KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Tennessee guard Andraya Carter is eager to start leading from the floor rather than from the bench.
Carter earned praise for her leadership ability as a freshman last year, but she played only seven games before a torn labrum in her right shoulder knocked her out for the remainder of the season. The injury continued Carter's two-year run of medical misfortune.
Now she's healthy again and ready to boost a point guard position that lacked depth in her absence last year. The Lady Vols hope her return sparks them to the Final Four appearance that has eluded Tennessee since its 2008 national championship season. Tennessee opens its season Nov. 8 at Middle Tennessee.
"It's made me more thankful for this opportunity I have," Carter said. "It's just a blessing to be healthy. When I'm out there on the court, I just appreciate it so much because I know it could be taken away at any second."
Carter knows that all too well after missing the majority of her last two seasons.
She tore the anterior cruciate ligament in her left knee the summer before her senior year at Buford (Ga.) High School. Carter returned later that season, only to hurt her right shoulder during the state tournament. She injured that same shoulder early in her freshman year at Tennessee.
Carter, a 5-foot-9 redshirt freshman, says her history of injuries won't cause her to tone down her aggressive style. Carter averaged 5.3 points last season and garnered respect from teammates for her willingness to sprint back on defense, take a charge, and dive for a loose ball in any situation.
"I don't want to be out there hesitating," Carter said. "If I'm out there and feel hesitant, then I shouldn't be out there. I want to be the player I was before, if not even more aggressive, just because that's how I like to play. It's fun playing that way. If I wasn't playing that way, it just wouldn't feel right."
Carter had started five of Tennessee's first seven games before undergoing surgery.
"Even as a freshman, she was a leader for us," Tennessee forward Cierra Burdick said. "I think that speaks a lot for her personality and her determination."
That leadership ability became even more apparent after Carter got hurt. Burdick referred to Carter as a "player-coach" for her ability to see what was happening from the bench and pass on advice to her teammates.
Carter's injury last season left Ariel Massengale as the Lady Vols' only pure point guard. Carter now can team up with Massengale to form a duo that can work alongside shooting guard Meighan Simmons and incoming freshman Jordan Reynolds in the backcourt.
Although Carter and Massengale will likely be battling for a starting spot, they welcome the competition.
"We make each other better," Massengale said. "She has strengths where I may be weak, and I have strengths where she may be weak. We complement each other. We can be one of the best backcourts in the country, along with Meighan Simmons and Jordan Reynolds. It's going to be tough to stop us."