Coach Summitt: A young Lady Vols team for the 2008-09 season
Coach Summitt may not have her starting line solidified yet, but she's got an idea of a few players you'll see there. Watch »
Understanding Tennessee women's basketball history can be as easy as counting to eight.
There are the eight national championship banners hanging from the rafters of Thompson-Boling Arena. And there are the eight championship rings decorating the cover of this season's media guide along with most of the pages.
Or the undertaking can be as hard as assuming care and maintenance for what these adornments represent. A player comes to UT for the hoops and ends up being the curator of a museum.
"It gives me a feeling of being honored to play here, having all of that history behind you,'' Lady Vol Alyssia Brewer said. "Being here lets you know that Coach (Pat Summitt) has put that in your hands, to continue the legacy that has been here. That feeling is hard work."
Spoken like a wise veteran. Except that Brewer is a freshman, one of six on the roster and one who regularly gets an earful from Summitt with those responsibilities in mind.
Brewer and her classmates have arrived at a pivotal juncture in UT history.
On the home front, the program is basking in the afterglow of back-to-back national championships. Even with headliner Candace Parker and four other postseason starters having departed, season-ticket sales are just short of 10,900 and have a chance at matching last season's total of just more than 11,000.
The first exhibition game is Thursday versus Carson-Newman College. The regular-season opener is Nov. 15 against San Francisco.
To date, most of the ticket promotions have been geared toward Tennessee's legacy. Judging by a 92 percent season-ticket renewal, the majority of the fan base has bought into this team sight unseen.
"We haven't focused on the young guns yet,'' said Jimmy Delaney, the Lady Vols director of promotions and marketing.
Away from Lady Vol land, there is a different perspective. The Associated Press top 25 preseason poll released Saturday has Tennessee ranked seventh. While that's not unreasonable for such a young team, the ranking is UT's lowest to start a season since beginning ninth in 1985-86. Since then, the Lady Vols were sixth on two occasions (1990 and 1995).
Summitt believes that the opposition is thinking roster not ranking and viewing her team as vulnerable.
"People are licking their chops to beat us,'' she said. "They're thinking: This is the time."
No wonder she's channeling her inner Vince Lombardi, pounding out a drum beat of teaching and repetition. This is how we do things and we're going to do them over and over until they become habit.
Either that or risk falling prey to our foes.
"Every practice,'' freshman Glory Johnson said, "we push the system."
The heart rate is getting a forceful nudge, too.
"This is a game where you have to run,'' Summitt said. "A lot of these players didn't run very hard in high school and it's showing in practice. That's why we're doing so much up and down, and making them go extended minutes."
The depiction might sound like something straight out of an Upton Sinclair novel, but the work doesn't play out that way. Players grabbed team manager Morgan Smith by her arms and legs and swung her back and forth in a playful prelude to Thursday's practice.
After the 2 1/2-hour-plus workout, freshman point guard Briana Bass was her usual buoyant self, smiling and sitting on a table with her legs dangling in the air, describing her personal strategy for practice survival.
"I kind of like talk to myself,'' she said, "especially my (surgically repaired) knee, telling my knee, 'it's going be O.K.' "
It's O.K. to be young, too. Being naive is a different matter. So far, the young guns appear to understand the difference.
"We knew basketball was going to be our lives,'' Johnson said. "It should be routine now. We should be used to it because that's what we came here for."
It's all right there on the cover of the media guide. Initially Summitt was thinking one championship ring would suffice. She warmed to the idea of all eight. Now she's selling the specifics to her new team.
There's no easy way. Brewer is right. It's hard work.
"You can't hide from it,'' Summitt said. "This is who we are. We have to have high expectations every year.
"When you put it out there, you better have them, not only high expectations but a high work ethic and a great commitment to upholding the tradition at Tennessee."
Dan Fleser covers Lady Vols basketball. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.