In what is probably the perfect anecdote when it comes to Williams, Summitt said on her radio show after the Florida game that the freshman had sent her three text messages outlining her intent to commit to working harder. Then, she was a few minutes late to pre-game meal.
In a sign of Summitt's considerable patience with the freshman – who missed the first road trip of the season to San Antonio for violation of team rules – she just smiled when talking about it Friday.
"She went up and jumped in the shower and was two, three minutes late," Summitt said. "I just had to get my blood pressure down and Dean (Lockwood) goes, ‘Just ignore it.' "
Summitt was pleased with the content of the text messages.
"That she wanted to make a commitment," Summitt said. "I think she's just finally realized that it's time for her to grow up and invest in our team and understand our scouting reports and make a difference for us."
Williams can definitely make a difference. She is eighth on the team in minutes played at 13.3 per game, yet fourth in assists with 28 on the season. Despite her 5'11 height Williams is fourth on the team with 11 blocks. She is tied for fourth on the team with 15 steals.
No. 4 Tennessee (15-1, 3-0) takes on No. 22 Vanderbilt (13-4, 2-2), this evening at 6 p.m. Eastern (ESPNU, Lady Vol Radio Network) in a matchup of in-state rivals, and Williams can play a key role off the bench because of her on-ball defense and offensive poise.
Williams was on the floor at crunch time in the 66-64 win over Florida on Thursday and had two perfect post feeds to Kelley Cain during the comeback and then knotted the score late with a nothing-but-net lane jumper.
But, like most freshmen, she has defensive lapses. She went to the ball on the Gators' in-bound play and left her man, Lonnika Thompson, wide open for a game-winning three attempt, but the ball bounced off the rim.
But Summitt can fix those miscues in film sessions, and the freshman wasn't the only player to make that mistake at that moment in the game. Summitt knows that, overall, Williams is immensely talented.
"Kamiko, one of the most athletic guards that we've had at Tennessee, and now she's starting to understand the skill that she needs to go along with her athleticism," Summitt said.
She also knew that the freshman's personality – very laidback and her body language can make her appear unfocused – would be a challenge. The closest comparison may be former Lady Vol Nikki McCray – a player with an infectiously carefree personality that tried every ounce of Summitt's patience, according to the coach's book, from chronic lateness to a lack of focus. Summitt wrote that she was ready to send her home but was talked out of it by an assistant coach, and McCray went on to have an outstanding career. But Williams is in her own category.
"Nikki McCray couldn't touch Kamiko," Summitt said with a wry look.
Assistant coaches will always play the role of advocate for players – such as Dean Lockwood did when Williams was late to pre-game meal. Consider Lockwood's in-depth explanation.
"All of us have the big picture in mind to a certain extent," Lockwood said. "As a head coach certainly, I don't think anybody has more of a big picture in mind than a head coach does, because that's how you think and what you do. We tend to get more day to day and week to week, depending on what we're doing with individual players or scouting and things like that. So Pat's always got the big picture.
"I think, by and large, we're all on the same page with her big picture-wise. We talk about where we are. I think, overall, you look at your team, you assess your team. I tend to do this on a day to day or every couple days, you assess your team constantly. I look at our team and I see what are our shortcomings, what are our weaknesses, what do we need to shore up, what do we need to improve on. I think as a staff, as assistant coaches in particular, we do talk about that. As we put together practice, what does this team need to do fundamentally, what do we need to work on, do better, things like that. That's one phase of it.
"Then, I think the other phase of it is you pay attention to individuals. There may be two or three individuals who particularly draw the ire and the wrath (of Summitt). A lot of times it's brought on by something that they do and then sometimes it may be where Pat sees something in that player that we can get more from this kid, she wants more from this kid, and we're not getting it, so she's going to absolutely take that cloth, figuratively speaking, and wring it out.
"Sometimes in that process you're getting your outside wrung out but you're also getting your mind wrung out, your heart wrung out, your feelings and emotions wrung out. So we have to pay attention to that, so sometimes it means we have to do a little bit of pick-up, a little encouragement. As much as anything it's a balance. There may be days where she isn't on somebody as hard and that will be our role to be more demanding with the kid. And then there are times when it's been hammer, hammer, hammer, when that kid's with Pat and then we come back with the encouragement.
