Monday, September 26, 2005

Summitt joins SafeHarbor's cause

Area residents have been hard at work laying the groundwork for the SafeHarbor Child Advocacy Center. And this week, their hard work as recognized when Lady Vols basketball coach Pat Summitt has agreed to serve as spokeswoman.

The child advocacy center would assist children who are victims of suspected sexual or physical abuse and severe neglect. It would serve children in Sevier, Jefferson, Cocke and Grainger counties.

Summitt has volunteered to record public service announcements encouraging support of the center. She will also serve as keynote speaker at a fund-raising event to be held in the spring, Koester said.

With Summitt's help, the center may get the help it needs to get up and running. Thanks coach.

Friday, September 23, 2005

Lady Vols work to get back their shooting touch

Shanna Zolman didn't make a suggestion. Tennessee's senior guard didn't utter a single word.

She and fellow Lady Vol Sa'de Wiley-Gatewood were headed down to Thompson-Boling Arena earlier this month to get in some extra shooting

And several of their women's basketball teammates followed.

"I was so excited,'' Zolman said. "I've never had that. You didn't even have to say anything.''

Maybe the message has been received. If so, it's about time.

Tennessee's field-goal percentage has been dropping for two seasons. It plunged to the depths last season, bottoming out at a program-worst 41.6 percent.

The Lady Vols would've needed weeks of sizzling shooting just to reach the previous low mark of 44 percent in 1992-93.

Oddly enough, they would've needed just 50 more playing minutes of decent accuracy last season to possibly win a national championship.

They were so far off the mark and yet they were so close to the ultimate bull's-eye.

The lasting memory of the Lady Vols blowing a 16-point, second-half lead and losing a national semifinal game to Michigan State was them missing 11 of 12 shots during a crucial second-half stretch. One or two baskets might have staved off Michigan State's comeback.

One or two baskets, think about it. Better yet, do something about it.

UT assistant coach Dean Lockwood said that the coaches divvied up game video and spent the offseason reviewing virtually every shot taken last season.

Their conclusion was shot selection wasn't as big of a problem as execution.

Therefore, there's been no overhaul of the offense. For the first time in four seasons, UT essentially will start a season with the same offensive framework as the previous season.

Standing pat should help. The Lady Vols spent much of last season cobbling together an offensive plan B after the original strategy proved to be confusing.

"I was so worried doing this thing right, doing that thing right,'' guard Alexis Hornbuckle said. "I didn't get any (shooting) confidence going.''

A shooter's performance is built on repetition and self-assurance. A workable balance between effort and mindset is achieved only with time and great care -- until it's virtually instinctive.

"Shooting is mental'' Zolman said. "If you think about your shot, it's not going in. If you think about the mechanics of it, it's not going in. It's too robotic.''

Presumably, the players devoted a suitable portion of their summer to this crucial work. They entered the preseason with a nod of approval from their most demanding critic.

"I will say this,'' UT coach Pat Summitt said, "I think this group is very committed to their game and to this team.''

During a shooting drill in Thursday's basketball workout, Hornbuckle nailed 10 of 10 from about 16 feet on the right wing. On her best day last season, she couldn't have achieved such accuracy.

Obviously, she's put in some work.

Hornbuckle then moved about five feet to her left and reloaded. The same shooting sequence produced just one basket.

Obviously, she's a work in progress.

Hornbuckle and the Lady Vols still have time and repetitions to burn. They need to make the most of it.

Summitt is staying true to her word and devoting large portions of the preseason workouts to shooting.

Some of the work has been exacting. Assistant coaches Holly Warlick and Nikki Caldwell stopped a visibly frustrated Candace Parker in the middle of a drill last week and worked with her on her guiding hand, which was adversely affecting her jumper. Moments later, she was back on target.

Lockwood was creative on Thursday, fishing a small rubber ball out of a box at his home and putting it in the hands of the post players. The idea was to enhance their aggressiveness to the rim.

