Avant was expected to be eased into workouts, as she has spent the summer rehabbing a serious shoulder injury sustained in a car accident, and she has been assigned to a group with the other point guards, including Shekinna Stricklen, a versatile guard/forward; Briana Bass, a true point; and Kamiko Williams, a combo guard.
The NCAA mandates that no more than four players can take the court in one workout with the coaches, so with a roster of 14, Tennessee will need four sessions to accommodate all of the players. Three posts, Kelley Cain, Alyssia Brewer and Faith Dupree, will be in one group, while Glory Johnson, Vicki Baugh and Taber Spani make up the second group of three.
Before the summer started, Associate Head Coach Holly Warlick and Assistant Head Coach Dean Lockwood outlined what the players on the 2010-11 team were good at now, what they needed to work on in the off-season and what they could be great at this season.
The next few sessions of preseason workouts will give the coaches a firsthand look at how the players performed on their own for the past three months.
ANGIE BJORKLUND, 6'0 senior guard, No. 5, Spokane Valley, Washington
What is she good at right now: "Obviously, her catch-and-shoot, but her intensity in practice is what stands out the most, how hard she works," Warlick said.
What does she need to do better: "She needs to develop her midrange game a little bit more and get to the free throw line," Warlick said.
What could she be great at: "I think she can continue to be a great scorer more consistently," Warlick said.
Angie Bjorklund nearly set the single-season record for made three-pointers with 102, falling one short of the 103 that Shanna Zolman connected on in the 2005-06 season. For her career Bjorklund has 232 three-pointers. The career record at Tennessee, also held by Zolman, is 266.
"She could go down in history as our best three-point shooter," Warlick said.
SYDNEY SMALLBONE, 5'10 senior guard, No. 20, Granger, Indiana
What is she good at right now: "Sydney Smallbone is great at her leadership and intensity in practice," Warlick said. "Sydney is never not going to give you effort. She will always have that."
What does she need to do better: "She has to develop her fundamental skills on the defensive end," Warlick said.
What could she be great at: "She could be one of our best leaders next year," Warlick said. "She can be a great leader for us. She is that right now off the court in our workouts with Heather (Mason). She could take our team to another level with her intensity and her leadership, especially off the court in the conditioning workouts."
VICKI BAUGH, 6'4 redshirt junior forward, No. 21, Sacramento, California
Vicki Baugh missed all of the 2009-10 season to rehab her second ACL surgery. She tore the ACL in April of 2008 and then again in February of 2009, thus sidelining her for months as she overcame two major knee injuries in less than one calendar year.
What is she good at right now: "In fairness to Vicki, it's been awhile since we've seen her live (in games) and fully healthy," Lockwood said. "The things that she does well, my gosh, she's got great mobility. For a frontline player tremendous mobility. Versatility defensively, not quite like Glory, but a little bit out of Glory's page, as far as who she can guard. She can just cover ground. Her ability to cover ground and close up space is very, very good.
"Her ability as a rebounder, even now, had we had her in there with her bum leg (this past season), there were a number of games she could have helped us on the rebounding end."
What does she need to do better: "She must keep working towards game shape and really trusting the knee to jump and move laterally," Lockwood said. "Number one is shooting the ball. I told Vicki the shots she gets she's going to get a lot from the high post and short corners, one dribble and attack the basket. If she can develop her shooting and scoring skills, that will put her so much closer to where we want her to be.
"She has to get back to where she can go full throttle and go hard off of both legs."
What could she be great at: "As a rebounder and defender, she could be great and also have a great impact on every game she plays in, every single game she plays in," Lockwood said. "If Vicki Baugh is healthy and confident in her knee in every game she plays in basketball from this point forward in college, pros, overseas, that kid could be a factor in the game just by her defense and rebounding alone. When it comes to greatness that comes to mind.
"I think also as a player with her versatility, she is not the traditional back-to-the-basket player, if she can improve her offensive game and her scoring skills a little bit more, I think she could be a tremendously hard matchup because she can shoot over you, she can drive by you, she can score in the post. That's a hard defensive matchup.