"There has got to be some balance. As an assistant we try to make sure – it's true with anybody in life and athletes I think are even more so like this – we all have a diet and if you have too much of any one thing that's an unbalanced diet. You need a diet that has a certain amount of balance and as human beings we certainly need that as well. For every bit of criticism that is constructive, which is what we do here by and large, nobody makes it personal, but you get coached very hard in this program. There is a high level of expectation. There is a high level of accountability. So I think it's important that the diet when you have that, there is also encouragement that goes with it. That is very important.
"It's the old thing that I learned in teacher ed 27 years ago. Catch them doing something good and praise them. Find one good thing that they do, within five to seven minutes of practice when someone's done something good, you want to tune in on that. Players, especially young players who are a little bit frail, they need that."
Lockwood also will suggest on the bench when he thinks Williams should be inserted in the game. He did at Mississippi State, but Williams had practiced poorly before the game, and Summitt was still peeved.
"She said, ‘I will but second half,' " Lockwood said. "I will always support that but every so often I am going to float one up there just to see. I won't do it unless I believe in it. I am not going to do it if it's somebody I can't justify sticking up for this player or saying that they're ready. If they're not game ready they can get buried until they're game ready and they compete.
"But if I feel like they're game ready and they can help us in that situation I'll float it. I'm not afraid to get shot."
Williams got in the game against Florida in the first half and made a difference. Summitt was willing to use her early because the freshman had performed better in practice.
"She had had a couple of good practices after being so inconsistent and erratic," Lockwood said.
Summitt also knows that Williams answered the bell against Florida.
"I thought she played well (Thursday) night, did a lot of good things," Summitt said. "We might not have won without her."
The key now is to get Williams to string together more solid practices and fewer lackadaisical ones so as not to draw Summitt's wrath.
The first step in what is usually a long process for freshmen – fellow freshman Taber Spani entered college with a maturity level not seen since Tamika Catchings and Nicky Anosike, so this has been a non-issue with her – took place for Williams when she talked to Summitt after the Stanford loss and before the San Francisco game.
Williams opened up about feeling like she was in the middle sometimes between Summitt and her father, Master Sgt. Vincent Williams, who taught his daughter how to play basketball and was responsible for drilling that silky-smooth midrange jumper that she can hit so well off the bounce – the same shot that tied the game with Florida.
"After having the conversation with Pat – I really opened up and told her what I was going through – it really opened me up to her," Williams said. "At first I was a little intimidated and didn't want to open up to her, but I finally did and that brought a lot of stress off of me."
Williams responded in the San Francisco game with 14 points on 6-8 shooting from the field and 2-2 from the line, plus eight boards, four steals, three assists, two blocks and no turnovers.
"I really needed this game," Williams said in the post-game press conference on Dec. 22, the last game before the Christmas break. "I just wanted to leave her with good thoughts in mind that I can play hard for as long as she wants me to, and I can score. I can do what she needs me to do."
Tennessee lost to Stanford, 67-52, in the other West Coast game, and Williams was 0-2 from the field and not effective in limited minutes. She watched from the bench for most of the game and realized during that time that she could help this team – and the starting guards, Angie Bjorklund and Shekinna Stricklen – this season.
That was something Summitt had been telling Williams since preseason, but she didn't believe it until sitting in Maples Pavilion and watching her team lose.
"After the Stanford game I really realized that Angie and Strick need me," Williams said. "They really do. At first I took it as, ‘Maybe, she's telling me (that) just so I can play harder,' but they do. So I just wanted to go in (against San Francisco), boost my confidence up, play as hard as I can and hope I continue this play.
"Pat recruited me to score, to bring this to the table. I don't know what I was thinking before, because I wasn't doing it, but after this game and after having a talk and watching Angie and watching Strick penetrate and play their game, yes, Coach gets on them, but they still do what they know how to do and do what they do best.
"I take that and try to shadow that and do it for myself and this is what I came out with. Pat, yes, she gets on me but at the same time she still wants me to play, and I realize that and now I'm doing it."
Williams played well against Oklahoma on Jan. 3 with seven points and three boards. She also was able to pressure the speedy ball-handlers for the Sooners and disrupt their offense. A solid performance against a ranked team also earned praise from Summitt.
