Pat Summitt sounds serious.
The warning issued by Tennessee’s women’s basketball coach to freshman Kamiko Williams last month evoked early winter, not late summer.
“We’re going to be a different team,” Summitt said. ” . . That’s why Kamiko better get in the picture real soon. I hate to see her get left out entirely.”
For Summitt, “different” means more attuned to defense and playing more like a typical Tennessee team.
“Just looking back, we were never committed to defense for 40 minutes a game,” she said. “It was more pick and choose when we’re going to play hard. We’re not going to be that team this year.”
If she’s really serious about that, it’ll take more than threatening a callow first-year player like Williams. With the Lady Vols beginning weekly full-team workouts on Thursday, it will take deploying sophomore Glory Johnson on the perimeter as Tennessee’s lead defender.
Johnson was used there some last season. The strategy was conceived as a way to utilize Johnson’s 6-foot-3 wingspan and her quickness.
The former Webb School star was the most athletic Lady Vol last season. Watching her dart around the court at Pratt Pavilion the past few weeks reinforces the distinction. Even Summitt conceded, “I have no doubt that she can guard anyone, anywhere on the court.”
Furthermore, Johnson’s physical talents have been enhanced by a season’s worth of experience. All of the sophomores are talking about an improved comfort level. Johnson described the difference in a defensive context.
“I don’t have to think about the way to play defense,” she said. “The way to close out, the way to deny – I don’t have to think about it anymore. It comes natural. It’s kind of comforting.”
What better time then to turn a strategic change-up into a staple. What better way to invigorate UT’s effort than casting Johnson in a role comparable to past stoppers Nikki McCray and Alexis Hornbuckle.
Summitt qualifies Johnson’s defensive potential with apprehension about discipline and Johnson’s tendency to foul.
“That’s the biggest hurdle we’ll have to get over with her,” Summitt said.
But that worry will follow Johnson all over the court, no matter whom she’s guarding or where she’s defending. Perhaps another concern should take priority – namely Johnson’s offensive game.
On the other end of the court, she remains a work in progress. She joked about the sleeve-like wrap she’s wearing to protect her left shoulder as it pertained to one of her more challenging shots.
“You have to find new ways to make a left-handed layup, which is rough for me already,” she said.
Johnson said that she spent the offseason working on her left-handed dribbling, her free throw shooting and her jump shot.
Listening to her brought to mind Hornbuckle and the offseasons she spent shooting countless jumpers. The best she could do in four years was become a streaky shooter.
Nobody will remember, however. Instead, Hornbuckle will be recalled as the Lady Vols’ all-time steals leader and a key contributor on back-to-back national championship teams.
Johnson could be afforded a similar opportunity. Even with forward Vicki Baugh still recovering from knee surgery and center Kelley Cain yet to complete a season because of knee and concussion problems, Tennessee remains plenty big with the addition of freshmen Faith Dupree and Taber Spani, who looks taller than her listed 6-1.
There appears to be enough height for Johnson to step out on the perimeter and create some serious havoc.
Dan Fleser covers the Lady Vols. He can be reached at 865-342-6288 or firstname.lastname@example.org