Passing the baton: Lady Vols carrying on tradition
During a team meeting in August, Tennessee's Holly Warlick used a track and field baton to make a point about women's basketball team values. One of the inscriptions read: "New team, new staff, new goals ... same heart, same pride, same fight."
Judging by Tuesday's media day at Pratt Pavilion, the Lady Vols first-year coach has convened a willing relay team within the hoops ranks. The players seem to appreciate the thought behind the act.
"I think it just symbolizes in a track meet, when you get the baton you run forward, you don't even look back,'' guard Andraya Carter said. "You don't even look at whoever's handing it to you. You stick your hand down and you take off."
For a freshman like Carter, it's more important now to concentrate on receiving. Likewise, it's incumbent upon Tennessee's experienced players to be handing off instruction and inspiration to her and the four other first-year players.
Warlick's motivational strategy will require a broader interpretation of the term "experienced." Tennessee heads into Thursday night's exhibition against Carson-Newman College with more sophomores (three) than seniors (two). Junior Mei
ghan Simmons was the only Lady Vol to receive preseason media recognition and that was as a second-team member of the All-SEC team.
"This year our sophomores are like veterans," Carter said.
Sophomore point guard Ariel Massengale, who started 24 games last season and racked up a freshman-record 162 assists, is willing, even if she's not able to define the distinction.
"I really don't know what the definition of a veteran is," she said. "When you think of upperclassmen, you think of junior-, senior-type status.
"Considering this team and the experience I had last year, I'm probably one of the more experienced ones."
Carter is treating her in that manner.
"I'm always talking to Ariel," Carter said. "I'm following right behind her. She's just holding my hand throughout everything — practices, stuff like that."
Spani is raring to go and has been for some time by her estimation.
"I've waited three years for a chance to lead a team,'' she said. "I'm excited about that."
Williams, on the other hand, still is prone to lapses in concentration and effort. Warlick met with Williams on Tuesday to reinforce her responsibilities.
"She's not a Taber Spani, I understand that," Warlick said. "but as long as she leads our kids in a positive way, that doesn't distract ... Her work ethic, as I told her, has got to get better. She's an example. People look up to her. We've really worked on how she plays in practice and how she handles herself off the court. And it is a work in progress."
Williams described the meeting as "heart to heart" in nature with Warlick imploring her to "be on her side and have her back."
"I told her, I got her," Williams said. "She's my coach."
Williams conceded, though, that Warlick's new role has required some adjustment on Williams' part.
"I used to get yelled at a lot and I would go to Holly; that's who I was vulnerable with,'' Williams said. "And it took me awhile to adjust to her being the head coach and what not.
"At the end of the day, she's still Holly. I know I can talk to her and I know what she wants me to do. She expects me to do what she's expected me to do the last three years."
Grab the baton and go forward.
Notebook: Sophomore guard Jasmine Phillips was on crutches, still sidelined with a left quadriceps strain.