Angie Bjorklund debuts with 35 points

Angie Bjorklund debuted Thursday in the Women's Pilot Rocky Top League with 35 points with an assortment of outside shots and forays to the basket – a point of emphasis for her this off-season – as an injury replacement for Alicia Manning, who lent support from the bench during that game and studied in the stands for an accounting test the rest of the evening.

The senior sharpshooter from Spokane Valley, Wash., has been busy as she made a quick trip home to visit with family and work out with former Gonzaga and Utah Jazz standout John Stockton, a longtime friend of Angie Bjorklund's mother, Kris Bjorklund. She wanted tips on driving to the basket – an offshoot of which is getting to the free throw line – and worked out with the Hall of Fame guard while on the West Coast.

Bjorklund then made a weeklong missionary trip in late May to Honduras with The Habitation Church, her nondenominational place of worship in Knoxville that is part of Abiding Glory Ministries, before reporting to the Tennessee campus for the first session of summer school.

"Amazing, one of the best experiences I've ever had in my life," Bjorklund said of the excursion to Honduras. "I went with some of my really good friends from church. There were 13 of us. It opened my eyes. It was a great experience. I've never had a chance to do anything like that. We held a conference there, we visited orphanages, children's hospitals and we spoke at churches. It was amazing."

The 6'0 guard has an intensive off-season workout program that includes pickup basketball with a regular group of guys and workouts with Heather Mason, so she wasn't sure she could squeeze in the Women's Pilot Rocky Top League, which started last week.

"I knew we were working camps and having school, and it was more of a time issue," Bjorklund said. "I've been working on my own and playing pickup with some guys I found, and I didn't know with the time issue how that was going to work out."

But Bjorklund had agreed to fill in as needed, and that time came Thursday with Alicia Manning out of action with a high ankle sprain suffered in pursuit of a loose ball with Kamiko Williams during a Lady Vols camp game last weekend.

Bjorklund looked like a college senior on the court at Catholic High School on Thursday as she lit up the scoring column and played tight defense on Shekinna Stricklen as DeRoyal, behind Bjorklund's 35 points, won 80-76, over Smith & Hammaker to even DeRoyal's record at 2-2.

"I was trying," Bjorklund said. "I always play to win."

Stricklen had 16 points for Smith & Hammaker, which fell to 2-2. Former Lady Vol Courtney McDaniel added 12 points for S&H. The crowd again was larger than the first week and included Vols senior defensive end Chris Walker and most of the current Lady Vols team, including incoming freshman point guard Lauren Avant.

Alyssia Brewer and Kelley Cain were very vocal fans as Bjorklund and Stricklen squared off, clapping for the pair's good plays – oohing a Stricklen block on Bjorklund and aahing when Bjorklund got to the rim on drives.

Bjorklund met with Pat Summitt last spring and was told to work on attacking the basket. Bjorklund has been the team's three-point threat for three years, but with her ability at the free throw line – Bjorklund can shoot 85 to 90 percent from the stripe – Summitt wants the senior guard to draw more fouls next season.

"That was one of the main keys," Bjorklund said. "Coach looked at my stats and was like, ‘You have got to get to the free throw line.' Using my body. I am a tall guard. I should be in there, whether it's drawing the fouls or getting by someone. Using more power instead of quickness, because I am not as quick, but I've got the power standpoint."

Bjorklund had some lessons with Stockton while in Spokane and has been testing them in pickup games.

"I told him I need to work on driving to the hoop, so he showed me a few things," Bjorklund said. "Some of the stuff he showed me I see the NBA guys do it, like doing layups off the wrong leg. A couple of things he showed me I go, ‘I feel like I never played basketball before.' It's different, but it works."

Before the game, Bjorklund said she wasn't sure how much she would try to execute. But as the game unfolded, she showed a willingness to drive to the basket, including a sweet hesitation move in which she got up in the air and banked in the short jumper. Her 35 points – she also connected on threes and midrange jumpers – led all scorers Thursday evening.

