John Adams: Recruiting will condition Lady Vols for basketball success

DESTIN, Fla. — Holly Warlick has talked often about continuing what Pat Summitt started with the Tennessee women’s basketball program.

Why wouldn’t she? Summitt won eight national championships, and Warlick played a prominent role in that success — first as a player and later as an assistant coach.

But after just more than a year on the job, it’s obvious Warlick is not averse to change.

She still preaches the virtues of defense and rebounding, which were the cornerstones of Summitt’s dynasty. However, she’s not oblivious to the shortcomings of a program that has failed to advance beyond the Elite Eight of the NCAA tournament in five years.

Following Warlick’s first season, she recommended the firing of associate strength and conditioning coach Heather Mason.

“We just wanted to go in a different direction,” Warlick said in regard to Mason, who was fired last month. “I thought we weren’t in as good of shape as we needed to be.”

Warlick said that was evident as soon as the Lady Vols began group workouts in preseason.

“We want to run, go up and down the floor, play full court,” Warlick said Wednesday at the SEC spring meetings. “I thought we needed to be in better shape than that.

“You can get 20-something points off layups if you press. Your defense can lead to easy buckets.”

She’s right. But if Warlick is truly intent on playing a full-court game — akin to the one UT played in its 1997-1998 undefeated season — she will have to change more than a strength and conditioning coach.

Chamique Holdsclaw, Tamika Catchings and Semeka Randall could have made any strength and conditioning coach look brilliant in the late 1990s. “The Meeks” were ready to run for 40 minutes as soon as they laced up their sneakers.

My point: Recruiting will be a bigger factor in reshaping UT’s game. And it won’t just be a matter of signing quicker, athletic players.

Signing more players will count almost as much.

“I would love to get back to that (full-court) style,” Warlick said. “It’s hard work and you have to get in shape. It’s hard to press for 40 minutes.

“You need numbers. That’s why we’re trying to get our numbers up (through recruiting).

Summitt didn’t sign her full complement of players. She viewed more players as more players not playing.

So in the interest of team morale, she didn’t fill up her scholarship allotment.

But there are far worse scenarios than having unhappy players on your bench. Warlick learned that the hard way when injuries left her with seven available players for some games this past

season

“I’d like to be close to (the scholarship limit),” Warlick said. “That’s difficult as far as playing time.

“But if you play a certain style, you can do that.”

Kentucky has proved as much under coach Matthew Mitchell, whose teams have been committed to full-court pressure and up-tempo play. Such a commitment demands a deeper bench than Tennessee had last season.

Warlick said she will begin interviewing candidates for a strength and conditioning coach next week. Maybe that will be a step in the right direction.

But the bigger step toward building Warlick’s dream team will come through recruiting.

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 » 10

voloffaith writes:

Now that was a very obvious article. Numbers down and a short bench do not pave the way for fast-paced offense/pressure defense.

PureOrange writes:

Agree with Holly. We need more players, and need to never slow down.

BruisedOrange writes:

The usual way to have a deep but happy bench is having role players.

Seems to me like a long time since we've had role players (other than point guards) coming off the bench. We tend to just have "do it all" players of different sizes, shapes and skills.

But maybe that's the current state of the ladies' game at the top level.

volfan2002 writes:

If you have the talent and the numbers you can definitely press an entire game and play up tempo this is nothing new several coaches have used this system with great success. This team needs a few more players to do that mainly post players the perimeter seems to be loaded. In the post we only have Graves, Russell, and Harrison need to add a couple as Burdick and Jones are really not post players.

orangecountyvols writes:

Vols,

Certainly hope it's not going to happen, but it almost seems every year, the Lady Vols appear to lead the nation with injuries.

As a result, having fewer players on the team,
and factoring in that possibility of a few injuries.........then you really do have a short bench.

One year, including a few walkons, Pat had about 15 players on the team. On the other hand, correct me if I'm wrong, but one of her last championship teams, with Candace, had a total of 9 players.

Just wish Holly the best. She knows what she's doing .... far better than I !

richvol writes:

The game has changed as more teams have athletic players now. Pat's last teams were fat and slow and could not have played well against UConn. In fact they would have been blown out.

UT got so many points off of turnovers during Pat's glory years with pressure defense. I am glad that Holly realizes what it will take to get back to the top. Let's hope she gets it done.

vol98champ writes:

This time last year I thought the pantry was as bare as it had been in a long time. When the pre season rankings came out my suspicions were verified. This year Holly will, hopefully have at least 9 quality players. Last year she did a great job with only 6 or 7 most of the time. Final 4 will not be easy, but prospects are much improved.

johnlg00 writes:

in response to BruisedOrange:

The usual way to have a deep but happy bench is having role players.

Seems to me like a long time since we've had role players (other than point guards) coming off the bench. We tend to just have "do it all" players of different sizes, shapes and skills.

But maybe that's the current state of the ladies' game at the top level.

Interesting point. On the one hand, you would think that having as many players as possible who can do as many things as well is possible would be a good thing. The trouble is that people who think they are good at everything are seldom GREAT at any one thing. Everybody should do everything possible to patch up obvious holes in their game, but it is at least as important for players who want to play on the best possible TEAM to choose some particular thing that they want to be the BEST at, preferably BESIDES scoring as such. The team has its best chance to be great if the better scorers get the most shots, some one or two people VOW to control the boards, and have at least two people who are DETERMINED to hold their opponents to half their average.

I often thought Pat sometimes signed players because she could, perhaps sometimes as much to keep opponents from getting them as for their inherent value as players within the Lady Vol system. As long as the national elite kept coming to UT in great numbers, any jealousy over points and minutes and roles could easily be subsumed in the team's success. Nowadays, though, elite players have more than a couple of powerhouse programs competing for them. When an elite player signs with one school, she is rejecting all the others because she thinks the one she is going to gives her the best chance to fulfill her goals.

The bottom line is that there is not room on any team for more than a couple of do-it-all all-star types. If a player isn't already one of those, she is better off picking one skill to DOMINATE in, and add another one each year. The coaches have to put teams together in terms of who does what BEST right NOW. How they do that while leaving fragile young egos intact goes most of the way toward determining what heights the TEAM as a whole can reach.

johnlg00 writes:

in response to volfan2002:

If you have the talent and the numbers you can definitely press an entire game and play up tempo this is nothing new several coaches have used this system with great success. This team needs a few more players to do that mainly post players the perimeter seems to be loaded. In the post we only have Graves, Russell, and Harrison need to add a couple as Burdick and Jones are really not post players.

I get your point, but it seems that both the men's and the women's game is gravitating toward "going small", at least in terms of having only one true post player on the floor at a time. I think both Burdick and Jones can play high post. That might be Burdick's best position with her good shot from the foul line area and decent ball-handling skills. If the LVs really do want to run more, they may well decide that they can get quicker and stay that way if they rotate Graves, Harrison, and Russell at the low post and have Jones and Burdick split time at high post. That way they can run and keep their post players fresh and less troubled by fouls. A deeper, fresher team can also play pressure defense better and longer. If they can do that, post depth is not an issue.

ModelMaker writes:

I think ya all make good points (no trolls in here yet). I think with the players coming in it makes for a very exciting season for next year. Holly is going to have to be the one that decides who goes where. The choices that she make's will play a big part as to how successful the team will be. With Russell coming in it will definitely ad more fire power to the offense and defense. With Carter healthy next year she could work herself into the starting lineup. I think Holly will definitely have some tough choices. But ya know what, that's what life is all about; making tough choices. I think the more input Holly has the easier it will be to make the best choice. It might be something that she never thought of.

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