Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Signees major factors

The Tennessee women's basketball program recently added two perimeter players to its 2006-07 recruiting class, but there was a counterpoint to Pat Summitt's decision to ink two junior college players.

At nearly the same time paperwork for Shannon Bobbitt and Alberta Auguste was arriving on Summitt's desk, the veteran coach was officially bidding farewell to two current players -- sophomore Sybil Dosty and freshman Lindsey Moss.

So much for the effort to shore up depth in a program that last season sorely needed it in the NCAA Tournament.

While the departure of Moss and Dosty may make Sa'de Wiley-Gatewood's decision to leave the program in December look like the start of a negative trend, it's actually coincidental.

Wiley-Gatewood was unhappy with the program and her role in it. Dosty and Moss simply saw the handwriting on the wall when Summitt decided to break with tradition and use the late signing period to bring junior college players on board.

As a freshman, Moss didn't get much playing time and the addition of Bobbitt and Auguste to a signing class that already includes Heritage point guard Cait McMahan and guard/forward Nicci Moats will make competition fierce for minutes on the perimeter, especially with starters Alexis Hornbuckle and Sidney Spencer returning.

Dosty's playing time was also scant, and the 6-foot-3 center's skills didn't show noticeable improvement this season, so it seems unlikely she would have increased her chances for minutes when Candace Parker is no longer needed on the perimeter next season.

Whether Bobbitt and Auguste will have an immediate impact remains to be seen. Both were junior college All-Americans, but Summitt has not had a JUCO player in the program in 29 years. The assimilation will have to be quick and the learning curve short. Adjustment for some high school players takes longer than these two have in remaining eligibility. So Summitt is taking something of a chance but one that apparently seemed necessary given the improved level of national competition this past season.

Another factor is that it's been nearly a decade since the Lady Vols won an NCAA championship. For a program and a coach who are defined by that measure, the signing of Bobbitt and Auguste indicates Summitt believes breaking with precedent may be necessary to return to that level. A corollary reduction in bench strength was undoubtedly unforeseen.

Bobbitt, the national junior college Player of the Year at point guard, and Auguste, a 5-11 wing who averaged 23 points per game at Central Florida Community College, were supposed to be insurance for Tennessee. With the loss of Dosty and Moss and the predilection to injury of players these days, they now will be major factors in how well the Lady Vols do next season.

Saturday, April 22, 2006

Two Lady Vols will transfer

Tennessee Head Coach Pat Summitt announced Friday that center Sybil Dosty and guard Lindsey Moss will leave the program.

Dosty is a sophomore who played in 35 of 36 games in the 2005-2006 season. She averaged 10.3 minutes, 2.9 points, and 2.9 rebounds per game. Dosty led the Lady Vols in field goal percentage with 61.5 percent.

Moss just finished her freshman season. She spent much of the year nursing a broken nose. Moss played in 28 games averaging 2 points per game.

Tennessee coach Pat Summitt said in a statement, "We wish them success in all of their future endeavors."

Neither player has announced where they intend to transfer.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Summitt Has Successful Shoulder Surgery

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. - Tennessee coach Pat Summitt had arthroscopic surgery on her right shoulder Monday, school officials said.

The 31-year coaching veteran, who is Division I's winningest coach with a record of 913-177, had the procedure to clean up adhesive capsulitis, or frozen shoulder.

"Coach Summitt had surgery this morning to help regain full range of motion in both of her shoulders," head trainer Jenny Moshak said in a statement. "Dr. (Edwin) Spencer used arthroscopic surgery on the right shoulder only, but relieved adhesive capsulitis on the left shoulder as well."

Summitt will be limited for the next two months during recovery and rehabilitation.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

WNBA Draft: Two from UT among top 16 picks

KNOXVILLE - Tennessee seniors Tye'sha Fluker and Shanna Zolman were among the 42 players picked in the WNBA draft on Wednesday.

Fluker, a center, was selected by the Charlotte Sting as the 10th pick overall, becoming the 11th Lady Vol to be chosen in the first round.

The San Antonio Silver Stars made Zolman, a guard, the second pick of the second round, 16th overall.
Since the WNBA began play in 1997, 22 Lady Vols have played in the league.

LSU's Seimone Augustus was the first pick overall by the Minnesota Lynx at the draft held in Boston, a day after the women's college national championship game.

"I am totally excited to play for Muggsy (Bogues) at Charlotte. I appreciate the Sting organization thinking that I'm the best post player in my senior class," Fluker said in a statement.

