Jolette Law naturally thinks of C. Vivian Stringer as more than a coach and a colleague.
Law played for Stringer at Iowa. She was an assistant on Stringer's staff at Rutgers for 12 seasons. The Scarlet Knights coach is like a second mother to Law.
"She helped shape my life," Law said, "pattern my life to what I am today."
So thinking of Stringer as an opponent isn't nearly as easy. As a first-year women's basketball assistant coach at Tennessee, Law will oppose her mentor for the first time when No. 13 Tennessee (8-3) plays Rutgers (8-3) at Thompson-Boling Arena today (TV: SportSouth, 1 p.m.).
"Right now, I'm trying to keep it Tennessee-Rutgers," Law said. "But it's really emotional."
Law also is very familiar with Stringer's staff, having recruited and coached Rutgers assistants Tasha Pointer and Chelsea Newton.
"We call it like a sisterhood," Stringer said. "The bloodlines are pretty thick, but not to the point where she wouldn't do anything to help Tennessee win. I'd expect that."
Stringer's heartstrings likely will get a workout as well. Law made a strong first impression, not only as a high school star in Florence, S.C., but also as someone who drove the school bus, transporting students to school.
At Iowa, Law helped lead the Hawkeyes to four Big Ten championships and was an All-American her senior year in 1990.
At Rutgers, Law helped recruit three classes ranked No. 1 nationally (1999. 2001 and 2006). During her tenure, the Scarlet Knights won 257 games and two Big East regular-season championships. They reached three Elite Eights and two Final Fours, playing Tennessee in the 2007 national championship game.
"I can't begin to tell you all the things she did there," said Stringer, who is seven wins shy of 900 career victories. "There can't be anyone more significant."
In her 42nd season as a head coach, Stringer understands the strain involved in a game like this. After 11 years at Iowa, she recalled coaching against the Hawkeyes as "highly stressful."
No matter, she played a part in ensuring today's encounter. Law was fired last spring after five seasons as coach at Illinois. When offered the job at Tennessee, Law said that she first talked to God and her mother. Then she called Stringer, who endorsed the move. She said Law deserved the opportunity and could play a part in maintaining Tennessee's stature.
"You have high expectations there," Stringer said, "but nothing more than she expects of herself."
Law served in a advisory capacity on today's scouting report. Fellow assistant Dean Lockwood did the bulk of the briefing. She has been busy this week serving as a buffer to first-year coach Holly Warlick's ongoing critique of her team's effort. Given Law's head coaching experience, Warlick values her input.
"I never want Jolette to hold back on what she feels and how she thinks; so far she hasn't done that," Warlick said. "I want her to be totally honest with me and totally honest with the players. That's the only way we're going to get better. That's the only way I'm going to get better."
In this case, Law might want to hold back on what she's feeling today.
"She's going to do her job," Stringer said. "I would expect nothing less."