NASHVILLE — Tennessee's players gathered around Shelley Sexton Collier, sitting on the Pratt Pavilion floor as if they were ringing a campfire.
The seating arrangement and the image suited Collier's purpose. The former Lady Vol was trying to create a spark within their ranks.
Collier's pep talk took place after Wednesday's practice, the day before the Lady Vols left for the SEC women's basketball tournament. No. 2 seed Tennessee (21-8) plays No. 7 seed Vanderbilt (22-8) today (TV: FSTN, 3:30 p.m.) at Bridgestone Arena.
The Commodores beat Mississippi State 67-51 Thursday in a first-round game.
Interesting that Manning noticed Collier's eyes. Former Lady Vol Nicky Anosike mentioned the same fiery feature after Collier conveyed a similar message six years ago, when UT was enduring the fallout from consecutive losses in January.
In this case, Collier fit the visit into her busy basketball schedule. She coaches the Webb School girls' team and the Spartans were playing in the Division II-A state semifinals Thursday night. Still, she felt strongly about making time for her former team.
"She said she wanted to make a point to make sure she said something,'' said Tennessee senior Glory Johnson, who played for Collier at Webb. "She didn't want to regret it later."
Johnson said that Collier wasn't angry with a team that stumbled to three losses in its last eight regular-season games and blew a chance to share the SEC championship. Instead, she was thinking of Summitt, who's battling early onset dementia, Alzheimer's type. Collier was a starting guard on UT's first national championship team in 1986-87.
"She started getting a little emotional when she started talking about Pat,'' Johnson said, "because she knows Pat. She's been with Pat when she was completely OK and now that, you know, she's kind of dealing with this situation, it's a lot harder for (Collier) to watch. So she decided to come and say something to us."
Manning described Collier's talk as motivational, especially when she told the seniors: "Your time is running out. What do you want your legacy to be?"
"It really touched me,'' Manning said. "I really like how she words what she says. She kind of reminds me of myself a little bit."
Said Johnson: "I hope it motivated other people because it motivated me."
UT's seniors need to be inspired, since they will be playing a big postseason role — at least at the outset. Johnson, Manning, Shekinna Stricklen, Vicki Baugh and Briana Bass will start today, continuing the all-senior lineup that was used against Florida on Sunday.
Summitt endorsed the strategy but sounded wary.
"I think it will be good for us to start that way,'' she said. "You can turn it around any time you want and say, 'Get out. You get in.' It's kind of easy.
"We'll let it go. If it messes up, they're coming out and somebody else is coming in."
A good start will be essential against the Commodores, who parlayed an eight-point halftime lead at Memorial Gymnasium on Feb. 9 into a 93-79 rout of the Lady Vols. Slow starts have been at the root of Tennessee's inconsistency.
"I love the responsibility,'' Johnson said. "I love holding the seniors accountable because I grew up with that group."
It's her class and it's their legacy.