Indiana natives have Indy in mind

Two Lady Vol players are keenly aware of the location of the 2011 Women's Final Four – for one it's her home state, for another it's her hometown. Sydney Smallbone and Briana Bass would like nothing more than to get to Indianapolis next April. For the senior it's a return to the game's biggest stage in her final season. For the junior it would be her first trip there.

Sydney Smallbone, a senior guard from Granger, Indiana, won a national title as a freshman in 2008 on a team with five veteran starters, all of whom were drafted into the WNBA the day after the national championship game in Tampa, Fla. Briana Bass was a senior at North Central High School in Indianapolis at that time and is now a junior guard for Tennessee.

Bass' eyes light up when she is asked about the location of the 2011 Women's Final Four, which, for the record, will be held on April 3-5, 2011, at Conseco Fieldhouse, home of the Indiana Fever of the WNBA and Indiana Pacers of the NBA.

"My hometown, Indianapolis," Bass said with a big smile. "That is a lot of motivation and plus this year is our year. Everybody has been working hard over the summer. This past two years have been rebuilding and learning, and the chemistry has grown, so this year should be our year."

Bass acknowledged that it's August and April is a long way off, but the Final Four site remains in the back of her mind.

"Absolutely, absolutely," Bass said.

Bass was part of the Six Pack signing class of 2008 that followed the exodus of players from the teams that won two consecutive national titles in 2007 and 2008. The first Six Pack of the class of 2004 splintered – the four that stuck it out hung two banners – but the second Six Pack has remained intact, minus the loss of Amber Gray, who wasn't medically cleared after an aneurysm/stroke and, after considering taking a medical scholarship to remain at Tennessee, decided to transfer to Xavier near her hometown in Ohio.

Despite a few predictions that the second large group would also scatter, five of them have made it to their junior season – Bass, Alyssia Brewer, Glory Johnson, Alicia Manning and Shekinna Stricklen – and remain a tight-knit group, including regular contact with Gray.

"Absolutely," Bass said. "Because we are together 24/7 literally that chemistry has built over the years, and we love each other like sisters, seriously."

Three players on the current Lady Vol team played in that 2008 title game – Smallbone, fellow senior guard Angie Bjorklund and redshirt junior guard Vicki Baugh, who tore her ACL on a drive to the basket to give the Lady Vols a double-digit lead in the second half against Stanford. The fourth original member of the class, Kelley Cain, sat out of the 2007-08 season to recover from kneecap realignment surgery. Like Baugh, she is now a redshirt junior.

Smallbone and Bass have both had to carve out roles during their tenure at Tennessee as other players have been ahead of them on the depth chart and both have persisted.

"There is no quit in Bree and Syd," Head Coach Pat Summitt said.

Bass said she has leaned on three things during her career at Tennessee.

"Family, God and my teammates," Bass said. "Those three things. My dad, my mom, even my 17-year-old brother is telling me stuff. (My teammates) are always encouraging me."

Bass has another voice of encouragement – Summitt has also noted Bass' extra work on her shooting this summer – as Assistant Coach Dean Lockwood, during a recent workout at Pratt Pavilion, told Bass not to pass up a particular shot because she was too good of a shooter. Bass struggled last season to consistently hit shots, especially from long range, and getting in the gym and getting up shots was a priority over the summer.

"It's wonderful to hear that," Bass said. "I am trying to help out my team as much as I can so I felt like I needed to go to work and work my butt off this summer. You have to make shots. One of my high school coaches told me that consistency is key so that is something that I tried to work on this summer."

In four workout sessions so far this preseason, Bass has been the first on the floor at Pratt Pavilion to get in extra shots before the coaches arrive.

"If class doesn't keep me from doing it, that is what I am going to do," Bass said.

Bass also has taken the time to give some pointers to true freshman point guard Lauren Avant, such as the correct way to get positioned for the outlet pass from the post.

"When we're on the court together, I tell her little stuff like, ‘Make sure your butt is facing the sideline and your hands are up and you are calling, ‘Outlet!' " Bass said.

The team also held a lot of pickup sessions over the summer and several played in the inaugural Women's Pilot Rocky Top League, including Smallbone.

"We wanted to get things rolling right away so we were conditioning a lot, playing pickup a lot, which is a great way to stay in shape," Smallbone said. "We played in the Rocky Top League this summer, which was a good chance to go out and play against different girls and different competition. The Rocky Top League was a fun way to work on some things, playing better defense.

"So just playing a lot of ball, staying in shape and working on the little things. Getting a lot of shots in, and I ran a lot."

Smallbone also can hear the clock ticking on her Tennessee career and she has a clear idea of the role she needs to carve for herself this season.

"I am going to be a leader," Smallbone said. "This is my fourth season. There is no reason for me not to be. I've seen a championship season, and I've seen a first-round loss. Having that experience is a great thing I can bring to the team.

"When things get hard throughout the season, a loss or we may have a bad practice, it's being able to come back the next day and getting better every day. It's definitely something I can do to help motivate the team."

Bass is a junior, but the sense of urgency is similar for a class that is still seeking its first Final Four.

"I think everybody is starting to click," Bass said. "Everything is clicking, so I think that mindset has finally come to everybody."

Bass and Smallbone also participated in video interviews with Click on the links below to hear what the guards had to say about the Lady Vols.

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