John Adams: Lady Vols lack a loathing for losing

John Adams

The inherent risks in assumptions have been stated well and often. But I still thought I was on solid ground in speculating on the Lady Vols’ upcoming basketball season in late August.

The news: Tennessee head coach Pat Summitt had just announced she would continue coaching despite being diagnosed with early onset dementia, Alzheimer’s type.

My assumption: This would be the most motivated team in Lady Vols history.

It wouldn’t be playing for just another SEC championship, a trip to the Final Four or the program’s ninth national title. It would be playing for one of the sport’s most renowned and determined coaches.

Summitt already was contending with rheumatoid arthritis. Yet she chose to take on Alzheimer’s as well. And she chose to do so in the most public of settings.

I assumed the team would follow her lead with a fighting spirit that would rival any of Summitt’s teams. I was wrong.

UT fans agonize at seeing their adored coach appear detached and uninvolved on the bench, especially when her team is looking as helpless as it was in a 93-79 loss to Vanderbilt on Thursday night. Those are symptoms, not a choice.

But a reasonably healthy and talented team seems more afflicted. It wilts in the face of adversity and repeatedly responds in a manner that contradicts what Summitt’s program has been about for most of her 38 seasons. Basically, it just doesn’t hate losing enough.

That’s not to suggest the Lady Vols giggle through a decisive defeat or dance blithely off the court when a rival has abused them to the degree Vanderbilt did. They might be as committed to avoiding such misadventures as your average women’s basketball team.

But Lady Vols basketball has never been average. Defeats have been rare and rarely forgotten. Summitt figures prominently in that mind-set. My guess is on her best day she could recite the play-by-play of a first-round NCAA tournament loss to Ball State more readily than she could the specifics of any one of her national championship victories.

The core group of this team is comprised of five seniors, the majority of whose names show up in the infamous Ball State box score. Of the quintet, only fifth-year senior Vicki Baugh has played in a Final Four.

The group’s track record isn’t marked solely by misfortune. As freshmen, they set a program record in rallying from a 20-point halftime deficit to win at Rutgers. They have won to back-to-back SEC championships and compiled a 66-6 record over their last two full seasons.

They also have been a good bunch off the court. So has this entire team for that matter. There have been no suspensions and no academic casualties. In preseason, assistant coach Mickie DeMoss lauded the players for their help in recruiting.

“It’s the best team we’ve ever had (for recruiting),” she said. “The best I’ve been around.”

The salesmanship probably comes genuinely for players who seem to enjoy playing for UT and playing with each other. But they’re missing out on a vital part of the Tennessee women’s basketball experience — the agony of defeat.

They frequently botch the most rudimentary acts of the sport. They seem distressed rather than motivated when a lesser team challenges them. They make the same mistakes game after game. And when the mistakes add up to a defeat, the Lady Vols quickly — too quickly — move on.

Senior Glory Johnson lately has become an exception to the process in that she seems more visibly bothered as the losses pile up at a rate that counters the program’s long-standing success. But the team apparently doesn’t comprehend that the success wasn’t achieved solely on talent or coaching. No one should underestimate how much a loathing for losing figured in all those championships and Final Fours.

You could argue that a healthy Summitt could have altered this team’s course. But recent history would undermine your argument. She has berated these seniors since they were freshmen for failing to play up to their potential and she has never been able to lead them beyond the Elite Eight of the NCAA tournament.

Certainly, this is anything but an optimal coaching situation. Summitt is severely limited by her disease, and the three assistants are spread thin. Associate head coach Holly Warlick has a head coach’s responsibility but without the title to back it up. She doesn’t even have a contract.

The team has responded so poorly to the fractured leadership that it could cost the assistant coaches their jobs since it’s unlikely Summitt would coach beyond this season. Fair or not, first-year athletic director Dave Hart might judge Warlick as an unsuitable replacement for Summitt based on what has transpired in this strangest of seasons.

That possibility might inspire some teams.

John Adams is a senior columnist. He may be reached at 865-342-6284 or adamsj@knoxnews.com. Follow him at http://twitter.com/johnadamskns.

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Comments » 24

underthehill writes:

The mention of Dave Hart having any input in Lady Vols basketball is not a pleasant thought for me. What kind of women's basketball program do they have at bama..what kind did they have at Fla State before he was run off there..not a pleasant thought at all...

yabadabadoo1026 writes:

in response to underthehill:

The mention of Dave Hart having any input in Lady Vols basketball is not a pleasant thought for me. What kind of women's basketball program do they have at bama..what kind did they have at Fla State before he was run off there..not a pleasant thought at all...

what a moronic comment, hes the athletic director, stupid

volaholic45 writes:

Might be nikki caldwell time after this season. Continuity with the Summit era, but a clean turning of the page to a new and invigorated one. Go LVs.

