Sunday, September 30, 2007

Tall tale continues for Cain with Lady Vols

Mother plus daughter equals a granddaughter with a real passion for math.

Kelley Cain is the product of basic addition. Or is the generational equation more complicated than that?

"I told my mom many, many years ago, she brainwashed me into believing I loved mathematics'' said Cain's mother, Lynda. "I guess, in turn, Kelley has been brainwashed."

No joking, the affection appears genuine in Kelley, a University of Tennessee women's basketball freshman who wasted no time in wrestling with college calculus.

"I have to study; I guess it's something I like to study,'' she said. "It's just repetition. Most likely I know I'm not going to get it the first time. But if I keep practicing it, I know I'll get it, like basketball."

Fitting that she should connect these two pursuits. The math on Cain the basketball player adds up to 2,017 points, 1,420 rebounds and a role in three state championships at St. Pius X High School in Atlanta. Furthermore, she's grown to a stunning 6-foot-6, tying Vonda Ward as the tallest player in Lady Vols history.

UT coach Pat Summitt has considered the human skyline Cain is joining at Tennessee. Teammate Candace Parker stands 6-5. Nicky Anosike and Vicki Baugh are 6-4. Amid all these high-rise Lady Vols, Cain still stands out.

"For her to look as physically imposing here ... you notice her right off,'' Summitt said. "She has a tremendous presence in the post."

Cain has grown accustomed to an unobstructed view and enjoys it. She'll see your tall joke, and raise you a couple of shortie quips.

She casually mentioned in a conversation that her twin older brothers, Douglas and James, are 5-11 at best. There's a family photo in the Cain household that captures the siblings at the same size. Kelley was 7 years old. Since then she's left her brothers to field such questions as "Are you sure that's your little sister?"

"They think it's cool now,'' she said.

Imagine how cool it was for Cain on her recruiting visit to Duke, when 6-7 Alison Bales of the Blue Devils clued her in on a Web site featuring shoes for someone who wears a size 15. Cain can slip into a pair of three-inch heels and become 6-9.

"Don't ask me why they'd make a shoe that size with three-inch heels,'' she said. "I don't know why."

Maybe it's better not to ask. Just value your good fortune, like that day in the third grade when she sat down at a desk at school that actually fit her.

"Maybe they adjusted it or something,'' Cain said. "but I remember being happy."

Summitt remembers being in the third grade, too. And being tall. And being skinny. And being called "bonehead."

"I was the tallest girl in school and it bothered me,'' Summitt said. "I was self-conscious about it until I got to college.''

All experiences considered, Cain's comfort and self-assurance shouldn't be taken for granted. Lynda thinks her daughter benefitted from watching her 6-6 1/2 father, Harold, and noticing the attention the former football player at Clemson received in public.

Harold played a big role in Cain's basketball growth, educating Lynda, who admits to not having an athletic bone in her body, in the time investment required.

Stephanie Dunn, Cain's coach at St. Pius X, has her own theory.

"I think only a mother can make you OK with that,'' Dunn said of Cain's height.

Dunn might be right because it definitely wasn't OK for Cain to slouch. Lynda, who works for IBM, made that abundantly clear, to the point of Kelley awarding the mandate pet-peeve status.

"She had a thing about hunching over,'' Kelley said. " 'I don't want you to have a humpback before a certain age.' She always told me to sit up straight, stand tall and be proud."

Cain is reminded of her mother's influence in many ways. Whenever she notices someone else's grammar, Cain recalls mom stressing that she and her brothers speak correctly.

Mom was equally unwavering about homework. After Cain suffered a cracked right kneecap on a Friday night during her sophomore year at St. Pius X, she came to school on Monday with all of her assignments finished. So her knee was hurt. Cain figured her mom was thinking: There's nothing wrong with your hands or your brain.

Mom also took her children with her regularly to a homeless shelter to serve meals and interact with the patrons as part of their church's community outreach.

"Some of them were college graduates,'' Lynda said. "They'd run into some hard times.

"I think that impressed upon my kids that it could happen to anyone."

Cain said the experience afforded her a greater appreciation for everything she has. Like working an equation, you might not get it the first time, but it all adds up.

