I know that it's confidence. I have a boatload of expectations for Tiffany just because I see it. Sometimes I think it's hard for players to recognize in themselves what their strengths are, what their weaknesses are. I see so much potential in this kid. It's ready to come out right now. As a freshman she has that mentality, ‘well, I'm only expected to do so much at a certain time.' No, we're ready for her right now because she can. That's what I tell her, ‘step up. You can compete.'
You watch a kid like Kelsey Bone from South Carolina step up. She's only a freshman. I tell them to take it personally, like ‘I'm going to stop you. That's my job. I'm going to play my best game.' That's what I'm trying to get her to understand, that she has it all. I don't have to teach you anything. You just have to go inside yourself and say ‘I can go up against Kelly Cain.' Yes she's taller, but that's okay. We've had players like Ashley Earley who went up against all that size. Jenni Benningfield was a little bigger and slower and she went up against the bigger players. We've had smaller kids every year. Jen Risper is a perfect example, going up against (DeWanna) Bonner. She had to defend Bonner on the block at times. We're outsized, but we don't have to be outmatched.
Assistant Coach Picott tells Tiffany Clarke she can compete against Tennessee.
Risper often said that no one was going to outwork her. How do you teach 'want to' and determination?
The only thing I can do is encourage it. I can't teach it. I encourage them to challenge themselves. That's what we as a staff want constantly. There's always some area where we're outsized or out-athleticized. We're always trying to get our kids to believe that doesn't matter. You have to ‘want to' more than the next kid. And take it as a personal challenge. We have to challenge ourselves every game because there's not a team in this conference that we're more athletic than. That's what our biggest challenge is. We try to make things competitive. All in all, you have to carry it out with confidence every day. That's how you get better.
Talk about Hannah, who really seems to be peaking right now and has had some of her best games recently.
That's typical Hannah. We weren't quite sure how to get her back to where she was coming off that injury (stress fracture). She did some things that were totally uncharacteristic. In individual drills it wasn't that way because there was no body out there. The moment there was contact, things changed a bit.
So I think maybe it was mental, but that kid, I don't think ever in my life -- and I've had great kids at Vanderbilt in the post, namely Ashley Earley and Jenni Benningfield -- this kid is right there with her work ethic if not better. I have the utmost respect for a kid like Hannah Tuomi just because of her every day practice habits. She blows me away. There's not a day, not one day, that we step into practice that she doesn't blow my mind.
Hannah Tuomi working offense around UT center Kelly Cain.
Vandy plays Arkansas Thursday night. How do we match up?
They've got a kid named Sarah Watkins who we recruited heavily. I like Sarah. She's a good size, athletic and an inside/outside post player, great hands. She causes a problem because she's so big. They have another kid, Ashley McCray who is a big body at 6-3 and tough to get around. I'm not worried about the post game, but they have Charity Ford, a scoring guard who is amazing. A lot of people abandon their game plan and start throwing the ball inside. We have to make sure we don't allow for easy finishes. We have to make sure to stay between the post player and the bucket and then I think we'll be fine. We're not going to shut them down because we don't have a shot blocker, but we at least have to make their shots difficult and get them a little further away from the basket than they would like to be. We just need to make sure we know where Ford is on the perimeter and stop their penetration.
Talking about confidence in the post, how much do foul calls and hesitancy to get into foul trouble affect play? Tiffany has had foul trouble and also Hannah, whether deserved or not.
It has a lot to do with being aggressive. If you're aggressive the whole game, you don't get a lot of those calls against you. If you're aggressive every now and then, now the referees are in a position to say ‘okay, that's not your style of play so you're going to draw a foul' because you're showing aggression at that time. Hannah in the beginning was a little hesitant because she kept getting into foul trouble. She was just trying to work around the post and was getting called for fouls offensively trying to post up. That caused a lot of hesitation. Most of the time you're getting fouls trying not to foul. Again, I don't think our kids know how good they are. I don't fear any post game for us. The only thing I fear is that at any given moment, we don't feel like we can't step up to the challenge. Personally I know we have it and I keep waiting for it to click. That's been our biggest challenge is just trying to get them mad enough to say, ‘bring it on.'
So that's the intensity we see on your face.
Yes, I tell them to step up, you're better than this. That' what I said to Tiffany at Tennessee. She's extremely talented without a doubt. People don't get to see how good she is because at practice she's a stud. I don't know what changes from practice to the games but if she ever … I'm tempted to put a practice uniform on under her jersey so she feels like she's just at practice. She's so good and dominating. Hannah's dominating and it's expected. Tiff, if she starts to believe, can make a difference, and it's not too late to make a run.
Hannah's footwork is amazing. What can you tell us about how she does those moves to the basket?
What we teach is what we call U-ing in the post. That's creating an arc to keep the defense out. Hannah has all but perfected it. Her footwork is incredible. She understands that if she does it, she has a better chance of being successful than trying to make 10 post moves. Our job is to catch and score as simple as possible. Her footwork allows her to keep that passing lane open while she catches and goes to the basket.
When we talked about her hesitation earlier in the year, she had stopped that. I don't know if it was her knee or whatever. Hannah plays with a lot of injuries we never know about. I've never coached a kid with her work ethic in my life. She's a kid who doesn't take a day off in practice. I don't think I could say that about any other kid ever, and I've been coaching close to 18 years.
Rebecca Silinksi is getting some key minutes and doing well. Tell us about her getting more playing time.
There's a direct correlation between the way you practice and the way you play. That's it. On any given day this kid could be one of the most dominating players in the SEC. I say it and I mean it. Her numbers haven't shown it and her playing time hasn't shown it. But again, when I evaluate her talent against most of the post players in our conference, and we have some really good ones, she has the strength and body size, footwork and shooter's touch. It's getting her to that level where she can go out there and push herself through being tired. She's a great kid. It's a matter of making her believe that. One of the differences in her play now started with the UT game. We needed someone to help stop Cain. She saw that and said, 'I'm one of the biggest players on the team, maybe I can help.' Her focus has changed since then, and she's played a lot more.
Rebecca Silinski, at 6-3, is Vandy's tallest player in the lineup.
And she's got another year left.
Yes, she'll really develop. Again, it's about her mentality.
And speaking of next year, there's a lot of height coming in that you must be pleased to see. What are expectations for next year with these players coming in?
We're not going to be one of those teams that say, 'okay, let's abandon our game plan and keep throwing it inside to the post.' It's going to be nice; we're going to be able to match up. We will have that luxury to go inside to a post player with some good size. But we're going to teach the same things. We want them to go by people, not over people. And with a lot of big kids, you have to re-teach this, because in high school, all big kids just go for the lob or just shoot over the top. They don't know how to go by people so there's still that challenge within our system to get our kids to work their feet and work before the catch.
It is going to be nice to have height under the basket and someone who can alter shots and make it difficult for someone like Glory Johnson to shoot over. We'll have some bodies who can rebound a bit better!