Pat Summitt lauds signing class

Andraya Carter lives in Georgia, but she has Tennessee on her mind as she is ready to get to Knoxville and enter into the collegiate strength and conditioning program as the final phase of her comeback from knee surgery.

Andraya Carter is one of three players that Tennessee signed from the class of 2012 – the other two were forwards Bashaara Graves and Jasmine Jones – and with their LOIs and paperwork now certified by the university, the coaching staff can discuss the future Lady Vols.

Head Coach Pat Summitt and Assistant Coach Mickie DeMoss, who is also the recruiting coordinator, expressed gratitude that the three players stayed with their commitment.

"It tells you they really want to be here," Summitt said. "And we want them here. Obviously we're excited about all three."

Summitt revealed last August that she had been diagnosed with early onset dementia. Carter, a guard from Flowery Branch, Ga., reiterated her commitment via social media that same afternoon, before the Tennessee coaching staff had even had a chance to reach her yet.

Graves and Jones soon followed as all three players spoke to each other that day.

"I think it speaks volume to the kind of character that the three young ladies have," DeMoss said. "When Pat announced her diagnosis, they could have very well bailed on us.

"That was so important to us. That was the first phone calls we made to those young ladies and their parents. Pat got on the phone with them immediately and answered any and all questions."

Carter said the relationships she formed with the entire staff solidified her decision.

"I think it's a real genuine coach-player situation," Carter said. "I can't see myself anywhere else at this point. I want to be in orange."

Carter's mother, Jessica Lhamon, accompanied Carter on her official visit in October and was able to talk to the other two recruits on that trip.

"Their loyalty was never in question," Lhamon said. "I really think those girls never thought twice. They bleed orange and white."

Carter is coming back from ACL surgery on her left knee and on her official visit last October while the other two recruits watched practice, she was engrossed in keeping an eye on junior guard Kamiko Williams, who was undergoing sideline rehab with Jenny Moshak, the team's chief of sports medicine, for the same injury.

"I can't wait to work with her," Carter said. "I was just watching trying to see what she did. Just little things I would hear JMo say I would take note of so I could use it when I got back home."

Carter is allowed to maintain contact with Moshak.

"I have kept in contact with JMo," said Carter, who, by NCAA rules, is the one who initiates the phone call. "We are communicating as best we can."

When Carter arrives on campus – and she intends to enroll next June – she can shift her rehab and conditioning sessions to the watchful eyes of Moshak and Heather Mason.

In the meantime, Carter has slowed her roll, so to speak, and although she still hopes to play high school basketball in her senior year, she is now focused on her core strength and quad muscles.

"I was recovering very quickly and doing a lot," Carter said. "What we are doing now is working on an extremely strong core and my quads."

She undergoes physical tests periodically to measure her progress with the next series planned for next month.

"We'll take it from there," Carter said. "We are not thinking long-term. Everything is step by step."

The coaching staff is encouraged by Carter's reports to them.

"She had good doctors," DeMoss said. "Her work ethic is off the charts so she has rehabbed really strong. Her only problem is going to be wanting to get back too soon and wanting to do too much."

That is where Carter's mother has stepped in to monitor her daughter's activity now that high school teams are back on the court.

"Obviously I want to play my senior year, but it's not going to be an emotional decision," Carter said. "I am going to talk about it with my parents, my doctors, my coaches. I am not playing unless my knee is 100 percent.

"I don't want to go out on the court until I can play the exact same way if not better than I did when I got hurt. I love diving on the floor. I don't want to even have in my mind that I was hurt when I come back. I don't want that to even be an issue. I want to come back like I never hurt my knee before.

"I will start doing drills as soon as I can. I can do ball handling now, and I am shooting a little bit. I will do more cardio when I can. As far as actually playing we have to see about that."

Carter is a very athletic guard with tremendous leaping ability who would fit in well with Tennessee's up-tempo style of play.

"She's a very athletic guard," DeMoss said. "We certainly can use another guard with the loss of this senior class. She brings a lot of athleticism to the table. She can penetrate. She shoots the three. Her vertical jump is off the charts. She is probably going to be able to play a little bit bigger than her size."

When Summitt watched Carter in high school, she saw a player who could handle both guard spots.

"I thought she was very skilled, very unselfish, can distribute the ball and very athletic," Summitt said.

Carter could even play the small forward spot at times if the Lady Vols used a smaller lineup with Ariel Massengale and Meighan Simmons at the one and two positions, because with Carter's leaping ability "she rebounds really well," DeMoss said.

Graves, a post from Clarksville, Tenn., will operate in the paint.

"She is very mobile, physical," Summitt said. "She has a lot of grit. I really like her. She is just a solid player. She is going to be a paint player."

DeMoss added, "She is a blue-collar worker. She gets in there and she bangs and she's aggressive around the glass. She is a really aggressive defender, very athletic. Hard-nosed, very much of a competitor.

"She has limited range, but she can shoot it from the free throw line in. We're looking at playing her at the four and maybe even the five some."

Jones, a forward from Madison, Ala., projects to the three/four spot in college.

"There are a lot of similarities between the two players," DeMoss said of Jones and Graves. "Jasmine was at camp the last couple of years and she displayed a lot of athleticism. She is playing more at the three now so we felt like she could step out if she continues to work on her face-up skills. She can help us on the perimeter some. She's aggressive around the glass. Sets hard screens. Dives on the floor for loose balls. She's a hard worker.

"If she keeps working she can really extend her range. She is working on her ball handling. She could be like a Bridgette Gordon-type three player. That 6'1 power three. But she's got to keep working."

Jones' mother, LaTrish Jones, played for Alabama and had to guard former Lady Vol Tamika Catchings when Tennessee and the Crimson Tide clashed.