Witch_Doctors writes:

Witch Doctor really think some of its chemistry. Witch Doctor say not thats relationship but rather on the court. Witch Doctor say you have 6 players that would be 2000 point scorers on other teams. Witch Doctor say Spani would be the greatest player in history at a school like Kentucky. Witch Doctor say maybe it fix itself. Witch Doctor believe no one in the world will ever have to tell Pat Summitt to leave if she was hurting the program she loves.
Bones never lie.

wigmeister writes:

The LV program, unfortunately, has become a joke! As I said in an earlier post, changes are going to have to come swiftly right after the season is over. I hope Hart has the gumption to do what is necessary. Spend the money and bring in change. You can start with Nikki. It is time for her to come home!

underthehill writes:

in response to yabadabadoo1026:

what a moronic comment, hes the athletic director, stupid

hes is not a word..did you mean to say he is?

VOLunTEAR writes:

in response to Witch_Doctors:

Witch Doctor really think some of its chemistry. Witch Doctor say not thats relationship but rather on the court. Witch Doctor say you have 6 players that would be 2000 point scorers on other teams. Witch Doctor say Spani would be the greatest player in history at a school like Kentucky. Witch Doctor say maybe it fix itself. Witch Doctor believe no one in the world will ever have to tell Pat Summitt to leave if she was hurting the program she loves.
Bones never lie.

Smart fans say Witch Doctor need a shrink. Bones just lied.

tovolny writes:

This UNTIMELY item and remarks just proves again that ole Long John needs to go. The Lady Vol situation is very touchy right now, and needs some room to breathe. If he starts hitting on the LadyVols, a defense of never seen before reactions will blister his rear end. HE IS THE MOST DETRIMENTAL SQUIRT TO UT SPORTS THAT HAS EVER BEEN. It is to the point if KNS does not rectify soon, a Tidal Wave of disgust of epic proportion will crash through Knoxville empacting the whole nation and beyond. If I were Hart, I would demand that KNS clean up their act and cut out all the negative editorializing. Report the facts, good or bad, are things we need. We do not need to be looking at UT sports through the biased eyes of a punk reporter who uses his editorial license to appeal to non-UT fans. I am not asking that everything be reported through ORANGE colored glasses. All the points of view should be covered. Long John has OVER-EXTENDED his privileges. The bottom line is: this guy is somewhere between POOR and FAILED. He writes to be funny and comes across as sissy little pest that just will not go away.\\\\\\\\\Okay, I am through. What can we do?

liferjarhead writes:

A sad day is soon to come in Knoxville. I fear that this season could be the last we see Pat Summit on the sidelines at UT. She has always stated she would walk away from the game when she could no longer get the team to respond. Well it is clear this team and the team for the past couple of seasons has not responded the way we as fans hoped for, and definitely not the way coach Summit expected. I am not sure if her style of coaching has just grown old these with players or are they just tired of always having to answer questions about her health. This team was a preseason top 5 pick and had aspirations of a National Title but at times have looked as if they do not belong in the top 25. I only hope they will come together and finish this year strong and give the effort each night that they area capable of giving. This may be the last team she coaches and they do not want to be known as the team that quit on her.

oldster writes:

It kills me to agree with John Adams. He is almost always negative, but, while this article is not a positive one, the truth is pretty stark in this case. In fact, he stated the issue a lot nicer than I would. Were I coaching this group I would make the things that Dooley is castigated for saying about his players look tame by comparison. The reason? If their play does not embarrass them enough to inspire them to play better, then I would provide them with verbal embarrassment. I would start with Vickie Baugh and Shekina Stricklen. The former may be the even more athletic than Glory Johnson, but has all the drive for excellence as Dominque Redding. Stricklen while playing at a high level for the most part is not playing to the level her talent suggests. This lady is a fantastic talent - one of the best UT has ever had. Had she the drive of Tamkika Catchings, she might even be on her level as a player. As it is, she is at least one and maybe two levels lower.

carmine writes:

in response to oldster:

It kills me to agree with John Adams. He is almost always negative, but, while this article is not a positive one, the truth is pretty stark in this case. In fact, he stated the issue a lot nicer than I would. Were I coaching this group I would make the things that Dooley is castigated for saying about his players look tame by comparison. The reason? If their play does not embarrass them enough to inspire them to play better, then I would provide them with verbal embarrassment. I would start with Vickie Baugh and Shekina Stricklen. The former may be the even more athletic than Glory Johnson, but has all the drive for excellence as Dominque Redding. Stricklen while playing at a high level for the most part is not playing to the level her talent suggests. This lady is a fantastic talent - one of the best UT has ever had. Had she the drive of Tamkika Catchings, she might even be on her level as a player. As it is, she is at least one and maybe two levels lower.

I agree with most of your post, but they did get verbal embarassment. When the LV's lost in the past, did not the coaches throw the players under the bus? Put the blame on this player or that player for not executing what they were told to do? How embarassing is that? Maybe that is why this bunch of girls stopped playing with that killer instinct. Stricklen was made to play out of position one year, did a credible job, but not to the satisfaction of PS and was repeatedly belittled in newspaper articles by the coach. That is a turn off for a player, even though the player should have that killer instinct anyways. these players dont have that, they try and try, but it just doesnt work for them.

MrBamSeydu writes:

Nice article. Every bit of it is true.

STLVOLS writes:

I often disagree with Adams but I agree with him on this. I have been thinking almost exactly what he wrote.

Good article on a sad situation.

Fall_Creek_Vols writes:

Hard to argue with. How many of us expected (as did John) a Lady Vols team that would play like their hair is on fire...all the time. Certainly, the collapses we've seen from this team in the past two seasons were not part of the plan.

SummittsCourt writes:

I didn't bother to read the article because JA just is always negative, but the title that someone else probably labeled his article is spot on. This class of seniors have proven they don't mind losing. Here's hoping once they get into the tournament they decide to get serious.

bigdisbig writes:

in response to underthehill:

hes is not a word..did you mean to say he is?

Pay no attention to this guy. His underwear is just too tight and he stays in a bad mood. He just needs a hug.

ULTIMATEVOLUNTEER writes:

in response to tovolny:

This UNTIMELY item and remarks just proves again that ole Long John needs to go. The Lady Vol situation is very touchy right now, and needs some room to breathe. If he starts hitting on the LadyVols, a defense of never seen before reactions will blister his rear end. HE IS THE MOST DETRIMENTAL SQUIRT TO UT SPORTS THAT HAS EVER BEEN. It is to the point if KNS does not rectify soon, a Tidal Wave of disgust of epic proportion will crash through Knoxville empacting the whole nation and beyond. If I were Hart, I would demand that KNS clean up their act and cut out all the negative editorializing. Report the facts, good or bad, are things we need. We do not need to be looking at UT sports through the biased eyes of a punk reporter who uses his editorial license to appeal to non-UT fans. I am not asking that everything be reported through ORANGE colored glasses. All the points of view should be covered. Long John has OVER-EXTENDED his privileges. The bottom line is: this guy is somewhere between POOR and FAILED. He writes to be funny and comes across as sissy little pest that just will not go away.\\\\\\\\\Okay, I am through. What can we do?

He is like a lot of other sports writers who has probably never worn a jock (at least while playing a sport) but thinks he can live out his athletic fantasies by writing stupid articles that he thinks are funny and/or enlightening.

Witch_Doctors writes:

in response to VOLunTEAR:

Smart fans say Witch Doctor need a shrink. Bones just lied.

Witch Doctor read thru some of your previous post.
Witch Doctor say pretty clear you talking about "Smart" is better comedy relief than may "bit". lol
Bones never lie.

richvol writes:

in response to carmine:

I agree with most of your post, but they did get verbal embarassment. When the LV's lost in the past, did not the coaches throw the players under the bus? Put the blame on this player or that player for not executing what they were told to do? How embarassing is that? Maybe that is why this bunch of girls stopped playing with that killer instinct. Stricklen was made to play out of position one year, did a credible job, but not to the satisfaction of PS and was repeatedly belittled in newspaper articles by the coach. That is a turn off for a player, even though the player should have that killer instinct anyways. these players dont have that, they try and try, but it just doesnt work for them.

Pat and the other coaches have handled Meighan Simmons with kid gloves since she took the court last year. If anyone needs blistering it's her with her selfish play and sad,lazy defense. Baugh and Stricklen would,and should,not be spared my wrath either. Baugh plays out of position in stead of playing under the basket and Stricklen...she daydreams through games unless they are playing in Arkansas.

Glory is a tremendous player that gives her all every game and deserves everyone's respect.

movol53 writes:

Is this season the Last Whimper? I truly hope that the UT @ Notre Dame game was not the Last Whimper of one of the most fantastic runs in sports. And now Vandy beats UT at its’ own game. This decline did not just occur over night. This decline had its roots in the 2008 Championship. We lost all five of our starters and the remaining players were very young and were unable (or unwilling) to put in the time and effort to continue the great tradition of Lady Vols basketball. Since then, well before Pat’s announcement, there has been a very slow and almost imperceptible decline. Many things have contributed to where we are now. Some will say it’s the coaches’ fault for not “coaching up” or developing the players. Others will point to the fact that several coaches have come and gone. And still others will fault the coaches because they no longer have the ability to “see the intangibles” while recruiting players. Sadly, there is no stat that measures heart and drive and the desire to improve beyond one’s dreams. Yes, it is the coaches’ responsibility to develop the players however; the players must also have the desire to become better than they themselves thought they could be. Some people just do not wish to be pushed even if it is to improve. Once a player starts to see the “pushing” as tiresome instead of a personal challenge then that player no longer will respond - - they reached their plateau. Is this where this team is with its leaders? Coaches can teach how to set a screen but it is up to the players to execute the play. I’ve seldom seen the players from the last four years respond positively to a loss from a ranked team. They may play better the next game however, they don’t seem to carry that “lesson over”. Recruiting has become much more competitive and difficult as there are more programs following the path that Pat established over the years and at the high school level there are many more players than ever to evaluate. Over the last four years, all Lady Vol fans have tried to rationalize why this decline has been taking place; each of us has our own theories. We have all been very blessed to watch Pat Summit and her Lady Vols grow and become successful both on and off the court. Sadly it appears the run at being at the very top of Woman’s basketball for over 30 years is over. Will this program return to greatness or did we just witness the Last Whimper?

geraldodell#1377039 writes:

in response to tovolny:

This UNTIMELY item and remarks just proves again that ole Long John needs to go. The Lady Vol situation is very touchy right now, and needs some room to breathe. If he starts hitting on the LadyVols, a defense of never seen before reactions will blister his rear end. HE IS THE MOST DETRIMENTAL SQUIRT TO UT SPORTS THAT HAS EVER BEEN. It is to the point if KNS does not rectify soon, a Tidal Wave of disgust of epic proportion will crash through Knoxville empacting the whole nation and beyond. If I were Hart, I would demand that KNS clean up their act and cut out all the negative editorializing. Report the facts, good or bad, are things we need. We do not need to be looking at UT sports through the biased eyes of a punk reporter who uses his editorial license to appeal to non-UT fans. I am not asking that everything be reported through ORANGE colored glasses. All the points of view should be covered. Long John has OVER-EXTENDED his privileges. The bottom line is: this guy is somewhere between POOR and FAILED. He writes to be funny and comes across as sissy little pest that just will not go away.\\\\\\\\\Okay, I am through. What can we do?

John makes some very valid points concerning the Lady Vols which certainly need to be addressed. This team certainly has no fire and is one of the worst defensive teams we have ever had.
Most of the time I take John with a grain of salt but most of what he says here is the truth. You might as well accept the mediocrity that we have in the womens basketball program these days.
I love Pat Summitt and I certainly hate to see her go but I dont see her sticking around for another year after this one. I dont think her will to accept defeat will allow her to keep going at the limited pace she has to take these days. There will never be another Pat Summitt--she is the greatest in every aspect of womens basketball.

Einstein writes:

This Lady Vol team doesn't seem to be too concerned about losing a game until the horse is out of the barn. They will be the first group of Seniors at Tennessee to not get to a Final Four. There is no way they will make the Final Four the way they are playing. We will get a low seed and a bad bracket. This is very disappointing.

I believe that Pat will retire after this season since her early onset dementia seems to be progressing much faster than anticipated. She is not coaching during the games. Unfortunately when Pat retires we will see slippage in Lady Vol basketball. This happens when most legegendary coaches retire (e.g. Bear Bryant, etc.)

It is too bad that Niki Caldwell left UCLA this year to coach at LSU. She would have been my candidate for the new coach but I do not see this happening after just one year at LSU.

martic#220796 writes:

in response to carmine:

I agree with most of your post, but they did get verbal embarassment. When the LV's lost in the past, did not the coaches throw the players under the bus? Put the blame on this player or that player for not executing what they were told to do? How embarassing is that? Maybe that is why this bunch of girls stopped playing with that killer instinct. Stricklen was made to play out of position one year, did a credible job, but not to the satisfaction of PS and was repeatedly belittled in newspaper articles by the coach. That is a turn off for a player, even though the player should have that killer instinct anyways. these players dont have that, they try and try, but it just doesnt work for them.

I watched 4 a couple of years as they tried to make a point guard out of Strick and then hear Pat berate the team for not having a point guard! Well who's fault was it that we didn't have one? I think it really ruined the potential that Strick had to be a great player. Watch and see if she doesn't go to the WNBA and play well. I guess I'm most disappointed in Baugh, if she's playing out of position it's because that's where they want her to play. Early in the season she was rebounding and blocking shots, not now. Why?

bluegrasshack writes:

Hearts everywhere are breaking as we all watch what's happening to the Lady Vols. This isn't easy for anyone...Pat, her assistant coaches, players or fans! Stay with them...down or up...stay with them. They need your support now more than ever!

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