"It is bittersweet that this time in my life has come, but I think it's time to move on. I am so thankful to coach (Pat) Summitt and the University of Tennessee for allowing me the opportunity to play, grow, learn and mature over the past four years."

The Lady Vols ended their season with a loss to North Carolina in the regional final.

Fluker and Zolman went to three Final Fours and won two Southeastern Conference tournament titles.

Zolman leaves Tennessee as the school's best 3-point shooter with records for single-game (7), single-season (103) and career (266).

She also holds the NCAA records in free throw percentage at 91.6 for her career and 95.7 for a single season in 2003-04.

"I'm anxious to start a new phase in my career and go on to the next level. I'm particularly excited about San Antonio because (former Lady Vol) Shyra (Ely) will be there," Zolman said.

"Playing under Pat Summitt and all of our assistant coaches has made me a better player. All Lady Vols are greatly coached. ... I am eagerly anticipating going and starting this new part of my life, and I hope to be an impact player right off the bat."

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Zolman looks to make most of her shot at WNBA career

BOSTON -- From rural baskets that baby-sat burgeoning stars like Larry Bird and Steve Alford, to city rims that watched over Oscar Robertson and Glenn Robinson, basketball has long reigned supreme in Indiana.

It's a place where kids really do fire off jump shots at baskets moored on barns until long past dusk on dusty dirt courts, and a place where whole towns still shut down on weekend nights to fill gyms like the one used in "Hoosiers" as the home of the fictional Hickory High School.

Shanna Zolman, a sweet-shooting guard from tiny Syracuse, Ind. (a Hickory-esque town with just more than 3,000 residents), lived the myth, earning Miss Basketball honors in high school before moving on to an illustrious career at the University of Tennessee. Unquestionably, she fits snugly into the stereotype of Hoosiers bred from birth to shoot the ball.

In fact, as Zolman embarks on her professional career after the San Antonio Silver Stars made her the second pick of the second round (16th overall selection) in Wednesday's draft, she fits all of the familiar assumptions a little too well for her own liking.

"The thing that shooters are associated with -- and I remember J.J. Redick saying this as well -- shooters are known for shooting the ball and only shooting the ball," Zolman said after Monday's WNBA predraft camp at Emmanuel College in Boston. "So you don't ever get credit for passing, you don't ever get credit for defensive work at all. It's more like we're out there to shoot the ball and that's it. As much as that is the biggest part of my game, that's not even what I work and concentrate the most on."

Zolman spoke at the end of a grueling day for WNBA hopefuls, as coaches and general managers looked on while players, beginning at 7:30 a.m. and not finishing until nearly 10 p.m., went through a variety of drills and scrimmages. For Zolman, it was a final opportunity to show that's she more than a walking, talking jump shot and is capable of playing a significant role at the next level.

It's something she has been working on since her first days in Knoxville and will have to continue working on as she heads to a team already loaded with guards such as Shannon Johnson, Marie Ferdinand and Dalma Ivanyi.

"Both defense and just ability to play off the dribble better," Zolman said of the areas where her game progressed the most at Tennessee. "Coming in, I was solely a spot-up shooter, and I've just constantly been working on different things on the floor -- trying to create my own shot, trying to create for others and go off the dribble more, as opposed to just solely spotting up from outside."

Of course, had it not been for starting point guard Sa'de Wiley-Gatewood's midseason transfer and a subsequent injury to replacement Alexis Hornbuckle, all of that work might have gone largely unnoticed. But asked to play point guard during the heat of SEC play, Zolman made the most of her opportunity. After a rocky start in a game against Georgia, she provided a steady hand and leadership as the depleted Lady Vols surprised many by winning the SEC tournament.

"I think it helped tremendously, simply because you never would have been able to see the ball-handling skills and leadership skills displayed on that level, if I hadn't been forced into the point guard position," Zolman said of her position switch. "Being a two-guard, you're looking at creating shots for yourself, and also for others. But being at the point guard position, it opens your eyes to see the floor a lot better and pass a lot better. It's getting your team into the offense, leading, and knowing where the ball needs to go in game situations."

Nobody, including Zolman herself, expects she'll earn a living at the next level as a full-time point guard, but she sounded slightly defiant talking about what the experience this season meant to her.

"I think that has helped tremendously," she said. "Whether or not they see that, I feel like I've become more of a complete player."

Of course, there is that jumper that caught everyone's attention in the first place.

