behind me for the most part, but Faith was leading the whole time, and I wasn't letting go of Faith for anything. She led me the whole hour and a half through that maze."
Best childhood memory: "That's a hard question. (What about fishing with your father. Did you fish a lot?) A whole lot. I would say that, going fishing and hunting with my dad. (What did you hunt?) Rabbit. (Did y'all eat them?) Oh, yeah. (Anything else?) I did some crazy things. When there was ice and snow I got on a 4-wheeler and would go out in the middle of the street. I got in trouble a lot for that."
Morning routine: "First thing I have to do is tell God thank you for letting me see another day."
What annoys you: "When I am talking to someone on the phone, like they called me, but they're talking to other people around them and they're really not talking to me. (That's rude). I know. I hate that. (I would hang up on them.) I do. I really do."
If Pat didn't coach basketball, what would she do: "That's a good question. (Some of your teammates said she would return to farm life.) That was in my head. I could see her still moving hay."
Ocean, lake or pool: "I don't like going swimming, but if I had to pick it would have to be the swimming pool."
Food you won't eat again: "Sushi. (Alyssia Brewer and Alicia Manning eat it a lot.) I know. They want me to go on Wednesdays when it's half off or something. I'll go to Wendy's or something and get something to take in to the sushi place. (Doesn't it look like bait? Something you would put on a hook?) Yes, it really does. They made me try it, and I had to spit it out. (Amber Gray didn't like chitlins.) I love chitlins. I love it. I don't like the smell when it's first getting cooked, and they're cleaning them. They stink. Once it cooked, I think my dad boils them, it's good."
Refrigerator contents: "Gatorade, drinks, mayonnaise, ranch. (Like ranch dressing?). Yeah. (For dipping vegetables?) No, I eat ranch with every meat, pizza, everything. (Amber's mother returned her daughter to Knoxville in mid-October to live with Shekinna and found an empty kitchen. So she stocked it with frozen foods that could be made in the microwave.) We have chicken fingers, more pizza, chicken. (She felt sorry for you.) Yes, she really did. I can't cook. Amber does all the cooking. She can cook."
Pat is yelling, your thoughts: (laughter) That's a good question. (You don't get yelled at a whole lot, but you aren't left out.) She does yell at me. I pay attention, but when she gets done I think of something crazy, funny. (Lyssi wondered why Pat only knows her name.) She says Lyssi's name at least 20 times a day."
What scares you: "Snakes. And the dark. I have to sleep with a light on."
Teammate you want with you in a dark alley: "I would have to go with Syd. Syd is very strong, and if you get into some trouble and need some backup she's the right person."
Best childhood memory: "Hmm, probably when my dad bought me a pony. I had a Pinto pony. (What did you name it?) Hang on … Billy. It was spotted. It was white and black. I got on Billy, and we would gather up the cows because we milked cows morning and night, and I even had a little buggy that would fit behind, and I could ride the buggy down to the grocery store and get groceries. I could go wherever I wanted to go because we were out in the country. We decided to get rid of Billy because I was getting ready to go off to college, and I just remember when they put him on the trailer, he went off with them and he was making his little horse noises, and I was bawling. (When did you get Billy?) I was probably about nine. Great horse."
Morning routine: "Make sure I get my coffee."
What annoys you: "Smoke."
If you didn't coach basketball, what would you do: (Laughed about Vicki Baugh's suggestion of animal control after the raccoon incident.) "If I wasn't coaching I would probably be teaching. I could be a high school teacher."
Ocean, lake or pool: "Pool, because I've been in the ocean, and there's a lot of stuff in the ocean. I've been in several lakes, and I've been in a lot of ponds, but I'll take the pool."
Food you won't eat again: "Oysters."
Refrigerator contents: "A lot of food. I cook almost every night. Chicken, salmon and steak and veggies on the grill. I like squash and asparagus."
When you're yelling at players, what do you hope they are thinking: "I got the message."
What scares you: "Snakes. I don't like snakes."
Who on the staff do you want with you in a dark alley: I definitely want Dean and Holly and Daedra on my team because we've already been through quite a bit anyway. They're loyal, but they're also competitive and they're not going to back down from anything."