"I thought Kamiko played the best she's played all year (against Oklahoma) and didn't give in to fatigue," Summitt said. "I think her conditioning is better. That's what we were dealing with for several practices. She just gave in (to fatigue). It's more mental for her than anything. Physically, she ought to be able to do whatever."
Summitt also joked that Williams might be feeling left out because she didn't yell at her that game.
"If she was feeling a little left out I'm sure they'll be some minutes coming," Lockwood said with a smile.
It was Williams' defense against Oklahoma that stood out to Lockwood.
"Her defense, she was up into players. When I was here on the men's side (1986-1991 as an assistant for the Vols), I remember Tennessee playing defense like this," said Lockwood, who cited Alexis Hornbuckle and Nicky Anosike as players he has coached for the Lady Vols that fit that earlier memory. "Kamiko, her feet were about a foot and a half wider than her shoulders, and she was down and she was right in kids' faces. They could smell what she had for pre-game.
"Her on-ball defense, she was really bringing that, and then also she was much more composed on offense. She hesitated, came off a ball screen, she pulled up, made the shot and got fouled. She just made smarter decisions. I liked her defensive effort. Finally I saw that she's plugging in and tuning it to defense, ‘I can do this.' She's good."
That doesn't mean there won't be growing pains. Williams had a lethargic practice before the Mississippi State game on Jan. 10, and Summitt was livid with the freshman's perceived lack of focus. Williams' body language didn't help her case. Although she was paying attention her mannerisms on the court suggested otherwise.
"I think it had a lot to do with growing up with my dad," Williams said. "I kind of didn't want to pay attention, but I knew I had to. I had to listen to him. He didn't think I was listening, but I could repeat everything he told me. It something I picked up growing up. I watched my mom do a lot of tasks around the house while I'm talking to her and I'm like, ‘Mom, you're not listening,' and she can tell me everything."
No matter how Summitt is speaking to Williams – whether angry or pleased with her play – the freshman is always polite and looks her coach in the eye and says "yes ma'am" and "no ma'am."
"That's daddy all the way," Williams said. "He used to pop me if I didn't say yes ma'am, no ma'am, please and thank you. That's habit."
That's proof that Williams can develop good habits, and Lockwood has a genuine like for the young lady, even when she is sometimes confounding the coaches.
"She is such a good-hearted, good-spirited person and one thing about Kamiko, I love this about her, she's very honest," Lockwood said. "Sometimes she may tell you more than what other people may want. But Kamiko is very honest, she's very pure hearted, and she gives you what's there."
What's there on the basketball court is key for Tennessee's success this season – she helped turn the tide against the Gators by slowing down their offense – and Williams is starting to understand that.
"I think it has a lot to do, too, with the loss at Stanford," Williams said. "We were able to beat that team and going in I was thinking, ‘I'm in college, but maybe I am not quite there yet.' But after watching them play, watching tape and playing with Oklahoma, who is also fast paced, I am like, ‘Hey, I can keep up with these girls.'
"I am doubting myself when I really don't have a reason to. After playing well and having my talk with Pat and building that trust with her, I am like, ‘Hey, all I can do is go out there and play.'
"It helped build my confidence, because I went out there, I did my job, I played defense, I scored when we needed to, I got the ball to another player when we needed to. The first time Pat clapped and said, ‘Good job,' I was like, ‘Oh, cool, I'm helping my team.' And they're appreciating it, too.
"It made me feel good about myself just to know that what I did actually helped my team, especially against Oklahoma, when I went in and we were close and then we had this big run. I was like, ‘I helped cause that. I got a couple of steals. I got us going.' "
Associate Head Coach Holly Warlick saw a growth spurt, basketball-wise, in Williams after the Florida game.
"Absolutely," Warlick said. "Her strengths (Thursday) night fed into what was good. She was calm at the end."
"We're hoping that those dots are starting to get lined up and then eventually will connect," Lockwood said. "She is starting to do focused things. As opposed to going out there and playing nonchalantly she is doing things."
Tennessee will need contributions like that from Williams if it is to compete for the championship in the SEC this season. As the Florida game showed, there are no easy matchups in the league, and Vandy is in town Sunday. After that, the Lady Vols hit the road again to take on Georgia and LSU.