Zolman hit a Tennessee career-record 269 3-pointers during her four years in Knoxville, including a school single-season record 103 on 43 percent shooting from behind the arc as a senior. All of the shots were the product of a shooting stroke that could turn her college highlights into an instructional video. And as much credit as Pat Summitt deserves for Zolman's maturation on the court, she came with one skill already well developed.

"My dad," Zolman said, her eyes lighting up, as she talked about the person most responsible for her stroke. "He's always been a coach, and he's always been the one that has helped me out the most, as far as being in the gym. Helping me with the fundamentals of it, and all aspects of the game, but especially my shot.

"And he's never forced me, never forced me to get in the gym and work, never forced me to do anything I didn't want to do. But he was always there to help, always there to rebound. He was always there to help improve my shot. He's definitely someone who is solely responsible for the foundation of my shot."

It's a foundation that has Zolman on the verge of a pro career that she has dreamed about for a decade, something no previous group of women's players has ever been able to say. As the WNBA enters its 10th season, players like Zolman are proof that the league is having an impact on young players.

"I follow the opportunity, I guess, if that makes sense," she said about the league that launched when she was just 12 years old. "I don't necessarily watch it a lot, but ever since probably late middle school years, I started thinking about that, because it's an opportunity women have to play professionally beyond your collegiate years and not have to go overseas to do it.

"A lot of us, we have a lot of talent, and being able to get paid for something, like the men are able to do, that you love to do, it's a complete blessing."

Critics will say Zolman is a step too slow on defense, or a shooting guard in a point guard's body at the WNBA level. She's heard it all before, just like so many great shooters before her.

All that matters to her now, after all those hours in the gym with her dad and all those years learning from Summitt, is that someone is giving her a shot.

And nobody knocks down a shot quite like Shanna Zolman.

Alumnus gives $5 million for practice facility

KNOXVILLE — The basketball practice facility at Tennessee that both Bruce Pearl and Pat Summitt have been pushing for is about to become a reality.

A recent $5 million commitment from alumnus Larry F. Pratt means that Tennessee officials anticipate the project being fully funded by the time ground is broken in August.

Tennessee Athletics Director Mike Hamilton has said the project will cost around $15 million.

Pending formal approval by the UT Board of Trustees in June, the new building will be called "Pratt Basketball Practice Pavilion."

Pratt Pavilion will house two full-size gymnasiums, one for each of the men's and women's teams, as well as space for an athletic training room, a weight room and film study room.

Pratt, an Athens native, graduated in 1972 from UT in the college of business. He now lives in McLean, Va., and serves as president and CEO of First Savings Mortgage Corp., the largest private mortgage banker in Washington D.C.

"I have a longtime appreciation for the standard of excellence Pat Summitt has established for Tennessee, and I have confidence that Bruce Pearl is the right coach to lead the men's program to the same level," Pratt said. "We've got to make sure that they have all the tools they need to recruit the best possible student-athletes and develop their skills to a championship level."

Hamilton and other UT officials have visited practice facilities around the country, including those at Texas, Oklahoma and Florida, during the design and planning stages of Pratt Pavilion.

"Larry has been a great friend to Tennessee, and we are grateful that he is stepping forward at an important time to make this facility a reality," Hamilton said. "Pratt Pavilion will make a difference in player development and recruiting as well as give us the opportunity to have more concerts and special events in Thompson-Boling Arena."

Sunday, April 02, 2006

UT's Parker named to Kodak team

Candace Parker joined Tennessee's wall of fame Saturday, becoming the 19th Lady Vol to be named to the Kodak All-America team.

Tennessee's redshirt freshman forward already had an appreciation for the honor. It's been a part of her daily routine during women's basketball season.

"Every time I walk into our locker room at the arena, I pass by all of the Kodak All-America posters - players like Holly Warlick, Cindy Brogdon, Bridgette Gordon and the Three Meeks,'' Parker said. "It will be a tremendous honor for me to join such a prestigious group of Lady Vols."

Parker's joined two of the Meeks, Chamique Holdsclaw and Tamika Catchings, in making the 10-player team as a freshman. The only other rookie honoree this season was Oklahoma center Courtney Paris.

"I think any time a freshman makes the Kodak team, it's very significant,'' UT coach Pat Summitt said. "With all the great players out there, many of them are upperclassmen.

"If you're a freshman and you make it, it doesn't happen that often.''

In a prepared statement, Summitt said that Parker, "has demonstrated this entire season that she may be the best player in the women's collegiate game."

The honor was part of big weekend in Boston for the 6-foot-5 Parker. She was added to the USA senior national team roster and began practicing with the team in preparation for the Opals World Challenge, April 7-12 in Australia.