"Webb has been real strong over here," Johnson said. "It might be because we're at (rival) Catholic, and we're trying to show them something, but Webb is representing in this tournament, so it's really good."
Johnson's Team Hustle Team is 2-0 in league play after the first week. Johnson is joined on the team by Butler and current Lady Vol Sydney Smallbone, who scored 11 points, and had the loudest cheering section in Catholic High School's gym because it comprised her current teammates, both those playing in the league and those who were spectators.
Team Hustle defeated DeRoyal, 81-79, after Butler swiped a pass just in front of mid-court with four seconds on the clock and got to the rim a split second before the buzzer sounded. The well-defended layup capped off a productive night for the point guard, who tallied 17 points and has played beyond her years in a summer league that is composed predominantly of college players.
Johnson had an earlier chance to put Team Hustle ahead but committed a turnover after getting called for a charge after DeRoyal's Alicia Manning drew contact.
"That was a flop," Johnson said with a big smile after the game, and she was correct. "She went baseline, I went middle, and she fell down. It's OK. That's what people do in a game."
Manning, who scored 21 points in the losing effort for DeRoyal, just wanted to get the ball back in a game that brought out both Lady Vols' competitive natures as they often defended each other.
"She's a strong competitor," Johnson said. "I hate to lose, so I'm trying to stop her. She's so quick."
Manning could get some help next week as Lady Vol senior Angie Bjorklund has worked out her schedule to be able to play, probably on Thursday. With Manning the lone Lady Vol on the DeRoyal team, that would be one place to put the sharpshooter.
"She's going to play? Oh, cool," said Kamiko Williams, who got the word after her News Sentinel team lost 79-75 to Duncan Automotive. "That would be a nice help (for the newspaper's team), but they'll probably give her to A-Town's team."
Manning's DeRoyal Team is now 0-2, as is Williams' News Sentinel team. Williams scored 18 points while former Lady Vol Dominique Redding tallied 26 and hit six 3-pointers in the loss. Faith Dupree scored 30 points for Duncan Automotive and earned the Strata-G MVP award for the night. The plaque was picked up by Williams, who played in the final game of the evening and was to deliver it to Dupree, who played in the first matchup.
The two winless teams, DeRoyal and the News Sentinel, pair off next Tuesday, so one team will get that first W in the inaugural league. Duncan Automotive evened its record at 1-1 after the win over the News Sentinel, and Smith & Hammaker, which had just seven players available Thursday, fell to 1-1, after losing to Team Adidas, 78-71.
Smith & Hammaker's Shekinna Stricklen scored 19 points, including draining two long threes, while former Lady Vol Courtney McDaniel added seven points and several hustle plays on both ends, especially on the boards. Alyssia Brewer had 12 points for Adidas and hit a three-pointer to keep her team undefeated at 2-0.
Brewer had several coaches in her ear, as Lady Vols Kelley Cain and Vicki Baugh offered plenty of good-natured and sometimes conflicting advice from the stands. Cain reminded her to pass to a point guard when Brewer brought the ball down the court, and Baugh encouraged her to shoot. When Brewer came to bench, Cain and Baugh, who were sitting behind her, reminded her to still focus on the game if they caught her looking back at them.
Cain and Baugh are not playing in the league – Baugh is coming back from ACL surgery and Cain has a history of knee issues and concussions – but they showed up Thursday, along with rising junior Briana Bass and incoming freshman Lauren Avant to cheer for the players and provide some running commentary during the games.
"We're always like that," Brewer said. "When we're playing (on campus) we're always talking to each other and saying stuff. You get to know us and sometimes we do crazy stuff like that."
Avant wasn't medically cleared to play in the league because she is rehabbing a shoulder injury sustained last summer in a car accident. Avant undergoes up to three hours of rehab a day on her right shoulder and hopes to be cleared to get on the court when workouts officially start in late August.
Avant and her future teammates watched all three games – they arrived before halftime of the first game – and gave Williams a standing ovation for diving on the floor and sliding out of bounds while pursuing a loose ball, the kind of effort that is a rarity in summer leagues.