Sit down for awhile with someone less fortunate. Then stand up - very tall and proud.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Summitt says Auriemma knew reasons

UConn coach was told in May why UT canceled series

The Tennessee-Connecticut women's basketball series might be over, but the rivalry between UConn coach Geno Auriemma and UT's Pat Summitt isn't.

Auriemma offered his first published comments about Tennessee's decision to end the regular-season series between the two schools Monday in a copyrighted story in the Hartford Courant. He indicated there were a lot of unanswered questions surrounding Summitt's reasons for the decision.

Summitt fired back later Monday, offering her most telling comments since it became known in June that the series was ending after a 13-season run. Summitt said that she and Auriemma had a telephone conversation in May and that she made her reasons for cancelling the series clear to him.

"Clearly Geno knows why I canceled the series,'' said Summitt, who said that she spoke with Auriemma in late May, shortly before attending the SEC spring meetings in Sandestin, Fla. "I made it very clear to him in a phone conversation. I wanted to make sure I had a conversation with Geno and explained very specifically why I canceled the series.

"I chose to tell Geno because I felt it was something I needed to tell him, not to share it with the rest of the world."

Summitt did not offer any further specifics regarding her reasons. The decision is believed to revolve around the recruitment of highly regarded prospect Maya Moore, who signed with the Huskies and is beginning her freshman year at the school. The frosty relationship between the two coaches also was thought to be a factor.

Summitt said that the Lady Vols made no allegations surrounding former UConn stars Diana Taurasi and Sue Bird offering Moore, then a high school junior in suburban Atlanta, a ride to the 2006 Naismith Award presentation in Atlanta. This originally was reported in the Courant. A source told the newspaper that Connecticut had to produce documents proving Taurasi's and Bird's whereabouts in April, 2006. Both players were overseas, playing for a Russian team in the European championships.

Summitt said her first knowledge of the allegation was when the Courant story was reprinted in the July 7 edition of the News Sentinel.

"I didn't know what they were talking about,'' Summitt said. "I knew nothing about that until I read it in the Sentinel. That had nothing to do with my decision."

Tennessee versus Connecticut began as a No. 1 vs. No. 2 matchup on July 16, 1995. The teams' last meeting was Tennessee's 70-64 victory in Hartford on Jan. 6.

Last spring, the Women's Basketball Coaches Association voted the game the greatest women's basketball rivalry.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

President Bush lauds Lady Vols' history of championship success

WASHINGTON - It's not every day that the Marine Corps band strikes up a lively rendition of "Rocky Top" on the White House lawn.

Then again, it's not every day that the Lady Vols are in town.

President Bush welcomed coach Pat Summitt and the Tennessee women's basketball team to the White House on Friday and congratulated them on their national championship victory last spring.

"This team is upholding a long-time tradition for Tennessee women's basketball," Bush said during a ceremony on the South Lawn.

The president called Summitt a "soon-to-be, if not already, Hall of Fame coach" and noted that the 2007 championship is the Lady Vols' seventh national title under her leadership. Summitt already has been inducted to both the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame in Knoxville and the Naismith Hall of Fame in Springfield, Mass.

The Lady Vols were one of eight championship teams from across the country that were honored.

"It is really a lot of fun to be with people who set high standards and work hard to achieve goals, which you've done," Bush said. "You've come from different schools, different sports, but you deserve to be called champion."

Before the official ceremony, Coach Summitt and the entire team met privately with the president inside the White House. Players posed for a team photo with the president and presented him with a couple of gifts.

Dominique Redding, a senior forward who has since graduated, gave him a basketball signed by the coaches and members of the championship team. Another graduated senior, Sidney Spencer, presented Bush with two navy blue jackets - one for him and another for First Lady Laura Bush.

"He was really a nice guy, just laid-back, just a genuine person," Spencer said. "He actually dribbled the ball. He kind of bounced it."

And about those jackets? "He said it does get cold in the White House," Spencer said.

The event marked the seventh time in two decades that the Lady Vols have been invited to the White House.

Earlier Friday, the team was honored during a luncheon at the Library of Congress.

"It's really an honor to be able to a cap off the season with a visit" to Washington, Spencer said.

Notebook: Redding said that she is preparing to head overseas and play professionally in Portugal.

