Tuesday, March 19, 2013

SEC Awards

Holly Warlick was a unanimous choice as SEC Coach of the Year. Freshman center Bashaara Graves was picked as newcomer of the year on every ballot. Meighan Simmons was a first-team choice.

Warlick stepped into some mighty big shoes at Tennessee. She replaced the winningest coach in college basketball history after Summitt was diagnosed with early-onset dementia, Alzheimer's type.

The Lady Vols (24-7) didn't miss a beat, romping to another SEC championship and heading into their 32nd straight NCAA tournament as the No. 2 seed in the Oklahoma City Regional.

Warlick, a former Tennessee player and longtime Summitt assistant, still leans on her former boss, who remained part of the program as the coach emeritus.

''The whole season has been different, and at times, it's hard,'' Warlick said. ''Other times, it's OK. But I still have her there. She's still around these young ladies. She's still there in spirit and everything else, and she's still a vital part of this team.''

Warlick also was chosen as coach of the year by her SEC colleagues.

''Holly deserves all the credit,'' Texas A&M coach Gary Blair said. ''She's got the hardest job in America. Remember how many people tried to replace John Wooden? They're still trying to replace him. You've got the right person in Holly. She's doing a great job, because Pat Summitt is our John Wooden.''

''I'm just doing what I've been taught to do,'' Warlick said. ''I just wanted to come in, put a stamp on this program and make sure we carried on the tradition.''

The transition was helped along by the arrival of Graves, a 6-foot-2 force in the frontcourt. The freshman averaged 13.8 points (ninth in the SEC) and ranked sixth in rebounding (8.3 per game). Graves made the SEC second team.

''I would like to still consider myself a freshman, but everybody else (does) not,'' Graves said. ''The coaches tell me all the time, `Bashaara, you're not a freshman, so you don't have time to play like a freshman. You can't be out there like a freshman.' I'm not (a freshman) in everybody else's eyes.''

Warlick knew right from the beginning that Graves would play a major role in the post-Summitt era.

''Bashaara showed up ready to work from day one,'' the coach said. ''She has battled inside for us all year and put in a lot of minutes against some very talented players in this league and around the country. You certainly don't find that kind of consistent production from a freshman very often, and it became obvious fairly quickly that she was going to be one of those players for us.''

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