Vandy women have busy summer ahead

"Upstairs/Downstairs" might be a British TV show from the '70s, but the phrase can also describe summer in Memorial Gym. In the summer, the coaches and staff who occupy the basketball suites "upstairs" on the fourth floor are separated by NCAA rules from the players who work on their games "downstairs" on the court and in the weight room in the McGugin Center.

During the summer, the NCAA allows players to work on their strength and conditioning under the supervision of Strength and Conditioning Coach Tasha Weddle, but coaching by the basketball staff is off-limits until the fall semester begins.

So before the end of the spring semester, each of the returning players sits down for individual meetings with her position coach and with Head Coach Melanie Balcomb to discuss what she needs to work on over the summer. Then it's up to each player to work on her own game during open gym while the basketball staff is busy at work upstairs in the basketball offices.

Over the summer, VandyMania is taking a look at what's going on "upstairs" and "downstairs" in the women's basketball program. The story begins upstairs with Justin VanOrman, Director of Basketball Operations, who talked last week about his "to-do" list for the summer. Right now, that list has three major items on it.

First, he's responsible for putting together the team's schedule for the upcoming season. Much of the ground work is already finished. The verbal agreements are in place with the opponents that will appear on the schedule, but the details are still being finalized.

"It's pretty much done," said VanOrman. "It's in the contracts stage, where you've got to send them out and get them back."

Putting together this year's schedule has been simplified by the fact that last year's contracts included games for this year, too.

"We signed two-year contracts with Duke, Western Kentucky, UAB, South Florida, and Colorado, so they owed us games," he said. "Same with Old Dominion -- we played them two years ago at Old Dominion; they couldn't do it last year, so they're coming here this year."

The second big item on his list are the upcoming basketball camps. VanOrman is in charge of all the camps, which begin with the traditional "Offensive Skills Improvement Camp, which starts Monday, and the first of two team camps this weekend. Fifty high school varsity and AAU teams are expected for the team camps, along with a few junior varsity teams.

"We have two one-day team camps, with about 24-25 teams each day," VanOrman said. "I'm really excited about that because last year we did a one-day camp for the first time, and we had 28. This time we're going to have 50, so it's almost doubled in a year."

The purpose of the team camps is to give prep teams a chance to play together as a team during the summer. The teams are coached by their own coaches, while the camp staff provides support services for the games, including running the clock and the scoreboards.

Instead of a tournament format, where a team must keep winning to keep playing, the team camps use a "play day" format with a four-game guarantee. Teams are divided into pools, and each team plays every other team in the pool,

"They get the competition, they get the referees, they get the game-like situations, but there's no win and move on, or lose, so they can play some more kids without worrying about having to win the game in order to keep playing," said VanOrman.

Another change in the basketball camps this summer is the addition of a new elite camp for posts and guards, including high school players who are among the cream of the high school crop.

"It's going to provide an opportunity for them to get coached by our coaches, hands on, so they'll be getting the same coaching they'd get if they came to Vanderbilt," VanOrman said.

"It's on Saturday and Sunday so parents can come," he continued. "It's going to be basically three basketball sessions about two hours each. We're going to provide lunch, a campus tour, show them around.

"We can't talk to them about recruiting," he said, "but just let them see the Vanderbilt experience and get an idea of what would be like here and also give them some outstanding coaching."

The third big item on VanOrman's list is the team's trip to Spain in August.

"We're leaving August 11, going to Spain for eight days and will get back on the 19th," he said. "We'll start in Barcelona and then go down to Valencia and then go to Madrid. We'll probably play three games, one in each city, travel around, and have some sight-seeing time."

VanOrman is working with Basketball Travelers, a company that specializes in basketball tournaments and tours in foreign countries. They take care of making travel arrangements, getting the games, sanctioning the games, paying the fees, and dotting the I's and crossing the T's required by the NCAA and by FIBA, the international governing body for basketball.

The upcoming trip to Spain also provides the one exception to the NCAA's prohibition against coaches supervising practices during the summer.

"We're allowed 10 days of practice before Spain," said VanOrman. "The coaches are out most of July recruiting, so in August when everybody is back, and the kids have been here working out, we'll probably start practicing."

With the fall semester beginning so soon after the team returns from Spain, VanOrman says that the staff is concerned about possible burnout from a season that essentially begins the first of August and continues to April.

"The games will be important, "he says, "But Coach Balcomb has assured them that they are just part of the trip; that it's also going to be a sight-seeing, educational, cultural experience, that we'll be doing a lot of things - it's not like the SEC tournament."

When the team returns from Europe, they'll have a short break before the fall semester begins. Then, with the beginning of the school year, the coaches will once again be able to join the players on the basketball court, and "upstairs" and "downstairs" will come together once again.

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