Sydney Smallbone excels in job market

Sydney Smallbone (Lady Vols Media Relations)

The letters of intent from Tennessee's three 2011 recruits have been certified, Alyssia Brewer returned to the court on a limited basis for the first time in more than two months, Sydney Smallbone earned a spot among thousands of applicants for a logistics job upon graduation, and the Lady Vols had an intense practice session in a busy Friday for Lady Vol news.

Sydney Smallbone, a senior guard from Granger, Indiana, accepted a job this week with a multinational corporation – the name of the company can't be published by media because the NCAA considers that an implied endorsement – after surviving a series of cuts and a two-day retreat in Ohio in which the candidates were whittled to one.

"I went to the career fair here," Smallbone said. "It was the logistics career fair so there were 50-some companies, a lot of big companies especially in supply chain. I got a first round interview with them on campus. I made it past the first round and they flew me out to Cleveland, and there were 37 of us. They interviewed over 700 people on different college campuses so to make that cut (was rewarding) and thousands of people applied online, too."

Smallbone, an honor roll student with two majors in marketing and logistics and a minor in international business, was given permission to miss two days of practice last month so that she could travel to Ohio for the extended review of applicants.

"It was a two-day assessment (in a community near Cleveland)," Smallbone said. "In the assessment you do a five-hour case study, you do competency interviews with executives and then you have to get up and present your case. They flew in both supply chain logistics people and engineers so it was kind of cool to see how we worked together because in the class setting it's mostly just the supply chain people you're with so to actually see how the engineers and supply people worked together was something that was new to me, and that is something I'll do a lot in my job, too.

"I enjoyed it a lot, and it was a very tough interview process. They flew in executives that sit there and watch your every move so you felt like you were in a fishbowl, which was kind of cool. It was good pressure that I like."

Smallbone is not the only Lady Vol student-athlete who will be joining the company. Lady Vol senior soccer player Molly Baird, an academic standout, also survived the process last May and will join the firm in January after graduating in December. Baird, a goalkeeper, has a double major in finance and logistics.

To have two students from the same school get hired by the company is "very (unusual) because it's such a big company, and they interview a lot of people," Smallbone said. "I think it helped that we came from a big SEC school and we definitely have the leadership capabilities. That was something that they liked. We had been a part of a team. We had seen what it takes.

"I felt like I was very prepared to not just talk about myself but to talk about what I had learned through sports and through our logistics program here. Our logistics program is huge. We're top 10 public/private so Tennessee is someplace that they go to try and recruit candidates just because they have so much success.

"But as far as being in a fishbowl and have people stare at you it's something that I do every day. So I wasn't too nervous and I felt like as far as the people I was competing against, they hadn't been as exposed to that as I have."

Smallbone cited the lessons she has learned as Lady Vol on the court and the way she was prepared by Tennessee's professors as the primary reasons why she was hired. She sized up some of her competitors and felt like the pressure to perform in a job-like setting might have weighed on them.

"The pressure of it I felt like I was very prepared through our logistics program as far as going through the cases and really understanding it," Smallbone said. "I think that kind of set me apart from the candidates from the other schools because we have case studies every day in our classes."

The process lasted five hours in one session, and Smallbone said it was similar to a game day in terms of preparation, review and expectation of performance.

"It was an extensive case and you really have to know your stuff and be able to apply it," Smallbone said. "I felt like it was something I could handle because you go into games and you work and prepare for it and then get to show what you've worked for. I got to show what I had learned.

"They're high-stress, high-risk jobs. You have a lot of pressure. You're dealing with millions of dollars every day, especially in purchasing with logistics. Mistakes are very publicized. You're going to know when you're making mistakes, and that's the same with sports. Your coach is going to let you know. You're going to let your team down. As far as really evaluating the whole sports process and the whole corporate process, things are very evident when you're not doing things right."

Pat Summitt saluted the ability of Smallbone to emerge from the process with the post.

"It's impressive," Summitt said. "Obviously she must have interviewed very, very well, and I think they certainly saw something in her that could be an asset. I'm just really proud for Syd. You're talking about someone that has great composure, has great focus, knows what she wants and how to go after it and get it. In terms of this, it didn't surprise me."

Smallbone is relieved that her next step post-college has been determined, even in what remains a tough job market for new college graduates. Her field of logistics, however, is a growing one with highly qualified candidates able to field more than one job offer, as was the case with Smallbone.

"All I have to do is play basketball and pass my classes," said Smallbone, who smiled when it was pointed out that she should be able to handle both. "I am looking forward to it because it's a good transition for me. I really wanted to get into logistics and supply chain and develop different talents in different areas. It's kind of cool I got such a good offer this early in the year and I can focus on things I need to focus on and not have to be stressed out about finding a job."

