“I talked to her and I talked to her parents,” Coach Pat Summitt said Tuesday. “I think with all the back issues and everything she has been through (it was the best conclusion). I support her. She’s done a great job for us. She’s helped us win a lot of ballgames.
“What’s more important? Playing basketball or taking care of your body and your future as you move forward? If that was my daughter I would be going, ‘No, we don’t need to go there (anymore).’ ”
Kelley Cain, a 6’6 All-American from St. Pius X in Atlanta, came to Tennessee with departing seniors Angie Bjorklund and Sydney Smallbone and redshirt junior Vicki Baugh. All four are scheduled to graduate this May, though Baugh will return for a fifth year, as she seems to have finally turned the corner with her knee health.
“I think (Cain) wanted to play and I think she played through a lot of pain, but I think, to her credit, said, ‘Enough is enough,’ ” Summitt said.
Cain was one of the best shot blockers in SEC history. She totaled 228 swats – third-most in Lady Vol history – in just 92 games over three seasons, a 2.5 blocks per game average, and led the SEC in blocks in 2009-10 and 2010-11.
As a redshirt sophomore in 2009-10, Cain set a single-season record at Tennessee with 113 blocks, including a single-game record of 12 blocks against 20th-ranked LSU on Feb. 22, 2010 at Thompson-Boling Arena.
Over her career, Cain averaged 8.6 points and 6.2 rebounds per game and shot 60.6 percent from the field, while making 59 starts. Her career field goal percentage is the third-best in Tennessee history behind Cindy Noble’s 62.5 percent mark (1978-81) and Trish Roberts’ 1976-77 percentage of 64.7.
After the LSU game this season, Van Chancellor referred to Cain as the “Tiger killer,” and Auburn Coach Nell Fortner asked in her post-game remarks when Cain would graduate.
Cain put up those numbers while blocking out pain. It wasn’t unusual after games to see her lying on the floor and needing help to get up. When not in games, Cain usually stood or sat on the floor at the end of the bench to try and stay loose.
“We appreciate all that Kelley brought to our Lady Vol basketball program,” Summitt said. “It’s truly unfortunate that her career was cut short, but her health and well-being must come first. Kelley was a great teammate and oftentimes had to push through a great deal of pain to play. She is a winner who concludes her UT career with a degree in hand, and we wish her continued success in life.”
Cain’s most complete season came in 2009-10, when she started 32 of 33 games and averaged 10.5 points, 7.7 rebounds and 3.4 blocks. She captured First Team All-SEC, SEC All-Defensive Team honors and SEC Academic Honor Roll that season. Cain was also recognized as a 2010 State Farm Coaches’ All-America NCAA Division I Honorable Mention.
In 2010-11, Cain averaged 7.0 points, 5.4 rebounds and 2.1 blocks per game, starting in 18 of 32 games. Her best performances came at LSU on Jan.2 and versus Ohio State in the Dayton Regional semifinal on March 26. She scored a season-best 19 points on 9-of-13 shooting and recorded eight boards and four blocks versus the Tigers in the SEC opener. Against the Buckeyes, she scored 16 points on 8-of-10 shooting to lead the Lady Vols to the Elite Eight.
Cain had to sit out her first season at Tennessee to undergo major surgery in December of 2007 to realign her right kneecap because of chronic subluxation issues. The screws from that surgery migrated out in her first year on the court – bringing excruciating pain – and she had an operation to remove the screws after the 2008-09 season ended.
Cain developed hip and lower back issues this past season and also missed a few games and practice because of concussions during the first two years of her career.
“The UT medical staff supports Kelley’s decision to discontinue playing,” said Dr. Rebecca Morgan, the team physician. “She has been experiencing ongoing arthritic changes incurred after years of playing competitive basketball, and it has taken a toll on her body.”
Cain underwent daily rehab this past season to be able to play. She leaves with a national title ring from the 2007-08 season and a college degree in marketing with a degree in logistics.
“It has been my pleasure and privilege to be a part of the Lady Vols for the past four years,” Cain said. “After numerous months of prayer, doctors’ visits and treatments, I have accepted the fact that I am currently unable to meet the demands of playing collegiate basketball. My family and I must now focus on my quality of life.
“I will miss everyone involved in the Lady Vol program from my teammates and coaches to the managers, trainers and strength coaches. I am so blessed and very thankful for the opportunities I have had while at Tennessee.”
Summitt said Tuesday that she expected the other 10 returning players to be back next season. As far as adding another player because of Cain’s departure, Summitt said not at this time, but she was open to consider it.
Her staff has been scattered since the season ended, minus a trip over the weekend to Indianapolis for the Final Four and to be present when rising senior Shekinna Stricklen was selected to the WBCA State Farm All-American Team, so they haven’t talked in detail about the roster.
“If something unique comes up but right now, no,” Summitt said about adding a player. “Holly (Warlick) and I talked a little bit about it but without our staff being back here we’re not in any rush (to make a decision).”