Lady Vols get good news in abundance

Tamika Catchings at practice Monday

Pat Summitt had plenty of good news to start the week – former Lady Vol Tamika Catchings had time to practice Monday with the team before her flight home and Jasmine Jones, a junior in high school, wants to play for Tennessee. Also, Angie Bjorklund was out of her protective boot and although not back on the court that's a step closer for the shooting guard.

In recruiting news, which Pat Summitt is not allowed to discuss with the media until a recruit signs an LOI, Jasmine Jones, a 6'1 forward from Alabama, has verbally committed to play at Tennessee.

Jones, who attends Bob Jones High School in Madison, Ala., is in the class of 2012, and her AAU coach, Doug Bush, said she is devoted to board play and defense and has a solid and expanding offensive game.

Jones is ranked No. 10 by the All-Star Girls' Report and No. 23 by ESPN/Hoopgurlz. She joins Andraya Carter, a point guard from Georgia, in the class of 2012 commits for Tennessee to date.

Once Jones learned of the Lady Vols' legitimate interest, it only took a few days for her to call Pat Summitt and commit to Tennessee. Both mother and daughter said it was a smooth decision and the top school on her list, which also included Auburn, Vanderbilt, Louisville, Texas and several other colleges.

Still, the fruition of a dream come true for her daughter hadn't completely sunk in yet for LaTrish Jones.

"That's just surreal," Jones said. "It's very hard to explain. All day I was walking around and I really wanted to call Coach Summitt and say, ‘Are you sure? You want my daughter?'

"It's just a great honor for my daughter to be even looked at by the University of Tennessee because I've always looked at Tennessee to be this great program with this legendary coach, and they chose my daughter. It's wonderful."

Jones' reaction was one of happy shock, not one of questioning Jasmine's abilities. Jones played Division I basketball for Alabama under Rick Moody in the 1990s and preached the gospel of work ethic later to her daughter.

"That was basically the first thing that I taught her was effort," Jones said. "When she was younger I told her I don't care how many points you got, how many rebounds you got, as long as you outworked everybody on the court, then everything else would follow but if she did not give 100 percent effort then I would be upset.

"That effort has carried over to where she is now. Her defense is unrelenting. Her rebounding is outstanding. So basically letting her know that effort is probably the most important thing that she needed at that time, and it just really carried over to how she is now."

It did indeed as Jasmine will join Tennessee for the 2012-13 season. Bush described Jones' defensive and rebounding ability as similar to that of current Lady Vol Glory Johnson.

"She's a super athlete," Bush said. "Her defensive intensity and physically the way she rebounds on the offensive and defensive end is just with that tenacity and that competitiveness.

"When Dean first saw her I think that's the thing that caught his eye was just how hard she played and with how much effort she played on the defensive end."

Dean Lockwood was involved in the evaluation and recruitment of Jasmine, who said she connected well with the Lady Vol assistant coach.

"I got along with him very well," Jasmine said.

Bush first saw Jasmine as a fifth-grader and said he had a ‘wow' reaction.

"I didn't think of Tennessee at that time," Bush said. "I thought, ‘I need to get that kid playing AAU basketball.' "

Jones is an Army veteran and that devotion and discipline has infused her daughter. Jasmine said her mother has been a powerful influence on her life.

"One hundred percent in every way from school to basketball, always there to cheer me on," Jasmine said.

The former Bama player did tease her daughter that she could not wear orange.

"I'm kidding," Jones said with a laugh while mother and daughter talked on a speakerphone during the interview. "When she was younger I would tell her stories of how Tennessee was always a powerhouse in women's basketball."

Bush, who coaches Jasmine for the AAU team Alabama Southern Starz, said he is used to divided loyalties. His primary allegiance is to Texas, but he has a daughter at Alabama – Kristin Bush, who went from practice player to walk-on – and another daughter at Auburn.

He also is familiar with several current Lady Vol players after crossing paths with them in AAU circles.

"I know the Tennessee team," Bush said. "I've coached against a number of them."

He also said the pull of the orange is strong, even in Alabama, and Jasmine didn't need much time to make her decision.

"It didn't take her a long time to think about it," Bush said. "She wanted to play (at Tennessee) ever since she was a little kid. A lot of young girls grow up with that dream, especially up here in Northeast Alabama.

"She wants to take on the challenge of being a part of that program and helping that program try to win national championships."

Jasmine said she was ready to commit, and her mother endorsed her decision.

"It's always been a great program and I've always wanted to be a part of such a powerful program ever since I was young," Jasmine said. "I am a very hard worker and I am up to the challenge. I'm a competitor."

Bush said she did talk to Jasmine about the expectations at Tennessee.

"We talked about that very thing," Bush said. "We talked about this was serious basketball and for serious effort. In the end that was her deciding factor – ready, willing and able to sign up for that."

Jasmine said rebounding was her strength and before she arrived in Knoxville she would work on "every aspect" of the game.

"Weight training, shooting, ball-handling," Jasmine said.

She enjoys playing defense so Summitt, who deplores coaching effort, likely won't have to with Jasmine.

"There will be nights when your shots may not fall all the time, but you have to fall back on defense and that's not that hard," Jasmine said.