"Any game she plays in, if that kid is defending and rebounding, she can change the game."
KELLEY CAIN, 6'6 redshirt junior forward, No. 52, Atlanta, Georgia
What is she good at right now: "Kelley Cain has shown an ability to be very effective scoring around the basket," Lockwood said. "She has produced. She has been effective for this team. One of the things I like about Kelley is she takes make-able shots. She really knows who she is. She has also been an effective rebounder and her shot-blocking on the defensive end, she has really established herself as a very effective shot blocker."
What does she need to do better: "Conditioning-wise she is in better shape after her injury (realigned kneecap in her first year on campus), but I think she can take that up a notch. I would like to see Kelley be very effective playing longer minutes, so that she can sprint the floor and really be able to stay in an up-tempo game, stay in every play and be a big factor in every play.
"Her level of conditioning, improving her speed, improving her quickness, improving her stamina, those are very important and then being a little bit more explosive in the low-post area. When she makes an effort to get up and extend, she does a good job. I want her to finish at the rim. And her ability to make mid- and short-range jump shots is very important. Going back to rebounding, that's another area for her to improve. I really want to see her get more rebounds.
What could she be great at: "She could be one of the premier low-post scorers in the country," Lockwood said. "She could be one of the best threats in the country. She could be a great scorer and a great shot-blocker. For her to be in double-double turf, that is not unrealistic."
BRIANA BASS, 5'2 junior guard, Indianapolis, No. 1, Indiana
What is she good at right now: "I think Bree is being a strong leader," Warlick said. "She is working hard and developing her midrange game. She is working on being more consistent from her three-point shot."
What does she need to do better: "Probably her weakness is she has a tendency to go too deep to the basket," Warlick said. "She needs to make better decisions at the point position. She sees something and reacts instead of seeing the whole floor. She needs more of an overall court vision.
What could she be great at: "She could be a great leader for us, an emotional leader," Warlick said. "I think we need a couple of solid, emotional leaders, and we didn't have that consistently last year.
"I think Kinna can do it, and I think Bree can do it. I think those two can really take us to another level as far as the emotional side of it, because I think our kids look for that in those two. They have to be that type of leader when things are not going well.
ALYSSIA BREWER, 6'3 junior forward/center, No. 33, Sapulpa, Oklahoma
What is she good at right now: "She has really developed a couple of scoring moves to put in her arsenal that she is very confident in," Lockwood said. "I think our players and coaches are very confident in her and getting her the ball and having something good happen. She has got a very good jump hook. That is definitely a strength of her game. She has also got countermoves.
"Her production with minutes this year has really been a strength of hers"
What does she need to do better: "From freshman year to now, she has improved her game and her conditioning level immensely," Lockwood said. "Now, her conditioning needs to go one more notch. In the Baylor game when Kelley got into early foul trouble, she had to play almost the whole half. She really has to play a good length of time and not drop in her productivity.
"Her ability to improve her conditioning level and to be as productive in her 12th, 13th and 14th minute as she is in her first two or three minutes is very, very big for this team. We have to count on her to play longer minutes.
"And the other thing, which I have talked to her about already (last spring), is her ability to shoot the ball. She has got to be able to develop a consistency where she can make short range to midrange jump shots."
What could she be great at: "Once she catches the ball, she plays at a good rhythm," Lockwood said. "She doesn't play too fast. She could really be a very, very productive post scorer. She has made the transition and crossed over into an area where she is confident and wanting the ball and producing when she does get the ball. She can be very effective in the low and mid-post."
GLORY JOHNSON, 6'3 junior forward, No. 25, Knoxville, Tennessee
What is she good at right now: "Glory is a tremendous athlete," Lockwood said. "After we say that I think all of us are going to pause and say, ‘What is Glory consistently shown that she will do over the course of a whole season?' So what is she good at? She is a very effective rebounder. She can run the floor and is very effective in the open floor. She can play transition D.
"When she is playing poised and with composure, she can be an effective scorer."