"Bless her heart," Summitt said with a smile.

LaTrish Jones instilled in her daughter the importance of defense and rebounding. While she helped get Jasmine Jones college-ready, LaTrish Jones is also a diehard Alabama fan. She will cheer for the Lady Vols in every game, even against Alabama, but she won't wear orange.

"She'll change her mind," Summitt said. "We'll work on that."

As of now, Graves projects to a power forward in college, but she might need to anchor at center sometimes, too.

"That depends on who else we sign," DeMoss said. "That may be out of necessity."

DeMoss can't use names, but she can talk numbers when it comes to junior college plans.

"We'd sign two if there's two out there," DeMoss said. "We definitely need a big."

All three signees can play on the defensive side of the ball. With Jones it was taught by her mother, Carter is an aggressive perimeter defender – she hurt her knee trying to deflect a pass – and Graves brings attitude to the paint.

"I like them," Summitt said. "Across the board I think that's the plus."

Carter was the last to sign her LOI. She did it Nov. 12th on her 18th birthday in a celebration at Buford High School after a team scrimmage. In attendance for the signing party was Buford teammate Kaela Davis, a verbal commit to the Lady Vols from the class of 2013 and a close friend of Carter.

Lhamon took a photo of the pair with Carter's siblings and referred to all five as her children.

From left, Curt, Kaela Davis, Andraya Carter, Alli, Zoey

Carter's little sister, Alli, who shares a bedroom with Zoey, is keeping a countdown of the days until Carter leaves for college so that she can claim the empty room as her own.

"She comes in and just looks around like she's planning stuff in her head," Carter said. "I am like, ‘I haven't left yet.' But they are going to miss me. I know it."

Carter's family and friends attended her signing day celebration, including some relatives who surprised her by making the drive from Ohio.

"It was awesome," Carter said. "My family was there and my close friends. It was a really good time. It was a lot of fun. I will never forget it."

Lhamon had decorated the room in orange-and-white with balloons and Lady Vol banners. The table had photos of Carter that she had taken with Summitt and a basketball that Summitt had signed when Carter was a middle school camper and not even on Tennessee's radar yet. Carter saved the ball and framed an autograph on a piece of paper that she had gotten from Summitt, too.

Davis, who will sign her LOI in a year, sat beside Carter while she inked the document. Buford Coach Gene Durden also was present for the ceremony, as were Carter's parents, Jessica and Gary "Tyke" Lhamon.

"My dad is a man of few words, but he said he was proud of me and he loved me," Carter said. "My mom is the more talkative one. So we talked, the whole I can't believe it's here type deal. It was cool."

"We were very proud of her," Jessica Lhamon said. "We have seen her work ever since she was 9 years old. She told us she was going to play in the Olympics, and she was going to get a scholarship to Tennessee. She would decline invitations to go out with her friends so she could be in the garage doing her ball handling drills."

If Carter wasn't working on her game, she had her head in a textbook.

"She is a straight A-student," Lhamon said. "Seeing her work so hard and making her dream come true and watching her sign those papers the credit goes to her. It is all because of God providing opportunity and her taking advantage. She has earned it. She has worked for it.

"She is so humble, and I wanted to make sure she knows her hard work and her character, this is her, she did this. She can thank everybody for helping but had she not pushed herself she would not be where she's at."

Carter is Lhamon's oldest child so she is holding onto the time she has left with her daughter at home.

"I have noticed, too, that she is home more often than usual," Lhamon said. "We do a lot as a family. I've had the privilege of being able to be at home when my children came home from school. Tyke and I have made decisions that while our kids are at home we didn't go on vacations with just each other. Rather than date night we had family night.

"Now that it has come time for Andraya to go to college and probably not live at home again we are extremely grateful that we did make the decision. Everything we did we did as a family. We are trying to cherish that time, but I think she's ready to be where she is supposed to be, which is clearly at Tennessee."

With Carter's high school season on hiatus for now, she can't help but look ahead to Tennessee.

"I am really eager," Carter said. "I see JMo working with Kamiko and that one-on-one physical therapy that they are doing and not having school for eight hours a day and just getting up there and training and working out with them.

"Obviously, I am not physically ready, but I am emotionally and mentally ready to be there. I am excited. This is my hometown. Obviously I am going to miss my family like crazy but it is just excitement. I will come as soon as I can.

"I talk about it all the time. I talk to Bashaara a lot. I talk to Jasmine, too. We are all just really excited."

INJURY UPDATE: Senior forward Vicki Baugh, who missed Sunday's game at Virginia, a 69-64 loss in overtime, because of tightness in her left hamstring, was back at practice Tuesday.

Junior forward/guard Taber Spani, who took a shot to her left knee in the first half of the game, has been diagnosed with a bone bruise and is on crutches. She was listed as day to day. The coaches hope she will be available for the next game, but her status will be determined as the week goes on.

Spani is the team's leading scorer at 17.7 points per game and is shooting 47.8 percent (11-23) from long range.

The Lady Vols watched film with the coaches Monday and then got back to the practice court Tuesday at Pratt Pavilion.

"We were all down (after the game), but the next day we came in and watched film," senior forward/guard Shekinna Stricklen said after Tuesday's practice. "We were talking in film. We know what we messed up."

The Lady Vols have a week between games with Baylor up next this coming Sunday with tipoff set for 2 p.m. Eastern (ESPN) at Thompson-Boling Arena.

"If you're an athlete and you're a competitor, you find a way to regroup," Assistant Coach Mickie DeMoss said. "You've got to find a way to bounce back. That (Virginia) game is history. We're going to learn from it. We hope we get better from it. But you can't dwell on it."

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