The drill developed a macho-like throw-down quality. Senior Tye'sha Fluker, who needs to be more forceful and more accurate, actually dunked the ball once. The gym erupted.

Nice shot.

No wonder everyone was so excited.

Training Room Update: The Lady Vols already are having to limit Wiley-Gatewood, who had offseason surgery on her left knee for patella tendinitis. She sat out both basketball workouts this week in order to do the conditioning workouts.

"She can't take both right now,'' athletic trainer Jenny Moshak said. "We have to back her off.''

Notebook: Former Lady Vol Shalon Pillow has been named director of basketball operations at South Florida. ... Middle Tennessee State will play at UT in November of 2006.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

WNBA title is special for Lawson

Former Lady Vol's voice mail filled up by calls from friends

Kara Lawson could learn to like sleep deprivation.

"I'm not one to stay up late at all,'' the former Tennessee women's basketball guard said.

That was before she won a WNBA championship as a member of the Sacramento Monarchs. She played a key role in the team's title march, which concluded with Tuesday night's 62-59 victory over the Connecticut Sun.

The joyous celebration for Lawson and her teammates was spilling into a second day on Thursday morning. The Monarchs were making the rounds of the local morning television shows in Sacramento.

"We haven't really slept,'' Lawson said. "It hasn't sunk in.''

Lawson has started the process by reviewing the video of her performance in the postgame celebration. Again, she was a key player, dancing on the scorer's table and slapping hands with courtside fans.

In a phone message, a friend of Lawson's described her as a "raving idiot.''

"It was the first time for a lot of us,'' Lawson said. "We didn't care how we looked.''

Lawson's voice mail is serving as a generous source of perspective. She's received messages from every Tennessee coach (Pat Summitt and assistants) she played for and, by her estimation, at least half of her former UT teammates.

"Maybe more,'' she said, "I didn't count.''

Lawson recognized ex-Lady Vol Shyra Ely's voice only by her message ID.

"Ely didn't say a word,'' Lawson said. "She just screamed all the time.''

Everyone from former UT team managers to former roommates have crowded into her cell phone.

"It means a lot,'' Lawson said. "A lot of them said they feel like they won, too. They're very happy for me.

"So much of who I am as a person and a player is because of what happened when I was in college.''

Or what didn't happen. Despite playing in two national championship games, Lawson never won a title at UT.

She left Tennessee with a great appreciation for the difficulty of the quest. As if she needed any reinforcement, this season has deepened her appreciation. It began with a sprained ankle that cost her seven games and required nearly two months of rehabilitation. The season nearly ended prematurely with a shoulder injury right before the playoffs.

"I think you envision everything going right and you having your best year,'' Lawson said of a championship season, "or at least a good year.''

But that's just how it ended for her as well as the team. The third-year player set playoff game career highs for minutes (35), points (18), field goals made (six), field goals attempted (13), 3-pointers made (four) and free throws made (six).

"I have a championship,'' Lawson said. "I was part of something special.''

Thursday, September 01, 2005

Fever F Catchings named WNBA Defensive Player of the Year

Indiana Fever forward Tamika Catchings, who led the WNBA in steals this season, was named Defensive Player of the Year on Thursday.

Catchings received 35 votes from a national panel of 50 writers and broadcasters. She easily outdistanced three-time winner Sheryl Swoopes of the Houston Comets, who received seven votes.

Lisa Leslie of the Los Angeles Sparks, who won last year's award, was third with three votes.

Catchings' average of 2.65 steals per game was more than one-half steal better than Swoopes (2.00 spg). Catchings, 26, tallied five or more steals in 13 of 34 games, including a league-high eight in a July 17 game against Connecticut.

The 6-1 Catchings also ranked third in the league in defensive rebounds (5.7 per game) and helped the Fever hold opponents to 62.7 points, the second-fewest points allowed in the league.

Yolanda Griffith of the Sacramento Monarchs, the 1999 winner of the award, and Katie Douglas of the Connecticut Sun received two votes apiece. Douglas' teammate Margo Dydek got one vote.