The leadership lines of communication rarely change at Tennessee.
The pertinent women's basketball information is passed from the veterans to the youngsters. The flow has been characterized as tribal in nature and has been reinforced by years of Lady Vols' success.
Who better to explain and encourage than the veterans. They've been through the tense games. They've survived the tough practices. They can translate coach Pat Summitt's demands.
The biggest variable lies in the tone of the discourse. In this case, a new season likely brings a gentler approach.
"I think this year we have to go at it with another mindset,'' said forward Alex Fuller, the lone senior on the 12-player roster. "I think because we have such a young freshman class coming in we have to be more patient."
Fuller said that she and the other upperclassmen shouldn't be "blunt."
That wasn't so much her word as it was mine. Still, she understood the reference to the past two seasons and the stewardship of UT's departed big three of Candace Parker, Nicky Anosike and Alexis Hornbuckle. As youngsters, they were nurtured in a leadership void. Anosike wanted to have a stronger voice as early as her freshman season. When the trio assumed the responsibility, their approach emphasized assertiveness over diplomacy.
Hard to argue with the results, especially after the national championship in 2007.
"Last year, sometimes it could be on the fly and it was left to your own interpretation as to whether it was constructive criticism or a little verbal shot,'' assistant coach Dean Lockwood said. "Sometimes the new kids had to sort that out themselves."
Center Kelley Cain was one of the new kids. Despite sitting out her first season because of knee surgery, she was hearing and interpreting the veterans' message. The word "blunt" wasn't lost on her either.
"I can see where they were coming from,'' she said. "They're used to winning. They just came off a championship and you could tell they were hungry for another one.
"It's not our style. Even though we're hungry for a championship ... it's just different this year."
It's a world of difference, not only with six true freshmen but just two veterans, Fuller and Angie Bjorklund, who started a game last season. Bjorklund, a sophomore, isn't exactly battle-hardened, having lost her starting spot down the stretch last season.
Two other returnees - Cait McMahan and Vicki Baugh - are on the sidelines rehabbing as the players shift into team-workout formation.
Twice a week, 10 players convene on the court and only three of them - Fuller, Bjorklund and Sydney Smallbone - played in a game last season.
The team workouts have offered a glimpse of the team's potential. Lockwood estimates that "four or five" of the freshmen could be logging 15 playing minutes or more this season.
If the rookies are going to be that busy then the upperclassmen, no matter their experience level, better assist with direction.
To date, there's been useful groundwork laid. Weekends have been used to socialize and get better acquainted. The roster configuration has allowed for each freshman to be paired with a returning player in a "buddy system."
"We are able to call them when we need them,'' freshman Amber Gray said.
Fuller said preseason conditioning has reinforced a collective responsibility..
"They see that the little things count and they are part of the team so they have to keep themselves accountable,'' she said. "Say if a freshman misses a sprint, that just let's them know that we need each and every person on the team."
Another positive development has been Cain's presence. After a redshirt season, she technically qualifies as the seventh freshman. In the on-court workouts, though, she sounds more like a veteran. After Wednesday's workout, Summitt said that she was thrilled with Cain and specifically mentioned the 6-foot-6 center's attitude.
Any assistance is worthwhile. Otherwise most of these leadership duties will fall to Fuller.
Her nurturing instincts are documented. She once ironed former teammate Dominique Redding's shirt and jeans before the team went out to dinner. She willingly served as the team make-up consultant, even though she was teased about her fashion-conscious ways.
Fuller's sense of timing and conviction last season was impeccable. After a 78-62 loss to LSU last February, she was the one who dropped a note in Summitt's lap, saying the poor effort wouldn't happen again.
Now comes this season and Fuller's biggest challenge: finding the right tone.
"When there does come a time in practice,'' she said, "you have to bring (the freshmen) aside more so and talk to them one on one."
Dan Fleser covers Lady Vols basketball. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.