Fleser: Guarded optimism at point guard

Dan Fleser

Shekinna Stricklen again is Tennessee's starting point guard and the Lady Vols are convening another women's basketball committee to help with this important position.

I will pause a moment for those who want to groan or roll their eyes. I know you're out there, and I know what you're thinking: The position is better suited for a corporate head than a rank and file. For that matter, isn't the 6-foot-2 Stricklen a better fit on the wing?

I was inclined to think likewise. Then I thumbed through some old media guides and ended up perusing the season statistics of UT's past two national championship teams.

Remember Shannon Bobbitt? She was a point guard in the classic sense, right? Well, the junior college transfer didn't lead the Lady Vols in assists in either of her two seasons. Bobbitt's career-best season total of 125 her senior year didn't match Stricklen's 135 of last season.

In 2006-07, UT had four players with 60 or more assists. The following season, the same foursome - Bobbitt, Alexis Hornbuckle, Candace Parker and Nicky Anosike - amassed 80 or more individually in helping the Lady Vols to repeat as champions.

Those statistics indicate that Bobbitt had some teammates moonlighting on her behalf.

By comparison, the 2009-10 Lady Vols were a discount-store version of the same approach with four players recording 55 or more assists. Their shelves were tidier, however, since they had more total assists (550) than turnovers (507). The championships teams' assists were outnumbered by turnovers in both seasons (569-571 and 611-622).

The numbers suggest that point guard by committee isn't necessarily a bad idea. Rather it's as good as the group involved.

In Bobbitt's case, she benefitted greatly from having fellow guard Hornbuckle as her wingman. She led UT in assists in both of Bobbitt's seasons with 146 and 134 respectively.

There's nobody that capable playing alongside Stricklen - not at the moment. Still, there's reason to believe she won't be as lonely this season. Otherwise, she wouldn't be getting practice reps on the wing.

For instance, point guard Briana Bass looks more capable than ever before. That's the coaches' perspective.

"We wouldn't hesitate to have her go run the team in stretches,'' UT assistant coach Dean Lockwood said. "Right now she's probably as good as anybody as far as pushing the ball consistently. She gets it and that ball is coming up the floor."

The 5-foot-2 junior's role depends on whether she makes open jumpers - last season's 27.3 percent accuracy on 3-pointers won't do - and if the coaches again fall in love with a bigger lineup.

Freshmen Lauren Avant and Meighan Simmons are intriguing possibilities. They're both savvy beyond their years. UT coach Pat Summitt initially wasn't thinking of Simmons at point guard but is reconsidering after watching the 5-9 sharpshooter from San Antonio, Texas, distribute the ball to her new teammates.

The 5-9 Avant is a true point guard but she missed virtually all of last season at Lausanne Collegiate School in Memphis after undergoing shoulder surgery. Lately, she has been vexed by a battle with allergies. The latest dispatch from the front lines: There might be mold in her dorm room. A fall offensive is possible.

"I'm very comfortable with the offense,'' Avant said. "I just haven't been on the court in almost a year.

"I've been slowly feeling that my reaction time is coming back, my court vision is coming back. All that stuff, if you don't use it, kind of fades away from you. So I'm trying to get back in the swing of things."

She had her moments in practice last week, exploding between two defenders once and zipping a crosscourt pass past defenders to an open shooter another time. Furthermore, her aggressiveness and lower body strength were evident on defense against the male practice players.

Avant's teammates have seen enough to be putting more pressure on her to progress than the coaches.

"They're telling me to trust myself and follow my instincts,'' Avant said, "and they don't let me get down on myself when I make turnovers.

"They're telling me: Get this. We need you."

Avant, in turn, might be putting pressure on Kamiko Williams. The sophomore guard better be feeling her teammate if Williams wants to play point guard this season.

"Kamiko is going to probably be more on the wing,'' Summitt said, "unless she can learn the plays."

The committee has higher standards. That's the hope anyway.

Dan Fleser can be reached at fleserd@knoxnews.com

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Comments » 4

YankeeVol writes:

Poor Shekinna......

nola_vol writes:

"...benefitted greatly from having fellow guard Hornbuckle as her wingman. She led UT in assists in both of Bobbitt's seasons with 146 and 134 respectively."

When you have capable post players, the angles always favor passes from the wing.

I wonder if more LV point guard assists have come off of penetration, or from outside shooting from the wings?

martic#220796 writes:

What's the word on vickie baugh?


One good thing is that she has been playing the position for two years already, so hopefully she will embrace it, and be the best at it. I just hope that she has another solid wing, to go along with Angie to dish the ball to. Say Kamiko, maybe, or a good shooting guard. Manning would be a good candidate if she could develop an outside shot. If Stricklen is to be starting guard, at least put the pieces around her on the court to make her job easier. Please find a shooting wing, or guard to put on the floor.

It is still early in the practice sessions, so who knows who will be what by the time the season starts.

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