Rebuild is reality for UT gals
Posted: Thursday, October 30, 2008 5:51 pm
By: By BETH RUCKER, Associated Press Writer
KNOXVILLE (AP) — Angie Bjorklund doesn’t like to think of this as a rebuilding year for Tennessee.
“Here at Tennessee, we don’t rebuild it. We reload,” the sophomore guard said Tuesday at the team’s annual media day.
Either way, coach Pat Summitt has a lot of work to do after losing five key players from last season’s national championship squad, including 2008 player of the year, Candace Parker.
It’s one of the youngest teams the Hall of Fame coach has ever led: one senior, four sophomores, a redshirt freshman and six true freshmen.
Only one player — Bjorklund — has regular starting experience.
Filling the holes left by Parker, Alexis Hornbuckle, Nicky Anosike, Shannon Bobbitt and Alberta Auguste could be a tall order for this youthful team.
The challenge to grow up goes beyond the freshmen, which was rated the top 2008 recruiting class.
Summitt is looking to senior forward Alex Fuller and Bjorklund for leadership this season.
Furthermore, much of Summitt’s work now is devoted to teaching the new players how to practice and perform at the level she expects of her Lady Vols squad. Many freshmen aren’t accustomed to the intensity level of practice when they first arrive at Tennessee.
That’s not necessarily true with two freshmen, forward Glory Johnson, of Knoxville, and guard Shekinna Stricklen, of Morrilton, Ark.
Johnson and Stricklen, both McDonald’s All-Americans, had intense high school coaches and practices that put them ahead of their Lady Vols classmates, and both have a shot at making an impact early in the season, Summitt said.
“I’m probably not set on anything right now other than Shekinna Stricklen and Glory Johnson will be in the lineup,” she said.
Other freshmen, like forward Amber Gray, from West Chester, Ohio, are “learning to find a different gear,” but are making process, Summitt said.
Despite winning the last two national championships, Summitt is happy to be able to teach young players who are hungry to learn. That was sometimes a stretch last season as she struggled to motivate a group of seniors who had already won one title.
“There’s something to be said about having a young team. It certainly fires me up,” she said. “I look forward to practice, I say this all the time — it’s my classroom, it’s my favorite time of the day.”
A national title three-peat might be just out of reach for this team, but there is one landmark to achieve this season. Summitt is only 17 wins away from amassing 1,000 in her career and could achieve that by mid-January at the earliest.
“I know one thing, I hope we can get there in a hurry and get it over with,” Summitt said.