Although Tennessee officially began women’s basketball practice last week, Wednesday felt like opening day to yours truly.
The Lady Vols allowed me to watch 1 1/2 hours of afternoon practice at Pratt Pavilion. The extended viewing afforded me some first impressions of a team that has five first-year players and is transitioning to a faster-paced, defensive-oriented style of play:
— The two Jasmines – Jones and Phillips – should help. Jones, a freshman, caught my eye last week with a drive into the lane for a pull-up jumper. She topped that move on Wednesday by ripping a rebound and dribbling the length of the floor, finishing with a ball fake and driving layup. She looked more like a guard on the play than a 6-foot-2 forward.
Phillips, meanwhile, wasn’t as flashy but made plays in all three phases: defense, rebounding and scoring. Although she’s 5-11, the sophomore guard, a junior college transfer, gathered her fair share of offensive rebounds.
— Defense didn’t translate into offense. Judging by Wednesday’s play, the Lady Vols will be challenged to convert pressure defense into effective transition play. Missed shots and errant passes were the norm. Shifting gears will be of paramount importance.
— Practice was quieter than usual, which is typical for a young team. That said, the Lady Vols are advised to turn up the volume, since communication will be even more crucial to their chosen style of play.
— With an ongoing emphasis on basketball conditioning, the Lady Vols are playing primarily against themselves for the time being. There were just two male practice players on hand and they made cameo appearances.
— My first impression of the Lady Vols’ defense didn’t involve their athleticism – although no player looked lost in an open-court setting – but rather their wingspan. This particular group ought to amass many pass deflections.
— There was no mistaking that first-year head coach Holly Warlick was in charge. But like her mentor, Pat Summitt, she was allowing her assistants to run some drills and have input. Summitt, now a head coach emeritus, was on hand.