SEC Basketball Media Days, Part 1

The cool temperatures in the South aren't the only sign that basketball is just around the corner. Another important signal is Tipoff '08, the SEC's annual media days for basketball.

On Wednesday, coaches and players from six SEC schools made the trip to Birmingham. In part 1, Whitney D shares some photos and observations from the day.

Media day is the season premiere for each school's media guide. To fans, media guides are the equivalent of a high school annual. Media guides break the backs of US postal carriers who deliver them by the dozens to the homes of high school prospects. But the word "media" is in their name for a reason. They're the primary reference material for the press corps that covers college sports.

Publication of basketball media guides usually has to wait until the freshmen arrive on campus for the fall semester, so in sports information offices around the country there's a mad scramble to get the media guides ready for the conference media days.

At Tipoff 08, there's a whole room devoted to media guides, men's media guides on one side, women's on the other. SEC staff monitors carefully to be sure that each member of the media gets one, and only one, set of the media guides.

The coaches and players are assigned to two-hour time blocks. Two sessions are held on Wednesday, and two more on Thursday. The morning session on Wednesday featured Arkansas, Florida, and LSU.

Coaches and players rotate through various media stations, including radio row, TV studios, and the main interview room for print and internet media. In the main media room, coaches and players sit at banquet tables, while members of the media circulate freely to talk with whomever they choose.

Florida men's basketball coach Billy Donovan has been battling serious back pain, but was nonetheless able to make the trip.

Florida's new women's coach, Amanda Butler, talked about her return to Florida. Butler was an assistant coach at Florida ten years ago. The biggest change, she says, is the huge improvement in facilities and in the resources that are being put into the athletics programs.

Former Ole Miss coach Van Chancellor has returned to the SEC as the head coach of LSU after a ten-year stint as the coach of the WNBA's Houston Comets. How have things changed? The players, he says, especially with tall athletic players like Sylvia Fowles. But he says that he's used to working with players like that, since he's been in the WNBA. He says he'll be asking Sylvia Fowles to do some of the things Tina Thompson does, and Quiana Chaney to follow in Cynthia Cooper's footsteps.

Arkansas' new head coach Tom Collen is also returning to the SEC. Besides being an assistant for Gary Blair at Arkansas during the mid-90s, Collen was also hired at Vanderbilt in 2002, but un-hired the following day after questions arose over this resume.

When asked about that tumultuous time at Vanderbilt, Collen is philosophical. "I believe everything happens for a reason," he said. In the those first few days following the stunning reversal of fortune at Vanderbilt, it was hard to see that reason. But after his successful 3-year stint at Louisville followed his return to Fayetteville, a place that feels like a second home, it's easy to understand why he feels that way now.

Tennessee, Auburn, and Ole Miss were the featured teams in the afternoon session. While the men's teams were in the main media room, Tennessee head coach Bruce Pearl attracted the most attention from the media.

The coaches in the interview room are usually kept busy talking with the media, but players are often alone at tables between interviews. The most popular way to pass the downtime is looking at the new media guide. Like most players, Quantez Robertson got his first look at the Auburn media guide on Wednesday.

Renee Ladner is the new head coach at Ole Miss, but isn't a newcomer to the SEC. Not only was she an assistant coach for Carol Ross for seven years at Florida and Ole Miss, she also played in the SEC under Van Chancellor when he first took the reins at Ole Miss. Her connection to Chancellor goes back even further. He was her high school coach, too. When he took the job at Ole Miss, she transferred in and played there for three seasons.

When Tennessee coach Pat Summitt walked into the interview room, she was quickly surrounded by reporters.

Senior guard Alexis Hornbuckle, who was named the All-SEC 1st team, was one of two Lady Vols in attendance.

Senior post Nicky Anosike was the other Lady Vol who made the trip.

Wednesday was also Nell Fortner's first chance to see Auburn's media guide, which was shipped directly to Birmimgham from the publisher. Between interviews she and DeWanna Bonner enjoyed looking at the media guide together.

News from Tipoff 08:

Divisional Play. Beginning in the 2009-2010 season, SEC women's basketball will play a 16-game division schedule. Each team will play every other team in the division twice, once at home and once away. Each team will play one game against the teams in the other division, with the home team alternating from season to season. Format for seeding the SEC tournament is yet to be determined.

Pre-Season Media Poll. On the women's side, Vanderbilt was picked to finish fourth, behind Tennessee, LSU and Georgia. Junior guard/forward Christina Wirth was named to 2nd All-SEC team. On the men's side, Vanderbilt was picked to finish fourth in the Eastern Division. Shan Foster was selected to the All-SEC First team.

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Photos copyright 2007 by Whitney D For Top Stories