"Every game is important," sophomore forward Glory Johnson said. "We have to take it one game at a time and not take any team for granted, whether we beat them in the past or not. Every team is different every year. There are teams that do want to get revenge for losses that they've had so they come three times stronger than they did last time, so just be ready for every team."
Tennessee is playing the top teams in the conference to start the SEC season, so the Lady Vols have a chance to either position themselves well in the standings or be looking up at others.
"We know that," Lockwood said. "You can't get your team looking too far ahead. Most of them are savvy enough to know that you don't worry about one game until you take care of the previous one.
"At the end of that it will be very telling about where we are (in the standings) and where we are as a team. This is a very, very big stretch for us."
Tennessee Coach Pat Summitt is expected to start: Shekinna Stricklen, 6'2 sophomore guard/forward, No. 40 (13.7 points per game, 6.7 rebounds per game, 4.4 assists per game); Angie Bjorklund, 6'0 junior guard, No. 5 (15.9 ppg, 2.9 rpg, 2.7 apg); Taber Spani, 6'1 freshman guard/forward, No. 13 (7.3 ppg, 3.6 rpg, 1.4 apg); Glory Johnson, 6'3 sophomore forward, No. 25 (12.6 ppg, 8.6 rpg, 1.5 steals per game); and Kelley Cain, 6'6 redshirt sophomore center, No. 52 (8.9 rpg, 7.3 rpg, 2.8 blocks per game).
Vanderbilt Coach Melanie Balcomb is expected to start: Merideth Marsh, 5'6 senior guard, No. 23 (14.6 ppg, 3.3 rpg, 3.6 apg), hails from Louisville, Ky., scored a career-high 29 points against Mississippi State, preseason All-SEC Second Team, has 1,067 career points, scored 13 points in Knoxville last season; Jessica Mooney, 5'8 senior guard, No. 20 (7.6 ppg, 3.7 rpg, 2.4 apg), hails from Nashville, Tenn., has started 11 games this season and started 20 games last season, played 37 minutes against Georgia on Thursday and tallied 10 points and eight rebounds, was Co-Sixth Woman of the Year in the SEC as a sophomore, nominee for the 2010 Lowe's Senior CLASS Award; Lauren Lueders, 5'8 senior guard, No. 5 (8.7 ppg, 3.9 rpg), hails from Jackson, Mo., had a career high 18 points against Ole Miss and hit four 3-pointers, played in 34 games as a junior, was a three-year starter on the boy's team at Saxony Lutheran, which didn't have a girl's team until 2006; Hannah Tuomi, 6'1 junior guard, No. 15 (10.8 ppg, 6.1 rpg), hails from Thornton, Colo., preseason All-SEC Second Team, scored 11 points and had two blocks against Mississippi State, had a season-high 20 points against Southern Illinois, started 28 games last season before being sidelined with a leg injury, also played volleyball, soccer and tennis in high school; and Tiffany Clarke, 6'0 freshman forward, No. 34 (10.0 ppg, 6.2 rpg, 1.2 bpg), hails from Duluth, Ga., had 14 points in the win over Georgia, also competed in volleyball and track and field in high school, was a McDonald's All-American nominee, played on the Georgia Metros with Vandy teammate Elan Brown.
Vanderbilt lost a key player in Jence Rhoads, a 5'11 junior guard who broke her hand in the loss at Kentucky. Rhoads had 95 assists on the season, the SEC leader, and averaged 12.8 points per game. But the Commodores handled that defeat by throttling Georgia, 66-44, in Nashville in its next game, with solid contributions from three freshmen, starter Clark, and Brown and Gabby Smith off the bench.
Brown, a 6'0 freshman guard, had 11 points on 5-7 shooting in the win over Georgia. She also has started two games this season. Smith, a 5'10 guard, had 12 points and hit two 3-pointers. She has played in 16 games this season.
SCOUTING REPORT: Associate Head Coach Holly Warlick handled the scouting report for the Tennessee-Vanderbilt game. Here is her assessment.