"I could have finished a lot better," Bjorklund said. "I also shot a lot of threes. When you're wide open, you've got to do what you've got to do."

The new dimension of Bjorklund's game will be a work in progress this summer – Thursday was the first chance against live competition with officials – and she acknowledged that it's not an easy transition on the court.

"After my entire life of shooting and never attacking the hoop, because I've never had to, that's Pat, that's coach, that's my team, they're saying, ‘In order for you to get to the next level, in order for you to develop your game to help our team, you need to learn how to attack the hoop,' " Bjorklund said.

"That is what Coach does. She gets the best out of you. She gets the most out of you. That's what she wants, so that's what I've been working on. It's been a stretch. I've missed quite a few layups, but I try. I am not going to lie."

Stricklen said her teammate had been hitting a lot more than she missed.

"Really?" Bjorklund said. "She's just being nice. They'll help me out, too. They're like, ‘Don't focus on the defense and getting blocked. Just go up.' Strick is great at driving. Kamiko is great at driving. So I take them and (ask), ‘How can I work on this?'

"Kamiko is like, ‘Ang, how can I work on this with my follow-through when I get tired?' I see us helping each other out more, especially Bree Bass. I've been shooting with her a lot, and we've been helping each other out. It's been great."

Stricklen and Bjorklund also engaged in some lighthearted chatter since Bjorklund's league debut came against Stricklen's team.

"We've been talking smack all day, for the past couple of days," Bjorklund said. "It's been fun. We always joke around with each other. It's in a teammate way."

Williams and Alyssia Brewer also engaged in some teammate banter as Williams' News Sentinel team, which was winless, squared off against Brewer's Team Adidas, which was undefeated.

Brewer did her part by hitting four 3-pointers and running the floor to tally 31 points, but Williams matched her in points with 31 and got the Strata-G nightly MVP award with the 77-71 win.

"I hate to lose," Williams said. "I was like, ‘We have at least got to win one.' Lyssi was talking junk before we came saying, ‘Are y'all going to win a game? We're undefeated.' I really wanted this one for our team and to beat Lyssi. It just goes to show that we can win games."

The News Sentinel players met before the game and told each other, "Everybody is teasing us about losing," Williams said. "Let's go out there and win us a game. We came out with a win. I'm excited."

Williams said that her teammate, former Lady Vol Dominique Redding, told Brewer before the game that if Williams tried "to go for 30 and just go all out then we'd win a game. I guess she was right."

Redding's prediction proved prophetic, and she aided the cause with 13 points. She also handled a Williams' pass that arrived after Williams had left her feet in the paint and, not liking the shot, dished the ball to Redding.

Williams' points came at the rim and with an assortment of midrange jump shots as she repeatedly got to the paint.

Williams logged a lot of minutes in the game, getting just brief rests in both halves with the league's standard two-minute halftime.

"Just trying to play through being fatigued," Williams said. "I really tested myself this game and come to find out I can play through fatigue. Coach has been telling me that for awhile. I didn't think I could, but I guess I proved myself wrong today."

She also played some stiff defense, even getting a block on Brewer.

"She hit me right in my mouth," Brewer said as she left the floor for a substitution.

"No blood, no foul," said Manning, who studied for the accounting test during the first game in between fan photos and autographs and then moved to the team bench for the DeRoyal game and asked Bjorklund to represent her No. 15 well. Bjorklund did.

"It's fun," Bjorklund said. "I kind of like this. You hear the crowd more. I'm not used to that. It's like playing in high school again. It's been fun."

Manning was in a soft, nearly knee-high boot after suffering the high right ankle sprain last weekend after stepping on Williams, who dove for a loose ball in a camp game. Manning is out for six to eight weeks and will miss the summer conditioning and workouts.

Sophomore forward Taber Spani also was in attendance Thursday. She is no longer in a soft boot or hard cast but has not been released for any basketball activity.

"I just got a cortisone shot," Spani said. "I was on crutches for about 12 weeks and in a cast for about seven or eight. It's been a testing period and hopefully this cortisone shot is going to work, so we'll see how it goes."

