KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (School Release) – An 11th Lady Vol joined the 2013-14 roster on Friday and began workouts with the team on Saturday morning, as No. 5/5 Tennessee (10-1) continued preparations to host Lipscomb (3-7) on Sunday at 2:05 p.m.
Freshman guard Jannah Tucker, a Randallstown, Md., native, was welcomed with open arms as the team's newest member and was on the court displaying the skills that made her the No. 8-ranked player in the high school class of 2013.
11-STRONG LADY VOLS
Tucker had planned to enroll in the fall, but due to personal reasons delayed her arrival. Now that she's in Knoxville, though, Warlick says everyone is excited about the addition of Tucker.
"I'm excited for Jannah," Warlick said. "She's had a long road, and I'm thrilled and our team is, too, to have her here and present and a part of our team. She's a great kid and we're excited for her to be here."
Tucker had surgery on her ACL in September 2012 and missed her senior basketball season at New Town High School. Time has passed since that procedure and her last stint playing, so it may take a while to shake off the rust while gearing back up for a highly-competitive level of play. The plan is for Tucker to practice, watch and learn from the bench and be ready to go next season.
"Our plan is to redshirt her," Warlick said. "But I'm just happy she's here, and we'll just see how things go. I don't think she's physically ready, and I think her knee needs a little bit of work (to see how it responds to daily workouts). She just hasn't played, so just getting her to practice and some game prep (will be the focus)."
Not just the coach, but Tucker's new teammates are also glowing with excitement to have another teammate on the court with them.
"It's great having her," Massengale said. "Just to have her here, we can go five-on-five now, and if someone goes down, we have a sub. She's a great kid with a great personality and we're glad to have her here and excited for her to start her career with us."
Not just Tucker's arrival has sparked the team's interest. Her work ethic and potential has let everyone know they can count on her.
"It's very uplifting," Massengale continued." It shows that when we get on the court, we know we can count on her and we know that she's going to fight through. She's not going to give up on us and she's going to give everything that she has."
Lady Vol fans will get their first look at the 6-foot guard Sunday at Thompson-Boling Arena.
"She's just an excited young kid," Warlick said. "For her, it's like every day is Christmas. I just want her to get back and get used to college and the flow and just enjoy getting back into basketball."
GETTING BETTER AFTER THE LOSS TO STANFORD
The Lady Vols are back in action after a seven-day winter break, as they take on Lipscomb Sunday. The hiatus came following a trip to Stanford on Dec. 21, and Holly Warlick says that her team "got better" following a loss to the (then) No. 6/5 team in the country.
"Our defense for the most part looked solid, we just had a couple of breakdowns," Warlick said. "We put ourselves in great positions, but you have to finish what you do. It was a great environment and a great learning experience for us. Stanford is a great team. We'll get better as a result of that game."
With just the Lipscomb game remaining before SEC play begins Thursday, the players know what they have to focus on first. Not even the pregame retirement of Candace Parker's jersey or showdown with No. 16/16 LSU at 7 p.m. Thursday have stolen the players' attention.
"We haven't even started talking about LSU yet," said junior guard Ariel Massengale."We're aware that the SEC is starting up very soon, but first and foremost, we play Lipscomb tomorrow, and that's what we have to prepare for."
Echoing her player, Warlick continued on their preparation for the Lady Bisons.
"We haven't even addressed LSU or Candace's jersey," Warlick said. "We watched 30 minutes of Lipscomb on tape earlier. This team is really good about focusing on the present and making sure we take care of business. That's our job as coaches - to not look ahead, and we keep them in the moment."
Both Warlick and Massengale used the Stanford game as a positive learning experience heading into the second half of the season.
"I think we just have to be consistent," Massengale said. "We have to put together a 40-minute game. We had a lot of good possessions and then some where (Stanford) just out-worked us. We had to work through fatigue, and we have to get better with that.
"This team is filled with great shooters, and we have to work our way through it and stay in the gym and stay confident and keep shooting," Massengale said. "We're still very confident. (Stanford) was a great test for us, and now we know where we stand. We see where we are, and we know what we have to do to be successful in SEC play."
After what Warlick said was the Lady Vols' first true test of the season, it was back to the drawing boards when the team arrived back in Knoxville. Massengale said she noticed the relationship between guards and posts when it comes to shooting; Warlick said she saw it in the difference in offense and defense.
"We did see in film that it's a two-way street when it comes to getting the ball inside," Massengale said. "The posts have to post hard on the inside and want the ball. The guards have to get it to them when they're open, and we both have to do better about that.
"Posts have to want the ball and work for it and the guards have to look at them and give them the opportunity. If we don't look at them when they're inside, then they're going to stop posting."
And ball-handling was on Warlick's radar over the Christmas holiday as well.
"In the Stanford game, we needed to get the ball inside a little bit more," she said. "We talked about that and looked at it today. We did get open and moved the ball. We're an inside team – we're going to get the ball inside. We didn't get the ball inside, but we got some eight-foot jumpers, and we just didn't make them.
"We're going to be in the gym a little bit more and putting up more shots, and we just have to work on it. We'll incorporate it in practice and get them in the gym on their own," Warlick said.
When asked about a potential last-second shot, Massengale says that they're prepared for everything, but performing when the time comes is key, as she saw against Stanford.
"We do different situational things in practice and in the case of (a last-second shot), you just have to look for the best shot or try to get it inside. If not, we're filled with great shooters and if we get the chance, we just have to knock it down."