Nikki, you're not a Lady Vol any more.
That may have been what UCLA women's basketball coach Nikki Caldwell had to tell herself Saturday when she brought the Bruins to Thompson-Boling Arena to play her alma mater, Tennessee.
Caldwell played for UT (1990-94), spent a year as a graduate assistant for the Lady Vols (1998-99), and was a UT assistant coach (2002-08).
During Saturday morning's shoot-around, Caldwell sat on the visitors' bench for the first time.
"I was like, 'Wow, this is a little different,' " Caldwell said. "But the seats are really nice. I think they're better now (than when she played for UT). We were thinking about that. We need to get these seats on our bench (at UCLA)."
Caldwell, in her second season at UCLA, also got her first feel for the visitors' locker room, both before and after the Bruins' 61-47 loss to the Lady Vols.
"It was different going into the (visitors') locker room because you're used to going into where it's (like) a museum," Caldwell said. "You have the film room, trophies, things like that, so being in the visitors' locker room (was different). . . . But I'll never feel like a visitor coming back here."
Caldwell, a former Oak Ridge High School standout, had plenty of support in the stands. There were about 300 friends and family in attendance, including her mother, Jean Caldwell, and younger sister, Simone Pointer.
Jean Caldwell is a lifelong Lady Vols fan, and for one day was told by her older daughter not to wear a bit of orange, only UCLA Blue and Gold. Jean obliged, and said she has accepted the fact her daughter has moved to a new life in the glitz and glamour of Los Angeles.
"East Tennessee has always been her home, but she's primed for it," Jean Caldwell said. "She's a UCLA girl now. That's her home. You saw her outfit, didn't you? She fits right in."
You could hardly help but notice Nikki Caldwell wearing her sleek blue-knit dress, gray hose and gray high-heeled boots, a fashion statement straight from Hollywood.
But Caldwell was here for basketball, and UCLA put forth an effort that had her longtime mentor, Lady Vols coach Pat Summitt, seething at the Lady Vols during and after the game.
UCLA had a 10-point lead in the first half and was up by two at halftime.
Summitt managed to show her soft side when asked about seeing Caldwell and her family wearing the UCLA colors.
"I love her family," Summitt said. "I remember from the time I started recruiting her, I got to know her entire family. They can cook some food, too. I'm just surprised they didn't call and invite me over before the game. They're just great people, wonderful people, and Nikki's a class act all the way. I'm really proud of her and proud for her."
When the game ended, Summitt shook hands with Caldwell and as she walked off the court hugged Jean Caldwell and Pointer.
"Nikki's very competitive," said Pointer, a Division I college basketball official. "To see her against Pat, it's really fun to actually see how she's grown and matured. She's learned from the best, and it was just really fun and exciting to watch her out there and watch her team perform."
Dave Link is a freelance contributor.