Spani had been suffering from turf toe since last summer and also had bone and cartilage issues as a result of that injury.

"I had some bone and cartilage damage," Spani said.

The recovery time for that condition is at least four to six months, and she was shut down in late March after the Lady Vols' loss to Baylor in the Sweet 16.

"I was banned from doing stuff until this past week," Spani said. "I could only lift upper body and do the arm bike (a rotating exercise to work on upper body strength). Now, I can bike and swim."

Spani will be evaluated in two to three weeks with the next steps being cleared for elliptical workouts, then running and finally basketball. There is no specific timetable for her return to the court.

"Right now it's all a wait-and-see period," Spani said. "We'll know a lot more (after the next evaluation)."

Being forced into rest has been frustrating for Spani, who is ultra-competitive and played all last season, though she was often restricted in practices and games.

"As athletes we always are going to play through pain," Spani said. "It started last June and so I've been playing with it for almost a year. Right now I am just trying to focus on getting healthy. That is the most important thing. I can't have a season like I had last year because I felt so limited. That was frustrating for me, for Coach and everyone around. Right now I am just trying to get healthy."

"It kills me (to not play). I can't hardly stand it. If Pat hadn't told me that I absolutely can't do anything then I would be doing stuff."

There was one more casualty Thursday evening, but Faith Dupree is expected to be OK. She took an elbow to the throat when she and Glory Johnson, who are on opposite teams, both went for a rebound in the second half of the final game between Team Hustle and Duncan Automotive.

"We were both going up for a rebound, and neither of us got it," Johnson said. "I jumped up first, and she jumped up after me and hit right on my elbow. I know what that feels like because I caught a couple of Kelley's in practice (last season). That hurts. I was getting ready to run down the floor and I see her rolling, so I went back. That's my teammate."

Sydney Smallbone, who plays with Johnson on Team Hustle, also circled back, and play was stopped. Brewer was near the gym door and also went to the side of Dupree, while the Lady Vols still in the gym stood in the stands to get a better view. Play was stopped so Dupree could be treated as the crowd went completely silent.

Dupree, who had difficulty breathing and swallowing and felt nauseated, was helped to the lobby and was treated by the on-site medical personnel. She later returned to the bench with an ice pack on her neck but did not return to the game. Dupree said she plans to see Jenny Moshak, the Lady Vols' chief of sports medicine, on Friday morning.

"We were both going for the ball," Dupree said. "She got to it first, and I just got the end of it. When I calmed down and put ice on my throat, it was better."

Johnson came over to hug Dupree while she did the media interview. Dupree and Johnson are current Tennessee teammates and also played together at Webb School of Knoxville.

"Say you love me," Johnson said.

"I love Glory Johnson, even though she hit me in the throat," Dupree said.

"I love Faith," Johnson said.

The good news is Dupree's back held up in the collision.

"My back is fine," Dupree said.

The game was tight, but Team Hustle pulled away after Dupree's exit in the second half. Dupree finished with seven points for Duncan Automotive in the 75-63 loss. Smallbone led Team Hustle with 19 points, while Johnson added 13 and current Webb point guard Marjorie Butler tallied 19 points.

The inaugural season of the league wraps up next week with two evenings of games and then the title match on Friday, July 2. Team Adidas and Team Hustle have 3-1 records, while Smith & Hammaker and DeRoyal are both 2-2. Duncan Automotive and the News Sentinel are both 1-3.

Thursday's games were particularly contested, as players have started to get to know each other better on the court.

"It's a lot more competitive than I expected," Johnson said. "I just came to play to stay in shape and see some colleagues and I ended up getting a lot more than I bargained for."

Bjorklund also was impressed after her debut.

"I have a good team," Bjorklund said. "We have some good players. I didn't know what to expect going into it, and I was pleasantly surprised. I didn't have time (beforehand) to talk to my teammates or see where they're from. I might invite them to pickup here and there, too."

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