It's October. Debbie Black, a former point guard for Jim Foster at St. Joe's and a point guard in the WNBA, has just signed on to Jim Foster's staff as an assistant coach.
There's a new tall freshman from the Pacific Northwest named Chantelle Anderson. The other freshmen is a feisty little point guard from the tiny town of Gleason in the rural northwest corner of Tennessee.
The fans are trickling in to watch their old favorites and to get a peek at the recent renovations in Memorial Gym, which still aren't quite done, and at the newest faces on the court.
And sitting in a row of chairs near the edge of the court and watching practice are four high school girls who are in town for a recruiting visit to Vanderbilt. One of them is a girl from Kentucky named Jenni Benningfield and seated to her right there's a girl from Arizona named Nicole Powell.
Now roll the clock forward to the present. Jenni Benningfield is a senior at Vanderbilt, and Nicole Powell is a senior at Stanford.
And now, in 2003, they're next to each other again, but this time, they are roommates as well as teammates, both wearing the "USA" of the national team that will represent the United States in the Pan American Games in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, in August.
Through recruiting visits, elite camps, and AAU, college teams and college rivals, mutual friends and international competition, playing basketball at the elite level has meant that the separate paths of the members of the team have crossed again and again.
For three weeks this summer, they're all wearing the red, white, and blue symbolic of the United States. But when they return to campus this fall, Loree Moore will be back in the orange of the Lady Vols, while Jenni Benningfield will once again wear Vanderbilt's black and gold.
Vanderbilt-Tennessee rivalry isn't the only traditional rivalry represented on the team. Since 1995, when the University of Connecticut Huskies stormed their way to national prominence with an undefeated 39-0 record including their first national championship, Tennessee vs. UConn has been one of the marquee matchups in women's basketball.
And just a few short months ago, Ann Strother and Barbara Turner, key members of UConn's freshmen class, helped the Huskies defeat the Lady Vols in the 2003 national championship game in Atlanta, just two days after knocking Jamie Carey's Texas Longhorns out of the tournament in the national semifinals. UConn wasn't the only team wreaking havoc and heartbreak in March, as Janel McCarville's Minnesota Golden Gophers dashed the dreams of Nicole Powell's Stanford Cardinal.
When it comes to conference rivals, Roneeka Hodges is in a unique position on the team. For the past two years, she's played for the LSU Lady Tigers, who have enjoyed a healthy rivalry with both Jenni's Commodores and Loree's Lady Vols. But this fall, when she transfers to Florida State in the ACC, instead of the orange, it'll be Iciss Tillis' Blue Devils with the target on their backs.
But all the connections between the team members don't spring from college rivalries. Jamie Carey and Nicole Powell, for example, are former teammates at Stanford even though they never actually played together there. After Jamie's freshman year, Nicole arrived, but for the next two years, Jamie was sidelined for medical reasons before transferring to Texas.
High school AAU experiences provide other connections. For example, Jamie and Ann Strother know each other from AAU days back in Colorado, and Nicole and UCSB's Lindsay Taylor share AAU ties from their home state of Arizona.
And sometimes connections arise out of simple friendships. Georgetown's Rebekkah Brunson and Iciss Tillis know each other through mutual friends, helped by the fact that their colleges are close enough to allow occasional visits.
And finally, five of the Pan Am team members have shared previous USA Basketball experiences with each other. Nicole played with Kansas State's Laurie Koehn on junior national teams for two summers. Loree, Ann, and Nicole all played together in the Junior World Championships in 2001, and Iciss and Jamie played together in the Youth World Games in Russia five years ago.
But no matter whether they are past or future rivals, old friends from high school days or new friends they'd never met before the trials in May, for three weeks this summer, they are all members of the same team. Ours.
Note: If you are unable to see the photos mentioned please visit www.vandymania.com
During the USA Basketball photo session on Saturday, VandyMania
asked the team members to pair up with their roommates in Boston for
photos. From top:
#13 Jenni Benningfield (Vanderbilt) and #12 Nicole Powell (Stanford)
#5 Loree Moore (Tennessee) and #14 Rebekkah Brunson (Georgetown)
#8 Barbara Turner (Connecticut) and #4 Jamie Carey (Texas)
#9 Iciss Tillis (Duke) and # 6 Roneeka Hodges (Florida State)
#15 Lindsay Taylor (UC Santa Barbara) and #7 Ann Strother (Connecticut)
#10 Laurie Koehn (Kansas State) and #11 Janel McCarville (Minnesota)
Photos for VandyMania by Whitney D. Click on thumbnail to view a larger image.