Women's Pilot league wraps up tonight

Shekinna Stricklen silenced the fans at the Women's Pilot Rocky Top League on Thursday not with her play but by the fact she was on the floor holding her left knee. Lady Vol teammates Alicia Manning and Taber Spani, who are not playing in the league but came to watch, reached her first and everyone was all smiles later when initial reports indicated Stricklen would be OK.

Shekinna Stricklen will see Jenny Moshak, Tennessee's chief of sports medicine, early Friday morning for an evaluation and to get treatment for what Stricklen said was an ongoing issue with the quadriceps tendon in her left leg. Several teammates had Moshak on the phone within minutes of the mishap, and she talked to the attending medical personnel at Catholic High School.

"I think three or four of them called her at once," Stricklen said. "I've got to go to her first thing in the morning."

Stricklen returned to the gym using crutches and with ice on her left knee. The injury occurred early in the first half, and she did not return to the game. Stricklen's Smith & Hammaker team had just five players available as rosters have been depleted as other participants have had to return to school for summer classes or had AAU obligations, so when she departed a player from the News Sentinel team, which had just completed its game, donned a white T-shirt to match the white jerseys of Smith & Hammaker so the game could be continued.

The league will add one player for Friday's final round of games with former Lady Vol Alberta Auguste joining the News Sentinel team.

Smith & Hammaker will play Friday evening against Team Adidas for the inaugural Women's Pilot Rocky Top League championship, but Stricklen is likely doubtful for that game and could only play if cleared Friday by Moshak.

"I am going to get treatment all day (Friday) and do some stuff with JMo," Stricklen said. "Whatever JMo says. If I am able to play, I'll play."

Both Smith & Hammaker and Team Adidas lost Thursday, but their overall records and head-to-head competition in the first five games still placed them in the title game, regardless of Thursday's outcomes.

Stricklen wasn't the only Tennessee player out of action Thursday. Redshirt freshman forward Faith Dupree suffered a left wrist injury in Tuesday's game and got X-rays on Thursday morning with a scan still to come next Tuesday. Dupree, who was wearing a splint for protection, said the worst-case scenario was a hairline fracture of the navicular bone in her wrist that would keep her off the basketball court for a few weeks.

She still completed her conditioning workout Thursday morning.

"We did sprints and agility, and I did that just fine so initially it's not going to be a problem," Dupree said. "I would still play if this was a (Lady Vol) season game."

Dupree, who went to the floor quite a bit in Tuesday's game, thinks the injury occurred when she got her arms tangled with Angie Bjorklund's while both were going for a rebound. Dupree ended up breaking her fall with her hand and that's when she felt the wrist pain, but she stayed in the game and finished with 22 points.

Dupree also maintained her sense of humor.

"Don't say anything, but Angie got all the calls (that game), no fouls," Dupree said with an exaggerated cough added for effect.

Last week, Dupree got elbowed in the throat – this time by Glory Johnson as both went for a rebound – and lost her voice for two days.

Still, Dupree said the league was worth the aches and pains – Johnson pointed out the same mishaps occur in campus pickup – and she was glad she played and would play again next summer if the league returned.

"Definitely," Dupree said. "I just got done eating (before the game) with a couple of girls on my team. I made new friends, I got to play with different people and play for a (new) coach. New coaches, new people, new stuff. It was fun."

Moshak is a member of Tennessee's staff and can't be in the gym for league games by NCAA rules, but she can still handle the players' medical needs over the summer, especially while they are working out and attending classes. Moshak informed Coach Pat Summitt of Dupree's condition on Thursday.

"I hope she doesn't get upset and make us not play next year," Dupree said. "It is what it is. I could have done this in pickup, too. It's not like it's the league's fault. It happens."

Dupree also laughed and noted that it wasn't other area players who caused the mishaps.

"It was my own teammates," Dupree said.

That was evident when junior forward Alicia Manning went down with a high ankle sprain that she suffered while working Summitt's basketball camp two weeks ago. She played for a week in the league for DeRoyal but the ankle injury sidelined her, though Manning has attended each night of the league and served as a bench coach when her team played. Taber Spani, who is still recovering from turf toe and related complications, wasn't cleared to play summer ball but has been a frequent fan in the stands.

Stricklen's knee injury would have raised eyebrows higher, though, as it initially appeared to be serious, and she must still be evaluated by Moshak for a final determination. However, Stricklen's quad tendon has been bothersome even back into the Lady Vol regular season, and she has suffered tweaks to it in the past that caused her to miss practice time at Tennessee.

Stricklen was pushing the ball in transition Thursday when she cut to the paint from the right wing and left her feet for a short jumper. However, the defender slid over and then stopped, leaving Stricklen with no safe place to land. She tried to adjust in the air and landed awkwardly, causing her left knee to sway side to side, and Stricklen immediately crumpled to the court.

The way the knee buckled, and the way she fell didn't look good.

"It didn't feel good," Stricklen said.

Manning, Dupree and Spani were at her side in seconds and after an evaluation by on-site medical personnel from the Knoxville Orthopedic Clinic, they helped her off the court and into the lobby. Manning and Spani both got Moshak on the phone, and handed a phone to the KOC staff member so that he could talk to Moshak during his exam.

"I felt my knee bend, and I fell back on it," Stricklen said. "I've been having problems with my quad tendon, and it feels like it just made it worse, (but) it's not serious."

Thursday's games were a matter of formality because Friday's games are already set and will complete league play.

In Thursday's first game, the News Sentinel team ran past Team Adidas, 93-70, behind 35 points and four 3-pointers from Kamiko Williams and 32 points and five three-pointers from former Lady Vol Dominique Redding. The News-Sentinel compiled a 2-4 record and both wins came against Team Adidas, the best team in the league at 4-2 and the only one-loss team going into Thursday's games.

"I think it's something about playing Lyssi," Williams said. "Dom and I get so excited to play Lyssi because Lyssi talks so much smack, and we talk back to her. The whole game we were talking back and forth. It pumps us up and makes us want to really beat her. Just having fun."

Alyssia Brewer frowned with a look of recognition when it was pointed out that Team Adidas' only league losses came to the News Sentinel team, which didn't beat anyone else.

"You shouldn't have that mentality," Brewer said, referring to only being motivated for one opponent.

Brewer scored 23 points for Team Adidas, which had only one bench player, and hit four 3-pointers, including one from NBA range that wowed the crowd.

"If Pat would just let her do that in a game I think our lives would be a lot easier," Williams said. "I know it's not going to happen, but she can shoot."

"I've always had it," Brewer said. "It's just something that our team doesn't need from me to do. We have shooters."

Brewer smiled and said that if Tennessee were to win a national title in 2011, she would have a conversation with Summitt to the effect of, "Coach, next year will you let me put up a couple of shots?' But that is not what Coach is looking for. She is looking for me to dominate inside."

So, Brewer is using the summer league to explore her inner long-range shooter. Tennessee has two true bigs next season in terms of size in Brewer and Kelley Cain – Glory Johnson and Vicki Baugh are lean and athletic in the paint and Faith Dupree is an inside/outside player – but the Lady Vols do have guards who can shoot threes in Bjorklund, Stricklen, Sydney Smallbone, Briana Bass, Taber Spani and incoming freshman Meighan Simmons.

Williams hopes to be added to that list this coming season, and she stroked four from long range on Thursday.

"Talking to my dad and watching tape a lot of teams know I penetrate so they back off of me," Williams said. "So my dad has been telling me to work on (the) three-point game. I'm been asking Angie how she keeps her form even when she's tired. That is one thing I really want to work on is getting an outside game so it will open up my penetration."

Williams parents, Sgt. Vincent Williams and Angelita Williams, and her little brother, Keynante, were in attendance Thursday. The family is based in Clarksville, Tenn., and Sgt. Williams is scheduled to deploy to Afghanistan later in July.

Williams said the presence of her family, especially her father, didn't fuel the scoring output, so much as wanting to ensure a tranquil evening later.

"I was a little nervous," Williams said. "I didn't want a bad car ride. I wanted a good one. So I didn't want to mess up."

Sgt. Williams called his daughter over once to talk during the game, and she took it in stride.

"I'm 19 years old (now) and … I am just going to play, and it started rolling," said Williams, who won't play Friday because she left after the game with her parents for a home visit.

The second game was a low-scoring one as Stricklen got hurt early before she could even hit a basket, and former Lady Vol Courtney McDaniel managed just nine points for the depleted Smith & Hammaker team. Duncan Automotive, with Dupree on the bench as a coach, prevailed 54-42.

The last game was uneventful in a good way in that nobody had to leave the game, though Glory Johnson was under the weather with a respiratory ailment and had to occasionally catch her breath on the bench as Team Hustle was down to six players.

Still, Team Hustle scooted past DeRoyal, 61-38, behind 24 points and four three-pointers from Smallbone. Johnson added nine points for Team Hustle, and Bjorklund tallied 20 points for DeRoyal with the majority of them coming in the paint and from midrange jumpers.

"It's tough when they're zoning," Bjorklund said of using the week to work on her penetration game.

Bjorklund has a prior commitment Friday so Thursday was her last game in the league. She was an injury replacement for Manning and played in three games, a short stint that was worth the time.

"Absolutely," Bjorklund said. "There is great talent, and it's good ball."

Friday's games begin at 6 p.m. at Catholic High School with the News Sentinel, 2-4, taking on Duncan Automotive, 2-4. The 7:30 game features Team Hustle, 4-2, against DeRoyal, 3-3, and the 9 p.m. title game matches up Team Adidas, 4-2, with Smith & Hammaker, 3-3.

Williams, whose 35 points Thursday matched the league high scored by Bjorklund in her debut game for DeRoyal, endorsed the league's return next summer.

"I would love to do it again," Williams said. "It's so much fun. This is better than pickup with just the team. You get officials, you get fans, and it's more fun. You get a little more free space to do what you want to do.

"I like it. I would definitely do it again, and I would recommend it to other people."


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