Lady Vol signee ready for next step

The scouting reports on Meighan Simmons basically break down like this: Fierce competitor on the court, extremely polite off of it. With about 20 "yes ma'am" replies in a 15-minute phone interview, the Lady Vol basketball signee from Cibolo, Texas, didn't disappoint and she soon will be in Knoxville to jump start her college career.

Meighan Simmons, a 5'9 combo guard from Byron P. Steele High School near San Antonio, spent last week participating in the McDonald's and WBCA All-American games and tallied 42 points, 12 rebounds and one Co-MVP award for her two-game efforts.

The next stop for Simmons on the basketball trail is Knoxville, and she intends to be in town a few days after high school graduation so that she can start summer school and begin voluntary workouts with her soon-to-be teammates.

One of those is Lauren Avant, a 5'9 point guard who also was selected for WBCA High School All-American honors but didn't play in the game because she is rehabbing a shoulder injury. Avant and Simmons were roommates in San Antonio – the game was held in conjunction with the Women's Final Four – so they had some time to talk before both enroll at Tennessee, as Avant also will arrive in June.

Avant, who is from Lausanne Collegiate School in Memphis, has been familiar with Tennessee for years – her mother is a graduate and the two have frequently attended football games on the weekends – but Simmons had not been to Knoxville until her official visit last fall. That was also her first chance to meet Avant.

"We met each other on the college visit and now that we're roommates we get to learn more about each other," Simmons said. "We had a talk about classes and what we were going to major in."

Both intend to major in kinesiology, so they will share classes in addition to being the only two signees from the class of 2010. The Lady Vols had no seniors last season, so everyone returns – plus Vicki Baugh will be back from knee surgery – and Pat Summitt will carry a nearly full roster of 14 active players. Amber Gray would complete a full roster of 15 if she were able to return to the court after having brain surgery last summer following a stroke.

The Lady Vols won't be short of players, and it should be a motivated group. It has now been two seasons since Tennessee went to a Final Four – a drought by the standards Summitt has created – but Simmons seems to have a clear blueprint on how to get back.

"Doing what Coach Pat Summitt wants us to do," Simmons said when asked how the Lady Vols would return to what has been regarded as their rightful place in postseason. "I think that once we follow her game plan as well as work together on the floor I think that everything is going to work out."

Simmons is unfailingly polite off the court – every question was answered with yes or no ma'am, depending on the context – but she has an attitude on the court that should be welcome with a coach who wants competitors.

"That is accurate," Simmons said when asked if she undergoes a metamorphosis from sideline to hardwood. "Basketball is a game that I love. Off the court you must be polite, always be respectful. But on the court it's something I love to do and my attitude just automatically changes because I have to take care of my business on the floor."

Simmons agreed that her attitude should serve her well at Tennessee, especially playing for a coach as intense as Summitt.

"Yes ma'am, but you have to earn your spot out there on the floor and I think if I go there and work hard everything will fall into place," Simmons said.

During the Tennessee players' first off-season meeting – the Lady Vols lost in the Sweet 16 to Baylor last month – they addressed accountability and concluded that every player had to be ready to speak up and hold others accountable, from freshmen to seniors.

"I think that's a good thing when you talk about certain things that's been on your chest," Simmons said. "You just want to get it out. I think once you talk about things that gets everybody on the same page."

Freshmen have a tremendous adjustment from high school to college – from conditioning to classes to mandatory study hall to travel to lengthy practices – so it also can take time for a first-year player to find her voice.

"In the beginning I have to get used to everything, but I think that once I get comfortable I will be able to speak up and say what's on my mind," Simmons said.

Since Simmons will arrive for the first session of summer school she will be eligible to play in the new summer league for women coordinated by Adidas Team Hustle, a nonprofit boys' and girls' AAU organization. The Adidas Team Hustle Sisterhood Summer Classic will begin play in June at Catholic High School in Knoxville and will field teams of current and former college players.

"I think getting me prepared, getting a feel for playing college ball, getting used to the shot clock and everything," said Simmons, who was not yet aware of the league but was intrigued by the possibility of playing so soon upon arrival.