What does she need to do better: "The number one thing is develop a consistent shot – short range, midrange shot," Lockwood said. "Her ability to make shots is going to determine her level of offensive success. She's got to be able to keep people honest. That's number one and number two is to develop a go-to that she trusts and believes in and a countermove.
"Her reverse step, if she uses it consistently, she could be so hard to guard, because it leads into a face-up opportunity from short range. Her first step is just dynamite. She's got as good a first step as there is in the country. She's got length and quickness and can really be effective with that, but she's got to clean up that part of her game so that she doesn't travel, and she is able to finish with confidence. When she gets the ball in a one-on-one situation there, her teammates and herself, they have the confidence that, ‘I can score and get fouled here and good things are going to happen,' so her teammates are going to want to get her the ball."
What could she be great at: "The number one thing that we would like to see is for her to become a defensive stopper because so many Tennessee teams have had that," Lockwood said. "The two championship teams we had Nicky Anosike, and we had Bird (Alberta Auguste). Both of them took great pride in being defensive stoppers. If somebody was hurting us, they said, ‘Assign me to that person and worry no longer.'
"That is what we would like Glory to do. Glory has the ability at her size and with her footwork, she can guard on the perimeter, and she can guard a frontline player. The only thing that is really tough for her at times is if she has to guard a full game of a big, big, big post because of pure size. But even then we would trust her to do that. Her ability to be a stopper on a great scorer is huge for us.
"It's a role that can help this team win. It's got value. It's got tremendous value. And she can also be a great rebounder. If she is going after every ball, Glory Johnson could easily be a player that is averaging a double-double. For her to average 10 rebounds is not unrealistic."
ALICIA MANNING, 6'1 junior guard/forward, No. 15, Woodstock, Georgia
What is she good at right now: "Her midrange game is outstanding, and her knack for being around the ball," Warlick said. "Sometimes there are certain players that are just always around the ball. She is always around the ball. She needs to keep that consistent."
What does she need to do better: "Two things – her catch and shoot, she's got to get better at that, and she's got to get better on the defensive end," Warlick said. "At times she was a liability on the defensive end, and she shouldn't be. She should be one of our better defenders. She's got quick hands, and she's got a good knowledge of the game. She's got to really focus on her defense and keeping people in front of her."
What could she be great at: "I think she could be a great rebounder for us from the wing position," Warlick said. "She uses that knack of always being around the ball (to clean up teammates' misses), and if she could focus on getting her points off second-chance points, she could be one of the best rebounding guards we've ever had."
SHEKINNA STRICKLEN, 6'2 junior guard/forward, No. 40, Morrilton, Arkansas
What is she good at right now: "Her versatility," Warlick said. "She shoots the three ball and she drives to the basket, and she can post up. Her strength is her overall game."
What does she need to do better: "She needs to be more consistent, especially on the defensive end," Warlick said. "She is a lot better defender than she shows. I think she gets physically tired, and I think she gets mentally tired because she's having to run the point, and I think she lets it affect her a little bit mentally. She's got to get tough on that end. She's got to get physically and mentally tougher and when she does that she can be one of our most versatile and best players."
What could she be great at: "I think she could be great at her energy on the floor," Warlick said. "When things are going great for Kinna, she has great energy and when they're not, she kind of gets in the tank. You can see her body language, but she could bring us so much energy and that revolves around how hard she works consistently and that goes back to consistent mentally and physically. So, everything ties in to her weakness, and she's got to get better. She could be great."
TABER SPANI, 6'1 sophomore guard/forward, No. 13, Lee's Summit, Missouri
What is she good at right now: "The best thing she brings is her shooting," Lockwood said. "She can really shoot the ball. She's a competitor, loves the game, has a great work ethic, great leadership potential."
What does she need to do better: "I think she needs to add the dimension of versatility to her game, her ability to create a shot off of one or two dribbles, as opposed to catch and shoot," Lockwood said. "Be able to use the shot fake and create separation. As a defender, her ability to stay in front of people will be important."
What could she be great at: "She has the ability to become one of the best shooters in the country, out of the Angie Bjorklund, Sid Spencer, Shanna Zolman mold. The purity of their skills … you can improve your shooting, there is no question, but to get to that mastery level, where you're a great shooter I think that happens at a relatively early age. You either spend time honing your skills and developing that so by the time you're in your later high school years, you've either got the makings for a great shooter or you don't. Taber has the ability to become a great shooter."
Spani suffered from a serious case of turf toe and related complications throughout last season and she also was limited this summer and not allowed to take the court for months so that the foot would get complete rest.
"I don't think people realized she had been injured all year," Warlick said. "She was not at full capacity. I think her injury was her weakness. We had to sit her a lot out of practice and I don't think she got into the flow sometimes of the game."
KAMIKO WILLIAMS, 5'11 sophomore guard, No. 4, Clarksville, Tennessee
What is she good at right now: "She is blessed with a lot of talent as far as athleticism," Warlick said. "She has got a great first step, and she's got a good feel for the game."
What does she need to do better: "She's got to get better at learning the game from a fundamental standpoint, and she's got to learn to play better with a team," Warlick said. "She is a very good individual player."
During an April session with the coaches after postseason ended, Williams showed signs that she had finally turned that corner. During the entire hour, Head Coach Pat Summitt didn't once have to remind Williams to increase her focus and raise her intensity.
"She had a great practice," Warlick said, "and last season you could not say that consistently. She can build on that.
"She could lead by example. On the floor if she can be consistent, if she can get that down and show her emotions and what she does on the floor that can get the whole team turned around."
What could she be great at: "I think she could be one of our best athletes on the floor," Warlick said. "She can be a great, great defender. She can be on the best defenders that we have. She could be our defensive stopper, and that's just making a commitment to working hard and being consistent in practice."
FAITH DUPREE, 6'3 redshirt freshman forward, No. 34, Knoxville, Tennessee
What is she good at right now: "I think Faith mentally processes things well and understands the game," Lockwood. "In fairness to her and to the question, we haven't seen her consistently do a lot of stuff. She hasn't been in the thick of the action but from watching her game she's got a great shooting touch. She's got the ability to make a midrange jump shot, and she's got some scoring ability."
What does she need to do better: "She has to improve her conditioning level," Lockwood said. "She's got to be able to run the floor for a two-hour, high-octane practice and be able to go start to finish. That is the number one thing for her right now so that she can stay with the pack."
What could she be great at: "I am not comfortable answering that definitively because I have not seen enough of her," Lockwood said. "I want to see her more and I want to see her consistently on the floor and I want to see her in game action more."
Faith Dupree missed her true freshman season and months of practice to strengthen her back, which had caused problems in high school because of tightness and limited flexibility. She was cleared to play in last June's Women's Pilot Rocky Top League and scored in a variety of ways inside and out before suffering a wrist injury that sidelined her for several weeks over the summer.
Dupree showed a consistent three-point shot in those games – which the coaches are not allowed to watch by NCAA rules – and gained confidence in her ability to come back after a year off the court. She also logged considerable minutes in those games for conditioning purposes, and her back responded well.
LAUREN AVANT, 5'9 freshman guard, No. 12, Memphis, Tennessee
What is she good at right now: "Lauren is a great leader right now," Warlick said, "and that is something we need consistently. She also could be one of our best defenders on the floor. That is what she can bring to us right away – her leadership and her defensive ability."
What does she need to do better: Avant seriously injured her shoulder in a car wreck last summer and although she played part of her senior year at Lausanne Collegiate School, she shut herself down before the season ended to focus on shoulder rehab. Avant has been in Knoxville during both sessions of summer school to focus on rehab with Jenny Moshak, the team's chief of sports medicine.
"I think her weakness is her injury," Warlick said. "She's got to overcome that. She's got to get back in the flow of things. She's got to become a more consistent outside shooter."
What could she be great at: "She is going to be a heck of a guard," Warlick said. "When she played AAU, she didn't have to be the go-to player. She gets the ball to people. I think she could be one of best leaders. She could be a great leader for us. She works hard and with that comes respect. She's been around our players (on campus and in AAU ball.) She's spent time with them. I think they have a lot of respect for her.
