Team Adidas wins summer league title

Alberta Auguste in action for News Sentinel team

Alyssia Brewer led Team Adidas to the championship Friday in the inaugural Women's Pilot Rocky Top League while several of her teammates provided support from the stands, including post players Vicki Baugh and Kelley Cain. Habibi Andre, the coordinator for the summer league, was pleased with the first-time event and pledged to return next year.

The key to the league, of course, in terms of fan and sponsor support is the participation of Tennessee players – Vicki Baugh, Taber Spani and Briana Bass have all expressed interest to Habibi Andre of playing next summer, and newcomers Meighan Simmons and Lauren Avant would be able to play, too, in all likelihood – and the summer league ended without any major mishaps that might have soured Pat Summitt on turning her players loose.

Shekinna Stricklen, who was on the bench for Smith & Hammaker in the title game but unable to play after an awkward tumble minutes into Thursday's game, heard from Summitt later that evening in a phone call to check on her condition.

"She called me last night," Stricklen said Friday. "She was telling me to do what JMo says and get better and get some rest."

JMo is the player's nickname for Jenny Moshak, the team's chief of sports medicine, who examined Stricklen's left knee on Friday and determined it was structurally sound with some swelling but otherwise OK.

Summitt didn't say anything about not wanting the Tennessee players to participate and at that point an exact diagnosis was not known so that bodes well for the league's future.

"She didn't say anything like that," Stricklen said. "She's thoroughly enjoying her time off."

Stricklen also will soon be enjoying some time off this summer. She will head home to Arkansas next week to rest and recuperate.

"(Moshak) told me to stay off it for a little bit, take a break and rest it," Stricklen said. "It was more swollen than I thought. I was pretty certain (last night) that it was OK."

Moshak also gave Stricklen some rehab instructions.

"I'll do some leg raises," Stricklen said.

When told those can be done on a couch, Stricklen laughed and said, "Oh, I will."

Stricklen had to be a spectator Friday as Adidas started the game 10-0 and led all the way for an 82-64 win over Smith & Hammaker, which was led by 12 points from former Lady Vol Courtney McDaniel, who nearly went the distance for the second consecutive night of play.

Alyssia Brewer had 19 points for Adidas, which finished with a league record of 5-2. Smith & Hammaker finished at 3-4 after being without Stricklen for the second game in a row. Brewer hit one 3-pointer in the game and got the bulk of her points in transition from running the floor.

"It's going to help me in the long run so I might as well do it now," Brewer said.

The Lady Vols had heckled each other good-naturedly the previous three weeks during the summer league, but in the title game fellow post players Kelley Cain and Vicki Baugh cheered for Brewer.

"We're like sisters," Brewer said. "We've been through so many rough times this past year. A year ago today was the whole ordeal with Amber. I remember that because it was on my birthday. This year has been really big for us."

Amber Gray suffered a stroke last summer after undergoing shoulder surgery because of an undiagnosed brain aneurysm. She has spent the last year recovering from that trauma and surgery and was able to return to school full-time last January.

Brewer turned 20 years old on Friday, and Glory Johnson delighted the crowd by grabbing the courtside microphone and chasing Brewer around the gym during warmups to sing Happy Birthday to her. Brewer fled into the lobby, and Johnson said she would finish the song later.

After the game Brewer, who played nearly the entire game for the second night in a row, said it would be a quiet birthday evening.

"Just relax and enjoy the night with my friends, watch a movie," Brewer said. "I am kind of tired."

Another player who likely needed some rest was former Lady Vol Alberta Auguste, who traveled from her hometown of Marrero, La., which is near New Orleans, to Knoxville, Tenn., a distance of 612 miles. Auguste left at 5 a.m., rolled into Knoxville about 11 hours later and then took the court at Catholic High School and played the entire second half and all but about two minutes of the first half.

"Hey, that's the power of Tennessee," Auguste said.

Auguste is in town for the 4th of July weekend to visit with friend and former Lady Vol Dominique Redding. Auguste replaced Kamiko Williams on the News Sentinel team – Williams played Thursday and then left to spend time with her family in Clarksville, Tenn. – and combined with Redding for the 84-67 win over Duncan Automotive.

It was the News Sentinel's third win of the league for a 3-4 record. Duncan Automotive also finished 3-4 and was again without Lady Vol Faith Dupree, who suffered a left wrist injury in Tuesday's game but was in attendance and on the bench with her team.

Redding led the News Sentinel with 26 points and four 3-pointers. Auguste added 22 points, despite the long car trip, with two 3-pointers. She also had some nice passes for several assists, hit some putbacks after getting on the boards and put the ball on the floor and got to the rim while playing nearly the entire game.

"Of course, if not, I knew Dom would get on me," Auguste said. "I knew the fans were here to see something so why not show them a little bit."

Auguste, who plays in a men's league back home for fun, now coaches an AAU team of 11U boys called D&R.

"That means determination and resilience," Auguste said. "It's a new program we're starting this year."

Auguste has kept up with the Lady Vols since leaving Tennessee with two national titles in 2007 and 2008 – she played key roles in both championship games – and usually attends the LSU-Tennessee game in Baton Rouge, though she missed the 2010 one because it coincided with the New Orleans Saints' conference championship game against the Minnesota Vikings.