Simmons was a late target for Tennessee – former Lady Vol Candace Parker called Summitt about Simmons after seeing her play in an AAU game for Parker's Aces team – because an athletic scholarship wasn't open until Cait McMahan was officially placed on medical scholarship last year because of her chronically balky knees.

"For her to speak on my behalf it's a blessing," Simmons said.

LSU also was recruiting Simmons, who received visits in Texas from both Summitt and LSU Coach Van Chancellor. Simmons visited Tennessee and made her decision shortly after that trip.

"LSU was still a part of my decision and when Tennessee came I started thinking about it," Simmons said. "Once I did my college visit there I was at peace with it and that's what helped me make my decision."

Summitt needed a combo guard to replace McMahan, and Simmons projects to a shooting guard who can also back up the point position.

"She shoots a deep three ball," Summitt said. "She's really athletic, good off the bounce, should be a good defender, a lot of speed, a lot of quickness, good changeup (in speeds), good pull-up."

Simmons also has tremendous leaping ability, especially for someone who is 5'9. In the McDonald's game she drove to the rim and hit her hand on the backboard glass as she finished the layup.

"There are times when I am going for a rebound, people look at me like, ‘I didn't know you could jump that high,' " Simmons said. "That's something I've been working on."

Simmons was the perfect guard to pair with Avant, who is a pure point but also can play off the ball on occasion, if needed. Avant had a quadruple double in her first game back at Lausanne after recovering from a summer car wreck that severely injured her shoulder, and she ended the season early to rest her shoulder after experiencing some soreness.

"I think she's got plenty of time to get healed and be ready," Summitt said. "I think Lauren Avant is going to be a very productive guard for us, and she plays both sides of the ball. That would put (Shekinna Stricklen) on the wing some, but it's all a wait and see. But those two guards coming in will make a difference."

Both freshmen will lean on each other during their first year at Tennessee as they adjust to college and playing for a coach that demands focus and full energy every day.

"It's going to be something that I have to get used to," Simmons said of the leap from high school to college, though coaches raising their voices won't be new to her. "They've yelled at me before, so I'm used to it. The more that they yell at you, the more that they see something in you. I don't have a problem with it."

The first test for any freshman is guarding on the ball, especially one on one in a man defense.

"As far as college that needs to get better," Simmons said. "My defense is good right now but that's one of the things I need to work on. The intensity is there but I know I need to do it 24/7."

GETTING TO KNOW YOU: Meighan Simmons also agreed to answer some other offbeat questions so Lady Vol fans could get to know her a little better.

What is your full name?: "Meighan Sharee Simmons."

If you wrote your scouting report for another team, what would it say?: "Quick off the dribble. She's very patient. She'll hit the open man, shoots from the outside, drive on the inside, all-around game."

Best childhood memory: "Oh, wow, I really can't even think about that right now. … Wow. … My favorite childhood memory would be finally getting a chance to play basketball, just starting to play basketball and finally my brothers letting me play with them."

What annoys you?: "Drama. Drama and negativity, period. I am a positive person, so I really don't care for all the negativity."

If Pat Summitt didn't coach, what would she do?: "Hmm. To be honest with you I really don't know what she would be doing right now. I think she'd be a good mom and take care of young kids. But I really don't know."

If she wasn't your coach but instead was your pet, what would you name her?: "I'd just say ‘Pat Pat.' "

Would you prefer to swim in an ocean, lake or pool?: "An ocean. Because you get to see all the living things in water. I love to swim. I would pick the ocean because you get to see other things like fish."

Favorite food: "I love chicken Alfredo."

A food you tried and never want to eat again: "Sushi."

One nickname is Speedy. Do you have any others?: "My dad calls me ‘Mama' and ‘Sweet Thang,' because he knows I like to eat a lot of sweets."

What scares you?: "I don't like rats and cockroaches."

Why should Lady Vol fans be excited to see you in orange?: "People tell me all the time that I bring excitement so that's one thing."

Pat is yelling at you. How do you react?: "I am wondering what did I do wrong and what can I do to fix it. When my coaches are talking to me I respect them and I want to do everything I can to do what they told me to do the first time."

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