The only hitch was freshman Isabelle Harrison suddenly realizing that the coaches were allowed to be on the court with the players in small groups. Harrison, a freshman forward from Nashville, didn’t expect to see Pat Summitt and her assistants until October and senior Alyssia Brewer and graduate student Vicki Baugh explained to the newcomer that the coaches started working with the players in late August.
Alyssia Brewer video:
It was actually a later start than usual by about a week as the coaches had turned the team over to Heather Mason for strength and conditioning sessions and given the players extra days off the court while allowing Glory Johnson and Shekinna Stricklen some additional rest.
The seniors played for three weeks in August while with the USA team at the World University Games in China – the United States won the gold medal – and the coaches decided to give them one more week off before they take the court.
That left nine players available for Tuesday’s workout – junior Kamiko Williams had ACL surgery last July – with all three freshmen on the court in different sessions.
During early preseason, the NCAA allows two hours per week total of court time in groups of no more than four, and Tuesday’s session kicked off with guards senior Briana Bass, sophomore Meighan Simmons and freshman Ariel Massengale; followed by posts Brewer, Baugh and freshman Harrison; and ending with junior Taber Spani, senior Alicia Manning and freshman Cierra Burdick.
The three freshmen left an impression with their overall athleticism and preparation.
“I liked them all,” Summitt said. “They can help us.”
Summitt also was pleased to see healthy posts in Baugh and Brewer. Baugh spent the past two years recovering from three knee surgeries, and Brewer was hobbled most of last season after tearing her Achilles tendon. Both moved noticeably well Tuesday, a welcome sign for the coaches who didn’t know last season day to day which post players would be cleared to practice or play.
“It’s a breath of fresh air,” Summitt said. “And to have those freshmen here I was really pleased with how they responded today.”
Former Lady Vol Angie Bjorklund worked out on the court during the first session. Bjorklund, who had a stress fracture in her right foot in the latter part of last season, developed the same issue in her left foot this summer. She was released by the Chicago Sky and will play overseas this winter while eyeing a return to the WNBA. Bjorklund returned to Knoxville this month to rehab with Jenny Moshak, the team’s chief of sports medicine, and work out on campus.
The shooting guard from Spokane Valley, Wash., said she was feeling much better and eager to be back on the court.
That sentiment – happy to be on the hardwood – was seemingly shared by the entire program after the staggering news last week that Summitt had early onset dementia, Alzheimer’s type, and would continue to coach the Lady Vols. That decision would not have been questioned Tuesday by anyone inside Pratt Pavilion. She was present for all three sessions – totaling three hours in length – engaged the players and assistants and showed no difference from her actions in previous seasons.
“I am glad to have all that other stuff behind me,” said Summitt, who noted the outpouring of support that she received in the past week. “I hadn’t seen as much as everybody out there has seen (since the Internet and news media exploded with the news and reaction). When I went to see Katie (Wynn, longtime secretary) yesterday she was giving me all the emails and messages. Her phone was blowing up.
“There is a time where I appreciate all of it, but I’ve got to get ready and focus on the season, and that’s what is up next,” added Summitt, who was patted on the back by the Vols basketball players while she spoke as the guys left the weight room and crossed the court at Pratt. “It really has been very touching.”
As in years past, the assistants ran most of the drills with Summitt circling the court, taking notes and making comments as needed. All of the sessions are filmed by the Lady Vols, and Summitt watches each tape as always.
“I think it all depends on the day,” said Summitt, who in the past few years dealt with the fluctuating pain of arthritis and is also taking this condition day by day. “Some days are better than others.
“I thought everybody came here ready to work hard. They had a good focus. Tempo was really good.”
The players went through standard drills during their hour-long sessions that included donning glasses that limited peripheral vision for a dribbling exercise, the intent being to force a player to keep her head up and not look at the ball.
Ariel Massengale video
After the news about Summitt broke last week, Burdick and Harrison went around campus with a video camera getting reaction from students who wore orange last Friday in support of the coach.
“We were pretty much going around and asking students, ‘What made you put on this orange today? What does Pat mean to you all? Why did you want to come out and show support today?’ ” Burdick said. “A lot of them said, ‘Pat has done so much for the university, and we just want to show our respect for her.’
“We got almost from everybody, ‘We’ve got your back, Pat,’ and there are just so many people supporting her.”
The clout of Summitt and Tennessee resonated with Burdick during the recruiting process, and that was really brought into focus during the past week.
“Definitely,” Burdick said. “Just to go around to complete strangers, athletes or not, and see how much respect they had for a woman they had never even met. That is tremendous. That just goes to show how much she truly has done for the game of women’s basketball.”
Burdick echoed what others said Tuesday – getting on the court was a welcome change from the tumultuous nature of the past week.
“For myself – and I’ll talk for even my teammates and my coaches and my trainers and my managers – I think the court is somewhat a stress reliever,” Burdick said. “And when we get in between these lines it’s like all of our worries go away, and it’s just us and the ball and we’re a team and a family.
“We don’t have to worry about outside stuff happening. We don’t have to worry about people coming and asking us what’s going on. We get in between these lines and we’re family and we’re getting prepared, and we’re cracking down to business.”
Cierra Burdick video