Thursday, October 18, 2007

Tennessee coach Pat Summitt knows teams need perfect chemistry for NCAA title runs

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. - Tennessee coach Pat Summitt knows talent will only get you so far in college basketball.

She's had Lady Vols teams loaded with stars that haven't reached the NCAA Final Four. She's had teams with six and 10 losses win national championships.

"Two years ago, we didn't particularly like each other, we didn't play well together, we didn't get to a Final Four,'' Summitt said Thursday during Tennessee's media day. "Last year, we had great chemistry.''

The Lady Vols are coming off their seventh NCAA title. With Candace Parker and three other starters returning plus a top-notch freshman class, Summitt's team is about as talented as they get.

That won't necessarily translate into another title.

"You always worry about what happens after you've won a championship,'' Summitt said. "I've sat and watched this many times: carrying the big national championship on your back. Every possession, every game, every venue that we go to, it's going to be a challenge for them.

"This is one of the hardest things to do in sports ... to repeat the performance of the national championship.''

In the 1998-99 season, Tennessee followed up three consecutive national titles with a disappointing finish, losing in the Elite Eight. That team boasted the superstar trio of Chamique Holdsclaw, Tamika Catchings and Semeka Randall, but players failed to step up in that regional finals game when Holdsclaw went 2-of-18 from the floor in a loss to Duke.

Basketball's winningest coach thinks this year's team is different.

For one thing, the current squad's one national championship humbles in comparison to the three-peat. And rookies Kelley Cain, Angie Bjorklund, Sydney Smallbone and Vicki Baugh will be looking for their own title.

"What I see right now appears to be something that's going to be a special chemistry,'' Summitt said. "Can they live up to it? In my estimation we have the talent to do so.''

The first step in fighting any potential post-championship slump is to train hard in the offseason and practice hard in the preseason, Summit said. She also wants to see a commitment from players to improve daily.

Coach and players all said they've been pleased with the progress so far.

"There's been no signs of slacking off or not working hard,'' Parker said. "This summer we had tremendous work ethic.''

Nicky Anosike said it takes being on the court in a game to really know whether a team's got the right chemistry.

"It's too early to tell,'' she said. "I don't know who rises when there's pressure, who falls. I don't know anyone's tendencies in games, who cracks under pressure. We'll see.''

Cain said she's already comfortable with the veteran players, who she said took the freshmen under their wings, showed them the ropes and advised them what to do on and off the court.

She already seems to be oozing the team spirit that Summitt finds handy in a player.

"I don't think one player outshines the other. It takes the whole team, all 11 of us to win a game and a national championship,'' she said. "I think we're a close-knit team already, and we can only get closer.''

No comments: