Monthly Archives: October 2013

Between two extremes

Women’s basketball’s response to cleaning up physical play could be as easy as Aleighsa Welch’s advice last week as SEC Media Days.

“Hands up but not hands on,” said the South Carolina forward, coining a useful defensive directive.

Then again, the reaction could be more problematic and impede the sport’s intention of attracting more fans by putting a more appealing product on the court.

“We’re going to have some fans,” Tennessee assistant coach Dean Lockwood said, “that won’t want to go to games to see 47 (fouls) called.”

The process likely will play out somewhere between these two extremes and proceed toward some sort of middle ground. The key variables are the rate of this transition and the manner in which it occurs.

Here’s some thoughts on what might happen:

— Hand checking probably will be the most difficult adjustment. Players are allowed one touch and that’s it. But many players reach on instinct, particularly when the opposing player makes a sudden move.

— Officials have been instructed to watch for illegal contact on shooters after the shot is released. Expect a controversial ending or two if this guideline is followed to the letter.

— With a greater premium being placed on freedom of movement, many teams will resort to zone defenses. In such alignments, it will be easier to beat opposing players to spots on the court. Plus, foul-prone players can be protected.

Feeling refreshed

Words rarely fail Dean Lockwood and Thursday was no exception after Jannah Tucker announced that she would be enrolling at Tennessee for the spring semester.

“It’s a lot like coming out of a nice, warm shower after a long, muddy run,”  the Lady Vols assistant coach said. “You feel refreshed.  Everything fits. Before, so many things didn’t fit.”

Tennessee stayed a long, winding course to reach this point with Tucker, a 6-foot guard from Randallstown, Md., who is the alleged victim in a domestic violence case involving her former boyfriend. The No. 8 ranked women’s basketball recruit in the Class of 2013 by ESPN HoopGurlz didn’t show up as expected for summer school. At times, the coaches likely wondered whether she’d ever enroll at all.

No sooner does one journey end, though, and another is about to begin.

“There’s no template for this,” Lockwood conceded. “It’s the first scenario of this nature that we’ve had to deal with.”

Lockwood deferred to head coach Holly Warlick on specifics. But he did say that plans were being formulated with Tucker’s well-being in mind.

In the meantime, the Lady Vols have set a helpful tone with their patience and care. Fran Burbidge, Tucker’s AAU coach, speculated that UT’s tact might have fast-forwarded developments for the Tuckers, who visited campus two weeks ago.

“Tennessee did such a great job; they were so empathic and professional with the Tuckers, even before they knew what was going on,” Burbidge said. “I think there’s a sense of security for Jannah and her parents.

“I don’t think there’s any question that Tennessee, being aware of the situation, they have the resources available to them that will allow Jannah to continue healing.”

The players have played a part by literally embracing Tucker during her visit. Lockwood said that the players sprinted to her when she arrived at Pratt Pavilion before a practice.

“According to the Tuckers, it was so heart-warming, tearful to them,” Burbidge said.

Although Tucker will practice with the Lady Vols, Lockwood said UT doesn’t intend for her to play this season.

“Right now,” he said, “the basketball piece is really the last piece for her in this scenario.”

In other words, the next journey has a ways to go.






Sold on the responsibility

Discussion about the state of women’s basketball continued throughout SEC media days in Birmingham, Ala. Several coaches used the forum and the topic to reiterate their belief that coaches also must serve as marketers for their program.

Tennessee coach Holly Warlick used the word “product” five times Thursday during her media session in the main room.

“We have to understand cultivating our fan base is a primary responsibility for us,” Florida coach Amanda Butler said.

Texas A&M coach Gary Blair, who appeared on Wednesday, is perhaps the most outspoken advocate of this responsibility.

“The head coach needs to be the face of the program,” he said. “The head coach needs to be the marketing director per se.

“We can’t keep living off what Tennessee has been doing for the last 30 years. We have to grow the fan base in other places.”

In other matters:

— The SEC announced Thursday morning that the women’s tournament will be in North Little Rock, Ark., in 2015. The tournament has been held there three previous times with the last time being in 2009.

“North Little Rock is an enthusiastic community that is perfect to showcase our women’s basketball programs,” SEC commissioner Mike Slive said in a conference release.

— has reported that forward A’ja Wilson, the top prospect in the class of 2014, will take her first official visit this weekend to defending national champion Connecticut. Wilson, a 6-foot-5 forward, will visit North Carolina next weekend. Tennessee has been recruiting Wilson, who attends Heathwood Hall Episcopal in Columbia, S.C.

Wilson is not expected to announce her decision until spring.

— Georgia guard Marjorie Butler had a plasma injection this spring in the knee that she injured before her senior season at Knoxville’s Webb School. Georgia coach Andy Landers said that Butler’s offseason conditioning was impacted. He expects her to be “85 to 90 percent” recovered within the next month.

Butler played in 27 games last season, averaging 10.9 minutes and 2.3 points per game.




For the good of the game

SEC coaches speaking Wednesday during the opening day of SEC Media Days in Birmingham, Ala., lauded Val Ackerman’s white paper on the state of women’s basketball for the attention it has drawn to the game and the discussion it has sparked.

“It was good,” Georgia’s Andy Landers said. “Whether it’s right or wrong isn’t important to me right now. It’s good. We need to do some evaluating.

“Where are we at? That’s what businesses ask themselves. Some of the points that were made are fair.”

Texas A&M coach Gary Blair thinks the attention alone was worthwhile.

“We need people to tune into the game and understand who we are,” he said.

All the coaches, even those with defensive-oriented philosophies, seem agreeable to the game being officiating in a manner that will allow more player movement and reduce physical play.

“The game has become physical and aggressive to the point where the female athlete has a difficult time executing and performing as well as she can offensively,” Landers said. “I’m willing to go there if the officials take me there. It’s an adjustment for everybody.”


Burdick’s new dream team

When she was in high school, Tennessee’s Cierra Burdick made a “Dream Team.”

“Dream” was an acronym for “Daring to role model excellence as an athletic mentor.” Burdick gathered eight teacher recommendations, answered 10 essay questions and endured five interviews just to make the team. She and the other 11 members at Butler High in Matthews, N.C., pledged not to use drugs, alcohol or tobacco products and to be role models for other youths.

“That was the best thing I could’ve ever done,” Burdick said.

The women’s basketball junior forward is doing it again at Tennessee.  She is the captain of a 12-member campus squad comprised of UT athletes. The co-captain is Dalton Saberhagen of the baseball team.

The other members are Ellen Renfroe (softball), Caroline Duer (track & field), Jammer Strickland (baseball), Hannah McDonald (softball), Jacob Thulin (swimming), Caroline Brown (soccer), Derek Reese (basketball), Harper Lucas (rowing), Andy Cox (baseball) and Cherelle Thompson (swimming).

“I cannot wait to get into the community and out on campus to start making a difference!” Burdick said in a text message. “The sky is the limit!”