When Vanderbilt has the ball: "Melanie (Balcomb) is one of the best offensive coaches, I think, in the country," Warlick said. "I think she does an unbelievable job. They read defenses. They know counters. If you do this, they're going to do this. They're very disciplined. They're just a great offensive team. If you go in there and think, ‘Their biggest kid is 6'1. This is going to be a cakewalk.' It ain't happening. Ask Georgia.
"I thought Vandy would beat Georgia. I just know how Vandy plays, especially at home. They're competitive. They play hard on every possession. They don't take a possession off. They grind it out. They run. They'll push the ball. They go high-low. They've got three-point shooters. They're penetrators. They are a hard team to guard, and it's a hard team to play, and you had better be shooting the ball extremely well if you think you're going to beat them."
Defensively, "They'll run man to man," Warlick said. "They'll run a matchup. She mixes it up. Double on the post. They'll press a little bit to slow us down. They look to steal; they put pressure on the ball.
"They're very well coached. You've got to bring your ‘A' game every time you play Vanderbilt. They lost some great kids last year, but they haven't seemed to miss a beat. (Hannah) Tuomi is a beast inside. She's 6'1, and she plays like she's 6'5."
When Tennessee has the ball: "We're going to do high-low," Warlick said. "We've got to get paint points on them. We can't quick shoot the ball. I think (Thursday) night at times we shot the ball too quick. Along with our posts, we've got to get our guards paint points off penetration.
"Vandy is (forcing) 20.8 turnovers, and that's more than they did last year. They're getting people to turn it over. They're doubling down in the post. They can get out in the passing lanes. They'll show it (make the passer think the lane is open) and take it away. She's going to keep us in a guessing game."
Defensively, "Our zone has got to get a little better because they are very good three-point shooters," Warlick said. "They'll spread the floor out. They are long-range three-point shooters. We've got to have a little bit more awareness than we did (Thursday) night at times. At times we were good.
"I think we're going to pressure them. We're going to get after it. We'd better get after it more than we got after Florida."
ODDS AND ENDS: Tennessee leads the series with Vanderbilt, 53-7. Vanderbilt won the first regular season matchup last season, 74-58, in Nashville, but the Lady Vols are 24-0 in Knoxville. … Tennessee is 12-4 in games played on January 17. The last win on this date was against Kentucky, 65-40, in 2008. The first win on January 17 was against Middle Tennessee State, 43-42, in 1973. The four losses on this date were to Belmont, 77-45, in 1976; Georgia, 66-63, in 1982; Rutgers, 87-77, in 1994; and Georgia again, 78-51, in 2000. … Tennessee's record at home in SEC contests is 171-12. Even last year's team, which piled up 11 losses on the season, went 7-0 in the conference at home. The last time Tennessee lost an SEC game in Knoxville was on Feb. 14, 2008 against LSU, 78-62. … Angela Puleo, a product of William Blount High School in Maryville, Tenn., is on the roster for the Commodores. Puleo, a junior guard, transferred from Georgia and must sit out this season. She will have two years of eligibility remaining with Vandy. The Commodores lost two players to injury this season: Stephanie Holzer, a 6'4 freshman center (ankle), and Jordan Coleman, a 5'11 sophomore forward (knee). Jence Rhoads (broken hand) could return this season.
BY THE NUMBERS: Tennessee is averaging 78.5 points a game while allowing opponents to score 57.1. Vanderbilt averages 76.1 points a game while allowing 63.4. The Lady Vols are shooting 47.0 percent overall, 37.6 percent behind the arc and 69.2 percent from the free throw line. The Commodores are shooting 46.9 percent overall, 37.4 percent from long range and 65.9 percent from the line. Tennessee makes an average of 6.3 three-pointers a game while allowing 5.9. Vandy makes 6.1 threes a game while allowing 5.9.
Tennessee averages 44.4 rebounds a game for a +9.5 margin. Vanderbilt averages 37.6 boards with a –0.9 margin. The Lady Vols average 16.2 assists and 14.5 turnovers a game. Opponents lose the ball an average of 16.4 times a game. The Commodores average 17.1 assists and 16.5 turnovers with foes losing the ball 20.8 times a game. Tennessee averages 7.3 steals and 5.9 blocks a game. Vandy averages 8.9 steals and 2.9 blocks.