It is business as usual for the University of Tennessee women’s basketball program.
That is how Pat Summitt and the Lady Vols coaching staff is approaching the upcoming season just two months after Summitt disclosed she had been diagnosed with early onset dementia.
“She is fine. She is at every practice. She is heavily recruiting and she is involved in everything we do,” assistant coach Holly Warlick said at Southeastern Conference media days on Thursday. “She is still our head coach and she is doing a heck of a job. Coach Summitt believes it’s not about her, it’s about her program. We’re not doing anything different as we approach this season.”
The 59-year-old Summitt enters her 38th season as UT’s head coach and hasn’t lowered expectations since her diagnosis and the national media attention that followed.
“Every day I can’t wait to get on the court,” Summitt said. “I’m not ready to retire. I have a great staff and we are focused on this season.”
The Lady Vols are the unanimous pick to once again capture the SEC crown, as voted on by the media earlier this week. UT is coming off a 34-3 season, a perfect 16-0 mark in league play and a trip to the Elite Eight.
Two of the top three scorers return, including SEC preseason player of the year Shekinna Stricklen. She is one of five seniors for the Lady Vols and averaged 12.8 and 7.3 rebounds last year. Also returning is senior Glory Johnson, who averaged 12 points and a team-high 9.7 rebounds.
“We know what we can do and are expected to be in the Final Four and compete for a championship,” fifth-year senior Vicki Baugh said. “I want to go out the way I came in [back in 2008] and that’s winning a national championship. We are now a veteran team, and we are pushing each other and holding each other accountable.”
• Vandy counting on seniors: The way Vanderbilt men’s basketball coach Kevin Stallings sees it a senior-laden team can be a positive or a negative.
On one hand, the Commodores’ six seniors bring in a wealth of experience. On the other hand, Stallings warns upperclassmen can sometimes give into individual agendas and forget about the team’s goals.
Luckily, Stallings doesn’t think that will be a problem for his squad.
“I have absolutely no concerns about having any negativity to having a lot of seniors playing,” Stallings said on Thursday. “I think it will be the best thing for our team because our guys are committed and they have been committed for a long time. They understand and talk about our team agenda and not an individual agenda.”
Headlining the seniors are starters Brad Tinsley, Jeffery Taylor and Festus Ezeli, who will miss the first six games due to an NCAA suspension. Lance Goulbourne and Steve Tchiengang could also be thrust into the starting five. All together, they combined to average 50 points a year ago.
The senior leadership gives Vanderbilt its best chance to reach the school’s first Final Four after two straight first-round exits in the NCAA Tournament.
“My team really gets it, as much as any team that I have ever coached,” Stallings said. “They are poised to do things we have not done yet. They deserve to have that happen to them because of their work ethic. They have meant a lot to our program.”