U.S. women’s basketball in transition period heading into Olympic qualifier

NEW YORK — It’s a new era for U.S. women’s basketball, with veteran mainstays Teresa Edwards, Yolanda Griffith and Dawn Staley all gone.

The U.S. will be looking for new leaders while they try to qualify for the 2008 Olympics by winning the FIBA Americas tournament Sept. 26-30.

Because of a loss in the 2006 World Championships, the United States found itself in an unfamiliar position, having to qualify for the Olympics for the first time since the 1980 Moscow Games, which were boycotted.

“There is clearly a changing of the guard going on with the departure of Teresa, Dawn and Sheryl (Swoopes),” USA basketball president Val Ackerman said. “It’s all part of the process. We think we have some terrific young players coming into the mix. Some of the players from 2004 who were new to the Olympics are becoming leaders: Sue Bird, Diana Taurasi, Tamika Catchings, DeLisha Milton-Jones, Tina Thompson.”

The dominance of the U.S. women’s teams over the last decade with three Olympic gold medals and two World Championships to their credit can easily be attributed to the long-term dedication of veteran players such as Lisa Leslie, Staley, Edwards and Thompson.

“The positive things in the past we’ve had so many veteran players who have stayed on and played,” said Tennessee coach Pat Summitt, who led the U.S. team to the gold in 1984. “It’s been a tremendous commitment on their behalf. We have some very talented, but young players that are going to have to step up and grow up in a hurry.”

Thompson was the only player at the last World Championships who had started before in a major international competition. Bird, Catchings and Taurasi were all on the 2004 Olympic team, but were primarily role players.

The inexperience showed in the 75-68 loss to Russia in the World Championships semifinals.

“We had a younger team in Brazil than in previous years,” Bird said recently at training camp. “Maybe it was our time to have a learning experience. I would have rather had a gold medal with the learning experience, but I know that we will be very focused and sharp from now on.”

Bird and the other guards still benefit from Staley’s knowledge. She has stayed involved with the program as an assistant coach and has been able to provide a unique perspective to the guards not only as a coach, but as someone who has won three gold medals as a player.

“She’s been invaluable to us,” Kara Lawson said. “She can tell you what you’re doing wrong as a coach, but also as someone who has played the position.”

Edwards was around training camp to impart her wisdom on the new players, but playing a game of horse against Staley was as close as she got to the court. Don’t bother asking Staley who won.

“I think with the loss of so many veterans, it concerns USA basketball,” said Summitt, a member of the selection committee.

One veteran who is still playing is Leslie. She won’t be at the FIBA Americas tournament as she is still getting into shape after giving birth to a daughter in June. She has been working hard and hopes to join the team for an eight-game college tour beginning Oct. 31.

“She hasn’t passed the torch on yet,” U.S. coach Anne Donovan said. “We look forward to her rejoining the program and being back because she is one of our players. Having a player on the floor that has done what she has done is really important.”

While the team may be in a state of flux, the future definitely looks bright. The United States went 22-0 this summer in international tournaments, capturing the Pan American Games, the Under-19 World Championships and the Under-21 World title.

College stars Candace Parker, Candice Wiggins and Courtney Paris are headed to Chile for the qualifying tournament. LSU senior Sylvia Fowles participated in the first part of training camp and looked dominant in the post.

“It’s an exciting time,” USA Basketball executive Renee Brown said. “I can remember in 1995-96 when we had Teresa Edwards and Katrina McClain, they passed the torch to Lisa, Dawn and Sheryl. The beauty of USA basketball is all these girls have grown up wanting to play for the USA team.”

Parker and Wiggins were in elementary school when they had their first taste of U.S. women’s basketball, watching the team play in 1996. Wiggins even got to serve as a ball girl when the team came to her hometown.

“We talked about it a lot, us being 10, 11 years old,” Parker said. “The team coming around on its tour with Sheryl and Dawn. Now it’s really exciting to be here and a part of it.”

The college players have already left a lasting impression. Wiggins scored 18 points in the first exhibition game against Australia. Parker scored 13 of her 23 points in a key spurt Wednesday night to help the U.S. hold off the Aussies in an exhibition rematch.

