Experiencing Tennessee's run to a national championship last season made Angie Bjorklund wise beyond her years regarding the NCAA basketball tournament.
But it didn't make the Lady Vols sophomore guard any better at conveying her experiences to her teammates.
"It's hard to tell them,'' Bjorklund said. "The seniors last year would try to tell me, but you don't know until you go through it. You have to go through it."
Seven first-year Tennessee players, 70 percent of the active roster, will receive their NCAA initiation when the No. 5 seed Lady Vols (22-10) face No. 12 Ball State (25-8) at approximately 9:30 p.m. Sunday (TV: ESPN2) in Bowling Green, Ky., in a first-round game of the Berkeley (Calif.) regional.
No. 4 Iowa State and No. 13 East Tennessee State will meet at 7.
The winners play Tuesday night for a trip to the regional semifinals.
Redshirt freshman center Kelley Cain had a front row seat on UT's bench for last season's tournament. She was recovering from knee surgery. By her thinking, she might as well have been sitting in the last row.
"This year is completely different for me,'' she said, "since last year I just watched."
Imagine what it will be like for six true freshmen. Two of them - Shekinna Stricklen and Glory Johnson - likely will start, along with Cain. Bjorklund will do her best this week to offer some sense of what they are about to experience.
"The fire and the passion, the 'I'm going to do anything to win; whatever it takes,' '' Bjorklund said. "More hustle plays. It's a lot more physical. The refs let a lot more go, that type of thing. The teams, it's a whole new level."
Last season's seniors might not have told riveting stories, but they set compelling post-season examples with their play in winning a second consecutive title.
"It was almost like a light switch; they just completely turned it up,'' Bjorklund said. "They knew what post-season basketball was all about. I hope I can do that for this team and Alex (Fuller) and our upperclassmen who have seen that. This is a whole new level. This is a whole new game, and they're going to learn from experience."
The freshmen aren't coming in cold. Tennessee has a 11-9 record in 20 games against 16 teams in the 64-team tournament field. Seven of those teams were from the SEC. Tennessee played fellow tournament participants Auburn, Vanderbilt, Florida and Mississippi State twice.
The freshmen have played a part in the greatest comeback in program history, helping to erase a 20-point halftime deficit in a 55-51 victory at Rutgers on Jan. 3. They're also fresh off UT's worst loss in SEC tournament history, a 78-58 thrashing at the hands of Auburn on March 7.
"I would hope because of the number of tough games we've been in - we've come from behind; we've had some tough losses - they have seen both sides of it,'' UT coach Pat Summitt said. "I think a lot of that is how our coaches handle it. At this point in time, you have to be very positive and direct. We have to come together."
All in the all, the freshmen should have seen enough to prevent any wide-eyed reactions to the new world they're about to enter. Freshman Alyssia Brewer at least sounds like a veteran.
"You know I never think a team is really ready for the tournament, no matter how good you are,'' Brewer said. "But I think we've been in enough situations to know what we need to do to be in the tournament."