Bush pointed out that Jasmine's favorite player is NBA superstar LeBron James, and Bush wants her to adopt the similar attitude of not being stopped with the ball.

"I think taking the ball off the bounce and being more assertively offensively, realizing what she can really do," Bush said when asked what Jasmine should work on before getting on campus.

"She has the ability to do that and she almost doesn't even realize it. It happens instinctively when she gets an offensive rebound and goes back up to score or makes a move to score, she does it in that situation. When she gains that assertiveness offensively she's going to be a real all-around weapon."

Bush said Jasmine's shooting ability is well developed, and "she's a true three-four player, no question."

"Offensively Jasmine is capable out to the three-point line," Bush said. "Her midrange game is strong. She's got a great touch. She's a great free throw shooter. She's putting the ball on the floor. She's getting comfortable with a lot of that part of her game. She can defend pretty much any position. I've put her on a point guard before defensively.

"One thing she's perfect for is at the point of a press or the half-court trap as the point person out top. She is long, she is instinctive, she deflects balls. She is a force to be reckoned with in that kind of situation."

Bush's highest praise for Jasmine was reserved for his off-the-court observations.

"She is one of the most well behaved, respectful young people that I have ever been around," Bush said.

Jasmine's answer to how Bush has helped her on the court was all encompassing.

"Everything you could think of," Jasmine said. "He's a great motivator."

Both Jones and Jasmine were glad the recruiting process was already complete. The only thing mother and daughter didn't agree on is who would win a game of H-O-R-S-E.

"I win," Jasmine said with a laugh.

"No," Jones replied, also with laughter.

Jones said she was at ease with her daughter's decision and comfortable with turning her over to Tennessee in a little over a year.

"I am all for it," Jones said. "If I had any issues with her going to a school I would have let her know immediately that I didn't approve. But ultimately it was her decision and I am proud of her for making the decision as quickly as she did. I am completely comfortable with it. I know they will take care of her."

"The SEC is the best conference in the country I believe, and I know Coach Summitt is the best coach," said Jones, who also gave a shout-out to Moody, who had a very successful stint at Alabama.

"She is a legendary coach and I know that my daughter is in good hands with the University of Tennessee and Pat Summitt."

Another legend was on hand Monday at practice as Catchings took the practice floor after coming to Knoxville for a press conference to announce an initiative for her Catch the Stars Foundation Inc. in partnership with the university and Knox County Schools. She had to catch a late afternoon flight but changed into USA basketball gear and practiced with the team before dashing to the airport.

Shekinna Stricklen, who was selected Monday as the SEC Player of the Week after averaging 17.0 points, 9.0 rebounds and 1.7 steals per games in three wins last week, got wide-eyed and smiled when she heard Catchings would be at practice.

"Tamika Catchings is a great, great player," Stricklen said. "I just love how she is so aggressive. She is so strong, and she uses her body well. She rebounds, and she has great defense. It's going to be good to practice with her and watching her and listening to her.

"We know she's going to bring it, and she's not going to be light on us. She's not going to take it easy on us. That's what we need, though."

Tennessee kept its SEC slate perfect Sunday with a 65-57 win over Vanderbilt, but the Lady Vols had to emerge from a 28-15 halftime deficit.

"I think film will be long today," Stricklen said before practice started.

She was correct, and Catchings also watched the film and then spoke to the team and delivered a powerful message, according to Pat Summitt.

Summitt indicated freshman guard Lauren Avant, who helped sparked the comeback with her defense on freshman guard Jasmine Lister, could start Thursday against South Carolina.

Junior forward Alyssia Brewer saluted Avant's defense, which disrupted Lister's ability to run the Vandy offense.

"Once you get into somebody's face like that they don't necessarily know what to do. It was enjoyable to watch. It really was," said Brewer, whose tone was one of admiration. "It was fun because they were definitely going at it. It just shows that she has that pride and passion in her to play defense."

With Avant taking multiple reps at point guard Monday, freshman guard Meighan Simmons was able to practice primarily on the wing where she is most comfortable. Simmons was selected Monday as SEC Freshman of the Week and also joined senior Angie Bjorklund on the 2010-11 Naismith Award Midseason List announced by the Atlanta Tipoff Club on Monday. Simmons was the only freshman selected for the 30-player list.

Bjorklund was out of her protective boot Monday but remained off the court for rehab on her right foot. She walked into practice kicking her foot in the air and smiling and afterwards Summitt said matters are headed "in the right direction."

Tennessee's depth has allowed it to weather the loss of the shooting guard – and the program's all-time three-point shooter – and remain undefeated in SEC play at 12-0. Avant, who has been beset with injuries and illness this season, played in just her 10th game of the season Sunday and finished with 11 points, four steals and a block.

"I am so happy and proud for her because she has shown what she is capable of," Brewer said. "It's not a fluke or anything for her to be here. Having what happened (Sunday) night and her getting the opportunity to come in and showing that to everybody is huge.

"Now every team knows that no matter who we go to on the bench it's going to be something different, and they've got to be ready for that."

VIDEO COVERAGE

Monday practice clips

Tamika Catchings after practice Monday

Pat Summitt after practice Monday

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