Coach Pat Summitt spoke to the media after practice but declined further comment beyond what Tennessee issued in a press release.
“We met with Lyssi yesterday and came to an agreement that she would no longer be a member of the team,” Summitt said in Thursday's release. “She will finish this semester at UT, and we will help her if she’d like to transfer to another school.”
Alyssia Brewer, a 6’3 senior from Sapulpa, Okla., was the MVP of the 2010 SEC Tournament and had been poised for a breakout season in 2010-11. But a freak accident at home involving a shattered candle base sliced her left Achilles tendon right before preseason workouts began in August of 2010, and she missed most of last season while recovering from surgery.
Brewer, who played this past summer in the Women’s Pilot Rocky Top League after having a cleanup procedure at the surgical site at the end of last season, carved a notch in her shoe to prevent the back of it from rubbing against the back of her heel.
Brewer was still bouncing back in terms of rehab and fitness levels but figured to play a solid role in the post this upcoming season because she was a true center. The other true posts, Vicki Baugh, Glory Johnson and Isabelle Harrison, are better suited as power forwards, but Johnson played center most of last season because of injuries, Harrison can provide solid backup at the spot, and Baugh, who is 6’4, has the size to handle the center position at both ends of the floor.
The health of Baugh, who has had two ACL surgeries and played sparingly the past three years, is paramount to Tennessee’s success. The early reviews have been excellent, and Baugh has said for the first time since her freshman season she is not feeling pain in her knee.
“Vicki Baugh, you talk about an incredible leader,” Summitt said. “She gets it. She is positive with all of her teammates. It doesn’t matter what happens, so that is good. Vicki has a great influence on this team. There is no doubt about it.”
That influence has a far greater reach if a player is on the court and not sidelined, but Tennessee is optimistic for the first time in a long time.
“She will be on the floor,” Summitt said.
When Summitt was asked Thursday which player stood out to her in a good way, she mentioned freshman point guard Ariel Massengale and then gave a nod to the team.
“Obviously, Ariel as a point guard,” Summitt said. “And I think our whole team. They’re excited on the first day. I think our freshmen are going to be really good, and I think the upperclassmen have taken ownership. They are just at a different level, if you will.”
The senior class, which now consists of five members in Baugh, a redshirt because of the knee surgeries, and true seniors Johnson, Alicia Manning, Briana Bass and Shekinna Stricklen, has a lot to prove. Baugh won a national title as a true freshman in 2008 but the other seniors have yet to even make it to a Final Four. They have said that is particularly bothersome to them and it’s something they think about regularly.
|Vicki Baugh is ready for a healthy season as a fifth-year senior.|
“It bothers me,” Summitt said. “It bothers my staff.”
Summitt has said she despises coaching effort, and she seems to have a team this season that is willing to start its own engine. Heather Mason, the strength and conditioning coach, has delivered reports of praise to the staff.
“They’ve done real well,” Summitt said. “Heather doesn’t give them an option. She’s the best.”
Thursday marked the first day Summitt could see the team on the floor as a unit, and the Lady Vols also had the male practice players available.
“I think as we went along the communication really picked up, and that was good,” Summitt said. “And having the practice guys they really appreciate having the guys because they make us better. There is no way you can simulate that, and those guys were really good today.”
Official practice can begin in about three weeks, and Tennessee now has 10 players available with the 11th one, junior guard Kamiko Williams, in recovery mode from ACL surgery – she had her operation in late July – and by all reports her progress over the past two months has been excellent.
The Lady Vols also had a visitor at Thursday’s practice. Former Lady Vol Michelle Snow, who has concluded her WNBA season with the Chicago Sky, stopped by Pratt Pavilion on her way back south to visit with Summitt and the team. She is next headed to Russia to play pro ball.
“We had a great time,” Summitt said. “Mickie (DeMoss) and Michelle and I just sat down and talked about old times. She was great.”
Ariel Massengale and Vicki Baugh