Sunday, November 18, 2007

Summitt counting on signees

Lady Vols’ class has big shoes to fill

Before directing six freshmen next season, Pat Summitt gave herself some guidance.

“I just have to make sure,’’ Tennessee’s women’s basketball coach said, “I’m working on my patience.”

That’s good advice for her. It’s not intended, however, for a Lady Vols signing class that’s talented, athletic and versatile. Summitt hopes those traits add up to the group being precocious, too.

“They know what we lose,’’ Summitt said. “They know that we need them to come in and help us right away.”

Tennessee will lose at least four players next season (seniors Nicky Anosike, Alexis Hornbuckle, Shannon Bobbitt and Alberta Auguste). Summitt is anticipating red-shirt junior Candace Parker also leaving. These departures will impact not only UT’s roster size but also virtually every position.

These personnel matters help explain why Summitt differentiates this six-player class from the celebrated six-pack of four years ago. There will be more roles to fill next year.

The absence of lingering knee issues, which cast a shadow over the previous six-pack’s arrival, is another difference.

“They’re coming in healthy, knock on wood,’’ Summitt said.

Summitt also likes the collective personality of this year’s signees and their devotion to basketball.

“They love basketball,’’ Summitt said. “I’m not convinced that everyone who comes here loves it. They love the idea of playing at Tennessee. But with this group, they love the game. This group, they’re in the gym.”

The smallest signee — 5-foot-3 point guard Briana Bass — might have the biggest responsibility because of anticipated uncertainty at her position. Starter Bobbitt and point-guard sidekick Hornbuckle are leaving. Sophomore Cait McMahan is recovering from offseason knee surgery.

Bass officially completed the class by signing Saturday and faxing her paperwork to UT.

When Summitt began recruiting Bass, she thought of former LSU mighty mite Temeka Johnson. That was before Bobbitt came along.

“She reminds me an awful lot of Shannon Bobbitt, not only in size but in style of play,’’ Summitt said. “They’re so much alike, it’s really amazing.’’

While Bass is locked into one position, Summitt sees all sorts of possibilities for the rest of the class.

For example, Summitt describes 6-foot-2 Shekinna Stricklen as “a big-time guard” who could play either backcourt position, along with small forward.

“She’s got deep three-point range,’’ Summitt said. “… She’s got size; she can shoot over people. We can post her up at the guard spot. She has the potential to be a great guard for us.’’

Glory Johnson, the 6-3 Webb School star, is the first Knoxville player to sign with UT since former Central star Tanika Smith in 1992. Johnson’s greatest variety show might play out on defense.

“With her quickness, her size and her range with her arms, I see her as having the potential to guard all five spots,’’ Summitt said. “She’s got a little toughness and edge there that I like.”

Summitt said 6-1 Amber Gray could play either forward position but is better suited for power forward because she likes playing physical.

“She doesn’t mind using her body,’’ Summitt said.

Alyssia Brewer, a 6-3 left-hander, is capable of playing any position along the front line, Summitt said.

“I think she does a great job off the dribble for someone her size,’’ Summitt said.

When Summitt first saw 6-1 Alicia Manning play AAU basketball, the coach liked her at power forward. Summitt’s updated projection includes small forward and off guard for a player she describes as hard-nosed and competitive.

“I see her as someone who can play off the dribble,’’ Summitt said. “She has a good pull-up shot.”

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