"I think she could be one of our best incoming freshman leaders that we've ever had."
MEIGHAN SIMMONS, 5'9 freshman guard, No. 10, Cibolo, Texas
What is she good at right now: "She can score," Warlick said. "She's not a shooter, she's a scorer, and there's a big difference. She's a slasher. I can sit here and shoot all day, but Meighan can score."
What does she need to do better: "She needs to get stronger, but that's just being in high school," Warlick said. "Her body is going to change. That's her main thing is to change her build."
What could she be great at: She can be a great scorer for us," Warlick said. "She can take a lot of pressure off of Angie. She has the ability to score. If she misses her first five, she knows her next one is going in. She has that mentality. A lot of people don't have that mentality."
Last April, the coaches used the NCAA-allotted time to work with the team as a whole and then in small groups. During those sessions, they showed the players drills that they could run at game speed on their own. The intent was to give them specific ideas of how to work over the summer.
"That is completely correct," Lockwood said. "We wanted to help construct their off-season workouts, show them things they could do on their own and really drill skills. If you are going to improve your overall game by playing pickup and playing in summer league, the only way you improve skills is by drilling them.
"If you want to become a better shooter, you are not going to become a better shooter just by playing pickup basketball. Any player who thinks that is grossly deceiving themselves. One thing we try to do is give them drills where they can build their skills."
The final day of those spring workouts was cancelled and instead the players met with the coaching staff to discuss the upcoming summer. After that meeting, several players asked the assistants for some court time anyway.
"It's maturity and commitment level," Lockwood said. "Those two things work hand in hand together. It's a step forward. One of the things we talked about in the meeting was investment. What does it take to win a national championship? Here is where we are, we took a big step forward, but now there is that extra that it takes to be a champion.
"That is very defining for this team – getting in the gym and attacking a skill. The investment level that you have to have to win is high. The real test is late June and early July. Do you still have it in you? That is the real test.
"There were a number of things discussed. It had to do with our goals, where we are, where we want to go, conduct and character, holding ourselves to high standards on and off the court. Who is going to step forward and make their voice heard? As a team collectively, how important is getting back to a Final Four and winning a national championship?"
The heralded second six pack signing class of 2008 now heads into its junior season and didn't splinter like the first six pack of 2004 did. One player from that class, Amber Gray, did transfer because Tennessee didn't clear her to return to basketball after an aneurysm/stroke in July of 2009 – she has since enrolled at Xavier – but she considered remaining on medical scholarship to stay with a team she described earlier this month as like her sisters.
"They're tight-knit," said Warlick, who added the coaches praised the players for the leap they made from freshman to sophomore year. "I think we had a great year. We lost three games. Did we get to our goal? Absolutely not. But our work ethic was so much better. I was proud of them.
"I'm not satisfied, but they stayed together, and we made great strides. The SEC was tough, and our schedule was tough. They've been a hardcore group, because we've been pretty tough on them. They all hung in there. They brought their intensity level up, and it correlated to wins. They see that now, and we've got to make another leap."
A year ago, those players headed into summer having set some of the worst records in program history in terms of losses and rankings. This past summer they took with them some success.
"I'll be honest with you, I do feel better (about this summer than a year ago), but I am much more curious now," Lockwood said. "(In 2008-09) they knew they were not a good team by Tennessee standards. We weren't in the hunt. We were a non-factor on a national level. We knew that.
"So now after going 32-3, winning the conference championship, winning the (SEC) tourney, I am much more curious to see (how they spent the summer)."
On Thursday, Lockwood will get his first look at the players on the court since last April.
"I am much more curious about this summer," Lockwood said. "It's like a lion. You were starving but now you've got a little food in your belly. Now, are you going to kill because this is your turf and you're protecting your turf or are you just going to sit back and enjoy your kill and sit there in the shade?
"Or are you going to have a fierceness to you and protect this land because it's mine?"