"Those young ones are the future,” Staley said. “They have a chance down the road to carry the torch the same way that Lisa, Teresa and I did.”

If somehow the U.S. doesn’t win the tournament in Chile, there is a last-chance Olympic qualifier next June. Just don’t mention that to Donovan, who won two Olympic gold medals as a player in 1984 and 1988.

“It is a must win,” Donovan said of the FIBA Americas tournament. “This is all we’re focused on. There is no Beijing if we don’t win in Chile.”

Friday, September 14, 2007

Road-weary Lady Vols coaches happy to be home

It's a journey that began nearly two weeks ago.

Lady Vols assistant coaches Holly Warlick and Nikki Caldwell strapped on their helmets and hopped on their motorcycles for a long, long journey.

They began in California and took off for Knoxville, all in an effort to raise awareness and money for breast cancer research and treatment.

"It was huge," Warlick said. "Each rally we went to go bigger and better and more people, so I think it served its purpose."

Finally, 11 days and 3,100 miles later, Warlick and Caldwell returned to Knoxville for a homecoming celebration in Market Square.

"We were road-weary, probably about five days into the ride, but we got our second wind to get us back home, but I'm telling ya, when we crossed the state line, and we saw the sign that said, Tennessee Welcomes You, we all put our fists in the air, and we were just like, wow, we're finally edging our way and getting home," Caldwell said. "It's been an unbelievable experience. We've raised a lot of awareness and hopefully a lot of money to beat this deadly disease."

Along with friends, fans and some Lady Vols players, head coaches Pat Summitt and Bruce Pearl took the stage for a special tribute.

They joined in with the ChillBillies to sing "Mustang Sally."

Then, Summit got in a dig or two.

"We missed them a lot, so much that we've replaced them," Summitt joked. "We hired a couple of people last week. But I think y'all will like them, OK."

"I'll be a professional motorcycle rider, I guess," Warlick said. "We'll find out. We hope we'll get our jobs back tomorrow."

Saturday, September 08, 2007

Ending UConn series allows other rivalries to develop, Summitt says

NEW YORK -- It's been three months since Pat Summitt decided to end the annual series between Connecticut and Tennessee that has been a staple in women's basketball for years.

The Hall of Fame coach finally talked about her decision as she was watching the U.S. women's basketball team train in New York on Saturday.

"I didn't think this was going to hurt women's basketball," Summitt said. "I haven't had the feeling that the whole nation's going to miss it. I think Tennessee fans and Connecticut fans and a lot of basketball fans look forward to that game because of the rivalry and the length of it and the type of competitive games we've had over the years."

Connecticut had signed a contract to extend the annual game through the 2008-09 season, but Tennessee declined to extend the series.

Summitt doesn't see that decision changing anytime soon.

"I'd never say never, but I wouldn't think so," she said.

Now, the only way UConn and Tennessee will play again is if they meet in the NCAA Tournament.

"That would bring a lot of attention, wouldn't you think?" Summitt said.

Connecticut leads the series 13-9, although Tennessee has won the last three meetings, including a 70-64 victory in January that featured a dunk by Lady Vols star Candace Parker. Tennessee went on to win the national championship last season.

Summitt feels the end of the game will give other rivalries a chance to develop.

"The fact that the television networks would seek our games every year is somewhat unfortunate," Summitt said. "I do think, in terms of this season, that the (women's) game can expand. I know for us, we're playing Oklahoma, which I think would get some good exposure."

The games against the Huskies have always drawn national television exposure and featured some of the nation's best players such as Rebecca Lobo, Sue Bird and Diana Taurasi for Connecticut and Chamique Holdsclaw, Tamika Catchings and Nikki McCray for Tennessee.

The teams first met on Jan. 16, 1995, when Connecticut beat No. 1 Tennessee 77-66. The Huskies completed their undefeated season with a win over the Lady Vols in the title game.

Two matriarchs of women's basketball stop by practice

NEW YORK – Pat Summitt and Kay Yow have been involved with USA Basketball for a long time. When they speak, it's worth taking the time to listen.

The two legendary coaches stopped by practice Saturday morning for an up close and personal look at the current USA group.