Auguste smiled when asked about being a coach now as she sometimes got sideways with Summitt and her staff, Dean Lockwood, Holly Warlick and Nikki Caldwell, during her time at Tennessee.

"I see why she used to fuss at me a lot," Auguste said, as she tries to steer her own group of young players. "It made me mature a whole lot."

Auguste said she hears herself channeling Summitt during practice and games, even in her men's league, where she'll remind players about help-side defense.

"I learned the game from her, and I am teaching the kids what I learned here at Tennessee," Auguste said. "I learned everything from Pat, Dean and Holly and also Coach Caldwell."

Auguste said her players are aware of her accomplishments at Tennessee because "their parents tell them."

Auguste said she would have enjoyed a women's summer league during her time in Knoxville.

"It brings back memories," Auguste said. "I wished we had it back when we played. It would have been a great opportunity for us."

Glory Johnson, a junior Lady Vol forward, has enjoyed the summer league – she smiled and said it was particularly good for her because she emerged unscathed – and she tallied 16 points in Team Hustle's 65-59 win over DeRoyal to lead Hustle to a 5-2 league record, which matched that of Team Adidas.

"I am just glad I'm healthy," Johnson said with Stricklen sitting nearby with crutches and Dupree behind her wearing a wrist splint. I have a little cold, but that's it. I am happy to be here."

It was precisely that reaction that Habibi Andre, the league's coordinator, had hoped for when she started the groundwork a year ago to form a women's Pilot league to match the one held by the men. Men's coordinator Andre Whitehead also was in attendance Friday – he coached the News Sentinel team as a fill-in and stayed for the other games – and the two have a great working relationship.

"I will definitely get with Andre and make sure our dates don't compete so that way the fans can enjoy going to both and probably not hold it so close to July 4th weekend, try to finish a day early," Habibi Andre said of changes for next season.

Because the NCAA doesn't allow summer league play to begin until June 15, the two leagues overlapped on the first week. Andre said she would make sure the start was staggered next summer. She also doesn't want to hold the title game so close to the July 4th holiday when players are trying to leave and instead would limit the game days to six sessions over three weeks instead of seven.

"I think that's enough, and it keeps the girls available," Andre said. "It's hard because this is summer."

A pleasant surprise for Andre was the high quality of play despite a mishmash of players from three NCAA divisions and a few still in high school.

"The most positive for me was the level of competition with the players," Andre said. "I think the fans were surprised at the level of competition. The Lady Vols, we knew they would play at that level but it's the other players – they were able to hold their own and compete.

"I was a little concerned because I didn't know the level of talent we were going to get. But then I met the players and got input from what type of players they were and watched them play, and there was no issue."

The competition could even improve next summer because Andre anticipates a larger pool of players as word spread about the league.

"That's what the players have been saying," said Andre, who was told by Williams and Stricklen that other players wanted to join next year. "They said people didn't know about it until after we had already put the teams together and would have loved to have played."

Walters State Coach Dave Kragel contacted Andre towards the end of league play and said he had players who would be interested next summer. Also, Tennessee-Chattanooga, which had just one player participate in Kayla Christopher, also would be interested in filling more spots.

"It gets exposure for the women's game out there," Brewer said. "I think this summer was to get the word out for next summer. I am sure a lot of people didn't even know about it. I think we'll get (more people).

"I think people were (skeptical) about is there really going to be anybody playing in it or is it going to be any good. I think now the exposure is out there. It's not just us that are the good players out there. I think it's all around."

Andre said the league would hold a draft next summer with input from the coaches. She intends to stick to six teams of 10 players each but add two alternates to help fill out rosters as players sometimes have school or other obligations and can't make every game.

"I think having alternate players is going to help," said Andre, referring to the reassignment of players this past week to fill out rosters.

For example, Tennessee Tech supplied eight players for the league – and several wowed the crowd with their athleticism and effort – but they missed the entire last week and three games because of final exams.

Tennessee Tech just meets the requirement for player distance. The NCAA says players must come from a school and/or be from an area within a 100-mile radius of the playing site. That is why all former Lady Vols are eligible and so were some area high school players and the Tennessee Tech participants.

Cookeville, Tenn., the home of Tennessee Tech, is 97 miles "door to door," Andre said.

Andre also has approached former Lady Vol Cait McMahan about making cameo appearances next summer. McMahan played Tuesday, and the gym was nearly full.

"She is one that we talked about being a floater for us," Andre said. "She can't commit to playing every game (because of her knees) but once a week would be something (that would work). As long as she's feeling good and able to play we would love to have her."

Andre also wasn't certain when the league started if fans would turn out, but each night drew at least 200 fans.

"I was pleasantly surprised," she said.

That figure is expected to go up next summer with more pre-league media exposure and the presence of additional Lady Vols. Baugh would be a big draw, as would Spani and fan-favorite Bass.

"I am looking forward to seeing some more of the Lady Vols play," Andre said.

It was a whirlwind three weeks for Andre, who ran the summer operation from concessions to scorer's table. She won't get any rest anytime soon, either. Andre leaves Saturday to start a trip to Orlando, Fla., for upcoming AAU Nationals.

Andre also took the time to chat with the players about what they liked about the league and what they wanted changed.

"That's what it's about," Andre said, referring to the players.

"It was fun," Stricklen said. "I like it. I really enjoyed it. I met some new people and made new friends."

"It feels good," Brewer said after finishing the summer as league champs. "It definitely feels good."

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