RECRUITS INKED, OFFICIAL: Tennessee's compliance department has received the LOIs and financial agreement paperwork of all three 2011 Lady Vol basketball recruits and certified the documents.

That means Pat Summitt is now allowed to discuss the trio – Cierra Burdick, Isabelle Harrison and Ariel Massengale, a group that has earned the nod of No. 1 recruiting class in some ranking quarters.

The complete bios of the recruits are available on the Lady Vols website.

Massengale, a 5'6 point guard from Bolingbrook, Ill., was the first one to submit her paperwork in full, and it arrived just hours after the early signing period officially started last week.

"Everything is by the book (with her), and that doesn't surprise me," said Summitt, who traveled to France last summer with Assistant Coach Mickie DeMoss to watch Massengale with the 2010 USA U17 World Championship Team.

The paperwork of Burdick, a 6'2 forward from Matthews, N.C., and Harrison, a 6'3 post from Nashville, also has arrived on campus and been certified.

Summitt was asked how the recruits could make an immediate impact next fall, and this is how she responded about Massengale.

"To be honest with you, she could start for us right now. Ariel is that good," Summitt said. "When we were in France, and it came down to the gold medal game she took it over. She just took it over. She refused to let us lose. It wasn't happening. She was in everybody's face, and she was knocking down shots. She was talking.

"I knew right then we've got to have her. I told Mickie the other day if we had Ariel right now I would feel so much better. I liked her all along. I am glad that we have her. Really glad."

Summitt cited Burdick's versatility as a way for her to get on the floor early.

"She can play inside, she can play outside, she can handle the ball, and she's got a really tight skill set," Summitt said. "I really love her game and her attitude. She's a gym rat, and I think she'll bring some leadership early on. That stood out to me right away. I like the fact that she's in the gym and basketball means a lot to her."

Summitt noted Harrison's willingness to compete despite the post talent at Tennessee already.

"She's got a good skill set," Summitt said. "She's got to get with the pace of the game, but that's not uncommon, because the tempo is obviously elevated. I think she's got a good skill set.

"I think she loves the game, and I like the fact that she's coming in – she had a lot of opportunities – and she chose to come in this direction knowing we've got post players."

The majority of those post players will graduate in 2012, and Tennessee missed out on getting a fourth recruit when Elizabeth Williams, a 6'3 center from Virginia Beach, Va., and Kiah Stokes, a 6'3 post from Marion, Iowa, opted for Duke and Connecticut, respectively.

Tennessee was in the final two for Williams, and her decision was made just before the early signing period began.

"The longer it went the more we realized she wants to be close to home," Summitt said. She called me (the day she made the announcement at her school). I told her, ‘I wish you the best.' They are a very close-knit family. If she would have come here she would have been a special player here but I understand all the reasons why she didn't come here."

That means Tennessee has one scholarship left for the class of 2011 that could be used for another target or rolled into the next signing class.

The top echelon posts of the class of 2011 have already signed with schools, so Tennessee could opt to at least evaluate the juco ranks, though it seemed unlikely that the Lady Vols would sign a junior college player next spring.

"Possibly, yes," Summitt said of considering a juco. "We've definitely entertained it. We're going to have to wait and see."

It would seem that Tennessee would at least explore the landscape. Tennessee has plenty of wings and forwards either on the way or targeted in the next three classes, so to devote a scholarship, the coaches would seemingly need to find a post player of considerable size in the juco ranks as the need for midsize/combo posts has been filled.

Tennessee also loses seven players to graduation in 2012 and wants to try to cycle out of signing huge classes because the roster is subsequently gutted when they leave, so it would seem the scholarships would be spread among 2012, 2013 and 2014.

Summitt can't discuss names, but she is allowed to talk about numbers, and she said the staff hasn't settled on how many to sign from 2012.

According to various AAU and high school coaching contacts, Tennessee has expressed interest in the following players from 2012: Jordan Adams, 6'0 guard, Irvine, Calif.; Danielle Ballard, 5'9 guard, Memphis; Ariel Butts, 6'3 post, Columbus, Ga.; Andraya Carter, 5'8 guard, Buford, Ga., committed to Tennessee; Chadarryl Clay, 5'7 guard, Chattanooga, Tenn.; Bashaara Graves 6'2 forward, Clarksville, Tenn.; Rachel Hollivay, 6'4 center, Caledonia, Miss.; Malina Howard, 6'3 post, Twinsburg, Ohio; Moriah Jefferson, 5'6 guard, Glen Heights, Texas; Alexis Jones, 5'6 guard, Irving, Texas; Jasmine Jones-Vaughn, 6'1 forward, Harvest, Ala.; Breanna McDonald, 6'0 guard, Lithonia, Ga.; Alexis Prince, 6'0 wing, Maitland, Fla.; Imani Stafford, 6'5 center, Los Angeles Calif.; Breanna Stewart, 6'3 forward, North Syracuse, N.Y.; and Aaliyah Whiteside, 6'1 forward, Memphis, Tenn.