“I think it's great you have Anne Donovan (as coach),” said Yow, who led the USA team to the Olympic gold medal in 1988. “She played for me at the World University Games, the Goodwill Games and the Olympics.

“I think we're in good hands with a very experienced group of coaches. ... I'm hopeful this is going to be a really good team.”

Donovan, who also played for Summitt on the 1984 team that won its first Olympic gold, was happy to have the two legendary coaches at practice.

“It was fantastic. They are both mentors of mine,” she said. “I enjoyed being a player under both of them with their completely different styles. My coaching philosophy is modeled as a player under all the coaches I played for. It's great having them here and I hope to get some feedback from them.”

Yow, who is still battling cancer that forced her to miss much of North Carolina State's season before the team made a run in the NCAA tournament, is feeling better.

“I'm on a different treatment plan which allows me to have so much more energy,” Yow said. “I still have some issues, but it's nothing like the hard chemo I had during the season.”

Summitt, who was on her way back from the basketball hall of fame induction ceremonies in Springfield, Mass., is a member of the USA Basketball senior national committee. She is excited about the possibilities of the team now forming.

“We have a lot of great young players,” Summitt said. “Just looking at this group we have some very talented, but young, players who are going to have to step up and grow up in a hurry.”

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Indiana's Tamika Catchings has torn Achilles' tendon surgically repaired

INDIANAPOLIS -- Indiana Fever forward Tamika Catchings had surgery Wednesday to repair a torn Achilles' tendon in her right foot.

The Fever said Catchings was resting at her Indianapolis home after the surgery by Dr. Dan Lehman.

''It was a complete tear of her Achilles','' Lehman said in a team statement. ''It was successfully repaired and everything went well.''

Catchings, a U.S. Olympic gold medalist and five-time WNBA All-Star, was injured during Monday's Eastern Conference finals loss at Detroit. She collapsed to the floor during the final minute of the first half and was taken from the floor in a wheelchair.

The Fever said she will probably take six to nine months to recover.

Catchings finished fourth in league MVP voting announced Wednesday despite missing the final 13 games of the regular season after suffering a partial tear of the plantar fascia in her left foot. In 21 regular-season games, she averaged 16.9 points and had career-best figures of 9.0 rebounds and 4.7 assists - leading the Fever in each category for a sixth straight season.

Catchings To Undergo Surgery Wednesday

INDIANAPOLIS – U.S. Olympic gold medalist and five-time WNBA All-Star forward Tamika Catchings will undergo surgery on Wednesday, Sept. 5, to repair a torn Achilles tendon sustained during the second quarter of Monday night’s Eastern Conference Finals loss in Detroit.

Catchings collapsed to the floor with 43.2 seconds remaining in the first half. She was taken from the floor in a wheelchair, and flew back to Indianapolis late Monday night with team physician Dr. David Harsha.

Surgery will be performed by Dr. Dan Lehman, affiliated with St.Vincent Sports Medicine, and Orthopedics of Indianapolis. Catchings’ anticipated recovery time following surgery is between six and nine months.

A top candidate for WNBA MVP honors through the first half of the 2007 season, Catchings missed the final 13 games of the regular season after sustaining a partial tear of the plantar fascia in her left foot. She made a successful return to the court just in time for the first round of the WNBA Playoffs, averaging 19.7 points and 15.3 rebounds in a 2-1 first-round series win over Connecticut. Catchings posted double-doubles in all three games of the series. Her 46 rebounds were a WNBA record for a 3-game playoff series, and her 20 rebounds in Game 1 of the series, her first game back from injury, was the second-best playoff figure ever.

In 21 games, she finished the regular season with an average of 16.9 points, and career-best figures of 9.0 rebounds and 4.7 assists per game. She topped the WNBA with 3.1 steals per contest and led the Fever in scoring, rebounds, steals and assists for a sixth straight season. With Catchings in the lineup, Indiana raced to a 16-4 record to begin the year – the best 20-game mark in Eastern Conference history.

The Fever finished the regular season 21-13 for a third consecutive year, becoming the first Eastern Conference team ever to boast three straight 20-win seasons. The Fever outlasted Connecticut to advance to the Eastern Finals for the second time in three seasons, but after winning Game 1 of the best-of-three series against Detroit, lost Games 2 and 3.