"I wanted it. I had to go for it," Williams said.
Williams' team lost its opener, 81-46, to Team Hustle on Tuesday, in a game that Williams said was eye-opening.
"It was kind of embarrassing," Williams said. "Coming from a program like UT you just don't lose like that. You're supposed to beat teams like that. It was embarrassing. I am not going to lie."
Williams and Redding had a brief chat Thursday with their teammates, who deferred too much to the pair on Tuesday.
"This game we decided to come in and tell our teammates, ‘You don't have to give us the ball just because of the program we came from. You can shoot when you're open. Take the shot. I would rather you score than trying to force the ball to one of us,' " Williams said. "They got more confident. They came out and played. Everybody was doing what they can do. Unfortunately, we came up short today."
The News Sentinel team had a lead in the second half, but lost by two points, as Duncan Automotive put three players in double figures – Dupree with 30, Bailie Roberts with 16 and Mandy Mendenhall with 10. Mendenhall plays for Carson Newman, and Bailie, who is from Maryville, will be a sophomore at Southeast Missouri State.
Williams will be a sophomore next season at Tennessee and after an uneven first year, the guard and the coaches expect a lot more in her second year. Williams, who struggled at times with the pace of the game and practices and length of the season a year ago, is using the summer league to push through fatigue. With short rosters, a two-minute halftime and few stoppages in play, players like Williams are logging extended minutes.
"The benefit for me personally is stamina and trying to run when I am tired and trying to shoot when I'm tried and still try to score, keep my offensive mentality," Williams said. "I get in a habit of I'll sit back and relax, take a couple of plays off. That drives Pat crazy.
"I am trying to work through fatigue. I want her to be on me but not for effort. If I mess up, get on me. But I don't want her to get on me (next season) for being tired."
Fighting through fatigue is an issue for every player. June is not a down time for the players as they are attending summer classes, working Pat Summitt's camps, playing pickup and meeting with Heather Mason for regular conditioning and weight sessions. They had an early morning session Thursday and will have another one at 7 a.m. Friday.
"She is working us out hard-core," said Johnson, who after working on defense and perimeter shooting on Tuesday moved into the paint for most of her 16 points Thursday, though her first basket came on a 17-foot wing jumper. Right as her coach yelled for Johnson to get inside the paint, the ball left her hand and swished through the net, causing him to laugh as Johnson ran back down the floor. But she spent the rest of the game pretty much near the basket.
"Today, I was working on rebounding and (scoring) inside, and we definitely needed rebounds," Johnson said.
Johnson said her legs felt the effects of the early morning workout in the second half. At one point during her game Brewer went to the bench, looked at her teammates in the stands and said, "I can't feel my legs."
"Me and Strick were definitely feeling it," Brewer said. "My legs felt like Jello. I just kept going, and it didn't feel as bad."
Brewer's pain also was alleviated by being 2-0. It may be a summer league but winning remains much more preferable than the alternative.
"I like winning in everything," Brewer said. "This isn't any different. It's fun. And I think even if you do lose people are still enjoying it."
That was apparent all evening as fans applauded made baskets for all six teams. The Lady Vols on the court were full of smiles – after Stricklen lofted an awkward-looking three, she got an earful from her teammates in the stands and broke out in a big grin – and Brewer continued her three-point shooting – often at the encouragement of Baugh – by hitting one from long range. That is not expected to be part of her offensive package in the fall.
"I'll wish upon a star but probably not," Brewer said. "I am doing stuff I did in high school."
Some of the shooting has been sanctioned by Summitt, who wanted Brewer to use the summer to work on consistently hitting outside jumpers in the 10- to 17-foot range from the short corners to the elbows and slightly beyond.
I talked to Coach, and she wants me to hit those mid-range jumpers," Brewer said. "This is definitely a place to be able to work on things. People are going hard in this, and I think that's really great. This will be the only real opportunity to put stuff we've been doing on our own into play."