From the class of 2013: Kaela Davis, 6'2 guard, Norcross, Ga., committed to Tennessee; Diamond DeShields, 6'2 wing, Norcross, Ga.; Rebecca "Becca" Greenwell, 6'0 guard, Owensboro, Ky.; Kristina Nelson, 6'3 post, Norcross, Ga.; Taya Reimer, 6'2 forward, Indianapolis, Ind.; and Tyler Scaife, 5'8 guard, Little Rock, Ark.

From the class of 2014: Brianna Turner, 6'3 wing, Pearland, Texas.

Summitt can't discuss any players on those lists by NCAA rules. She is thrilled about the three on the way from the class of 2011.

"Ariel is a terrific player, a terrific guard, a natural leader," Summitt said. "She is just a player. She can play all over the perimeter. I think she is a special point guard, her mindset and her competitive drive.

"Cierra is a great leader. I think she has really worked on her skills. I think that benefited her and Ariel both playing in France. I just think they'll come in here a lot more mature than if they hadn't had that experience. I think she could play on the perimeter if need be, but she's really good in the high-low game whether she's at the top of the key or in the paint. She's a really nice passer. She overpasses, but we can address that."

Harrison has "got a nice pull-up game. She can play off the bounce. At her age I would say very skilled. She can get up and down the floor. She is probably going to play high post and inside more than outside, but I think she can step away (from the basket)."

The three recruits have already connected with each other so that should ease their transition to college.

"You're talking about three people that know how to play the game," Summitt said. "They're really skilled players. I think their transition is going to be easier than maybe other times. They are going to come in here and they're going to compete. They all three have that mindset.

"I feel good about it, real good about it."

INJURY UPDATE: Alyssia Brewer, a 6'3 junior post player, returned to practice for the first time in more than two months after having surgery in September to repair a sliced Achilles tendon that was injured when a large candle base shattered in her apartment.

"She is making wonderful progress, and we're going to progress her slowly," said Jenny Moshak, the program's chief of sports medicine. "Do some half-court stuff, some controlled shooting and basically just try to take it up.

"We're shooting for the Texas-Baylor trip (Dec. 12-14) to see some minutes in a game. So that means she's got to get into practice before that. She's not going full court yet, half court, control drills, etcetera."

The good news with redshirt junior Vicki Baugh is that her left ACL is fine and the knee hasn't even had any swelling. The bad news is that she continues to have issues around the knee. It has primarily been the IT band and outer hamstring area, but Moshak thinks the hamstring is no longer the culprit of the pain.

"She's going to meet me in the training room, and we're going to do some special things with her hip," Moshak said. "Tightness and pain when she tries to bend and she can't function and be the player she wants to be. She is rock solid (with the knee). She doesn't even have swelling in the knee. It's peri-knee issues."

Baugh initially practiced Friday but had to leave the court because of those issues.

Moshak didn't rule out Baugh for Sunday's game against Arizona State.

"I would say day to day because some days she does pretty well and some days not so well," Moshak said.

Lauren Avant (sprained right ankle) remains in a boot and on crutches. Shekinna Stricklen, who injured her left thumb Thursday, had it wrapped and was able to practice Friday. She later removed the wrap, and Moshak said she was OK.

PRACTICE REPORT: Pat Summitt handled a public relations gathering with representatives from the Salvation Army at center court Friday as it prepares to kick off its holiday fund-raising campaign. She was all smiles for the group and spent time talking to them and posing for photos.

After it was over Summitt took her team into the locker room for a film session of Thursday's 85-73 win over Virginia, and that was the end of the smiling.

"I was just very, very disappointed watching the film and our lack of commitment to defense and board play and communication," Summitt said. "It was hard to watch. It was really hard to watch. … We've got pretty much a veteran team. Of course we've got our two freshmen, but I am just amazed as how many poor possessions we had. Our defense wasn't solid. Our offense wasn't that great. Board play, you've got to stay on them all the time.

"After watching that tape I knew we had to get back in the gym and find a way for them to hold each other accountable. It's the coaches, and I have no problem doing it. They should be taking ownership of everything going on on the floor as opposed to our coaching staff having to stay on them and motivate them and have to pull them aside and talk to them or get them off the court.

"But trust me I have no problem doing it but I would like for them to be the ones to say, ‘Coach, we got it, we got it, we got it.' "

The team spent a little more than two hours on the court in an up-tempo session that was punctuated by exhortations from the coaches about what they expected every repetition. Any player not hustling sufficiently was sent off the court and had to wait for the next rep to rotate back in and redeem herself.

"I think we made strides today, and we needed to," Summitt said after practice. "I think we have to find at least seven, eight players that we know we can count on."

VIDEO COVERAGE: Clips from Friday's practice.

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