Lady Vols return to practice

Daedra Charles-Furlow walked into the arena a few minutes ahead of the coaches Sunday evening, and the Lady Vol players stopped their warmup exercises to make locomotive noises – a reference to "Night Train" – and hug the assistant coach. Charles-Furlow remains under a doctor's care but she was on the sidelines when the team returned from holiday break.

It was breezy inside Thompson-Boling Arena – the campus is basically empty for Christmas break – and Daedra Charles-Furlow, whose college nickname of "Night Train" has stuck with her, wore a stocking cap and scarf most of the evening while watching from the sidelines. Associate Head Coach Holly Warlick also stayed bundled up in sweats during the two-hour evening practice at the chilly arena.

The players, however, were dripping with sweat during the session as Pat Summitt took the approach of getting them back into high gear after four days off at home to eat and rest.

The majority of the session was spent in full court situations with an emphasis on defense, especially in transition. Most of the players were spent by the end of the session and fighting through significant fatigue by the last drill. Practice ended with multiple reps at the free throw line and then a weightlifting session.

"That was by design," Summitt said. "I knew they had all been eating turkey and no telling what and I said, ‘Let's burn off some of that.' "

All 10 players reported back on time and were available for practice, while Vicki Baugh, Faith Dupree and Amber Gray continued their sideline rehab exercises.

Charles-Furlow, who has been away from the team at times for medical reasons and didn't made the last road trip, was able to join the team in a limited capacity from the sidelines, and the players were happy to see her. Summitt has activated her special assistant, Stephanie Glance, to fill in for Charles-Furlow, and her health needs will take precedence over bench duties. Glance already is handling Charles-Furlow's recruiting duties until she is allowed to travel again.

"I think they understand it," Summitt said. "We miss her, but they know the best thing for her is to be here (rather than on the road) and do her treatment and just take care of herself. Right now we'll probably leave Stephanie in that role until Daedra has her health where it needs to be. We don't want her missing any of her appointments. It's day to day.

"If things change and she was feeling great and the doctor says, ‘She's good to go,' I could flip it back," Summitt said. "But right now she's got so much on her."

Charles-Furlow was energetic at Sunday's session and shouting encouragement from the sidelines.

Summitt had asked the players to enjoy their break, stay out of the gym to rest their assorted aches and pains, and be ready to go when they reported back to campus. With classes out until Jan. 13, Summitt and the coaches have two weeks to focus just on basketball.

"I think we have to raise the bar all the time for this group," Summitt said. "It's time for us to turn up the heat and get up and down the floor. Just get them better in transition pickup. It's going to be defense and board play and offensive execution."

Summitt also will expect the players to get in the gym on their own for extra work. After lauding the team's work in the off-season she found out how few players had continued that approach once the season started. The revelation came during a team gathering on the West Coast road trip.

"The amazing thing when we were on our road trip is when I asked them about how many times they were getting in the gym. It would have been Taber, Angie, Stricklen and Tyler," said Summitt, referring to players Taber Spani, Angie Bjorklund and Shekinna Stricklen and the coach's son, Tyler Summitt, a freshman at Tennessee who often works out with the players and accompanies them to the gym for extra shots.

"To be honest with you I was taken back by it. Our whole staff was. We just haven't been a team across the board that's been getting in the gym, and it shows."

Summitt made it clear that she expects those habits to change in the second half of the season across the board with the rest of the team joining Bjorklund, Spani and Stricklen in Pratt Pavilion.

Tennessee is ranked No. 4 in the country and compiled at 10-1 record to start the season after an 11-loss one a year ago. The Lady Vols are capable of competing for this year's SEC title – conference play begins Jan. 7 against South Carolina – and playing deep in the postseason. If that is to happen, the Lady Vols will need significant contributions from the bench. Summitt challenged one of those players to raise her game.

"Alicia Manning, I told her, ‘You should be helping us a whole lot more,' " Summitt said.

Another key player is freshman guard Kamiko Williams, who revealed in the post-game press conference after the win over San Francisco that she felt torn between her father and Summitt and sometimes got competing advice. Williams and Summitt talked about the matter before the game, and the coach mentioned her own late father, who still wanted to oversee his daughter's game.

"She thanked me for it," Summitt said. "I just told her my dad wanted to coach me all the time. Finally I just said, ‘Dad, I can't listen to you and listen to my coach.' I just finally had to tell him because I could hear his voice at games. He was fine after that. I think when she was home at Christmas she talked to him."

Summitt understands the situation from both sides. Her son Tyler played basketball in high school, and she established the ground rules beforehand.

"I told him early on I wasn't going to coach him," Summitt said. "I watched tape with him, but I asked him what he thought. It was always, ‘What do you think?' And I told his coach, ‘You never have to worry about me coaching my son. I want you to coach him.' "

Summitt took the advice she gave her players and took a little time off over the past four days, but she still popped in some game DVDs.

"I watched our tape, but I haven't watched anybody else," Summitt said. "Just to look at our last two games and I watched Stanford and UConn for awhile."

With Old Dominion coming to Knoxville on Wednesday evening (7 p.m. Eastern, SportSouth), Summitt will be back in front of the television with game tapes.

"I'm going to go watch (ODU) tonight," Summitt said after Sunday's practice session ended. "Crank it back up."

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