Tennessee returns one true post who logged minutes in a game last season in sophomore Isabelle Harrison. That means the Lady Vol newcomers will have to contribute, and Nia Moore, a late signee via the state of Illinois – she played high school basketball with current Lady Vol Ariel Massengale – realizes that she and Bashaara Graves, the other true freshman post, will be expected to get prepared to play.
Head coach Holly Warlick said Moore has been willing to work, and that is always the first hurdle for a freshman.
Moore had signed with Illinois in November of 2011 when Jolette Law was the head coach, but Law was out of a job when the 2011-12 season ended, and Warlick hired her last May to be an assistant at Tennessee. Moore, a 6-3 center from Chicago, requested and received her release from Illinois and then signed scholarship papers with the Lady Vols.
She had not even visited the campus – the trip to Knoxville with her mother, Ayanna Moore, came after the paperwork was sent to Tennessee. It was a late and vital pickup for the Lady Vols, who graduated most of their interior players last May. Law, who had recruited Moore extensively, pitched the post to Warlick.
“You’ve got to trust your assistants,” said Warlick, who learned that approach from Pat Summitt. “Jolette thought that she would fit here because of her athleticism and her ability to run and block shots.
“What a great addition. She is highly intelligent, picks up things. She watches and picks it right up. I think she is going to be a little bit of a sleeper for us.”
Nia Moore said the chance to be a part of the tradition built by Summitt factored into her decision, even though she knew she would not play for the iconic coach.
“It was partly coach Law and then it was coach Summitt, the whole Lady Vol legacy,” Moore said. “I just wanted to put on that Lady Vol jersey.”
Summitt is now head coach emeritus and is permitted to attend court workouts. She can interact with the current players and also be involved in recruiting that takes place in Knoxville.
“It’s lovely seeing that,” Moore said. “She is no longer the head coach, but she is still around and still giving us pointers. That helps.”
Warlick has the unenviable task of following a legend who was in place for nearly four decades – though she has the temperament to do so – and Moore feels the responsibility to assist the first-year head coach.
“We have to continue in the footsteps that the others left for us,” Moore said. “We have to help coach Holly out and show others that she, too, can lead us to winning.”
Moore has been in court workouts with the other post players, so she has firsthand experience with the enthusiasm of Assistant Coach Dean Lockwood.
“I would have to say he has a lot of energy,” Moore said. “He is motivating, always telling us to get down in a stance. Coach Dean, I love him, good coach.”
The Lady Vols held their first full team workout Monday, so the coaching staff finally got a chance to see all 11 players on the court at one time.
“I thought the individual workouts were very good,” Warlick said Monday at Pratt Pavilion. “But this was the first time they’ve been together with instruction. I see 11 people and they’re athletic and strong.”
The coaches are limited to two hours a week right now, so the session was short – with another hour scheduled for Friday – but productive.
“We worked a lot on our transition today,” Warlick said. “For what little we did today, we got down the floor and to the right spots.”
Although there are five newcomers on the team – four true freshmen and a sophomore juco transfer – the players have become pretty tight-knit already.
“We are a family on and off the court,” Moore said.
How did that occur so quickly?
“We just clicked,” Moore said. “Basically, this is your family. You see them every day. You get used to each other.”
Warlick has observed another trait about her first team – albeit, it’s early and a two- to three-hour practice hasn’t been held yet – in that the players haven’t shirked their responsibility to work.
“I always say if you’re a coach you don’t want to coach effort,” Warlick said. “And it wasn’t even close today to coach effort, and they were talking to each other.
“At one point, we did something wrong. I didn’t even say a word. The upperclassmen were going, ‘You need to go here, and you’ve got to go here.’ We are vocal, so we are happy right now, but we haven’t got into the meat of practice.”
Moore wasn’t able to enroll over the summer and didn’t arrive until August. Despite that, she got to know her teammates, and, most importantly from the coaches’ point of view, she adjusted to the conditioning sessions with Heather Mason, even Gate 10, a physically crushing workout on a steep incline at Neyland Stadium.
“We got through that,” Moore said. “It was early in the morning, and the sun came out and started getting in our eyes, but we stayed focused, because we knew we had to get through it. Otherwise, we would have to come back.”
Accountability has been a primary theme with Mason this preseason and if one player fails to finish within the allowed time, the entire team starts over. That motivated Moore to make sure she completed the grueling session.
“I hung in there,” Moore said. “I didn’t want to upset my team and have to make everybody come back to redo it. I didn’t want to be that person, ‘Oh, we’ve got to come back. Nia didn’t make her times.’ I don’t want to be that person.”
Warlick acknowledged that Moore not arriving until August was a concern because of conditioning, but the freshman has responded well to the workouts with Mason.
“I worried about her getting behind in conditioning and not being around our players (in the summer), but Nia, she’s quiet, but you get her on the floor, and she’s a whole different person,” Warlick said.
“I was a little concerned about her not being able to come to summer school, but she doesn’t appear to have missed a beat. And we need her. She is going to get better as we play and she matures on the court. I think Nia is going to be a great defender for us.”
Moore is a lean post, and she smiled when asked if a running style suited her game.
“I am used to running up and down the court,” Moore said. “I like that.”
The coaching staff will need a lot of court time with the players to get ready for the season, but the initial gathering Monday underscored that the decision to become a running team was the correct one.
“I think this is the perfect team to be an up-and-down, pressing, transition team,” Warlick said.
Warlick also added that the coaches will be willing to reevaluate if that style means the ball is squirting free too often – in other words, playing too fast – but a guard-heavy team should be able to take care of it.
“If we’re turning the ball over then we’re going to have to pull the reins back,” Warlick said. “And I am anxious to see how they are going to play on defense. Defense and rebounding are huge for us.
“We are doing rebounding stuff every (session), and that’s been one of my staples.”
Warlick also expects to use her entire roster this season. If the Lady Vols do indeed run, the scorer’s table should be busy with substitutes.
“If I am preaching we are going to play up and down and be aggressive on defense, I am going to need everybody,” Warlick said. “I am going to need all 11, and all 11 truly, truly can play. They all bring something a little bit different.
“We are going to play a lot of people, and it’s up to us to try to figure out the rotation and what we’re going to do with it.”
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