BIRMINGHAM, Ala. –On Tuesday, Pat Summitt thought Tennessee might be overrated as the women’sbasketball team ranked second in the SEC preseason poll. The Lady Vols coach was thinking “somewhere around fourth.” On Thursday, her thought went nowhere at SEC Media Day. “That’s borderline being dishonest,” Georgia coach Andy Landers said, laughing. The annual preseason gathering wasn’t a forum for understatement. The ambitious or those feeling slighted had the fl oor. Mississippi State, for instance, was fi fth last season and never has finished better than a tie for third. Yet guard Marneshia Richard, one of eight seniors on the roster, said the Lady Bulldogs are aiming high.
“Everybody is looking to go out with a bang,” she said. “We have a great, great opportunity in front of us. We’re looking at no less than the SEC championship this year.”
On the flipside, Kentucky guard Carly Morrow was so angry about the Wildcats being picked 11th that she scribbled a large No. 11 on a white sheet of paper, Xeroxed copies and put one in every player’s locker.
“We were not happy,” teammate Victoria Dunlap said.
The consensus is that a pecking order remains discernible within the league ranks but that it’s more debatable this season than usual.
LSU coach Van Chancellor, who’s Lady Tigers are the preseason pick as conference champions, said the eventual winner could suffer as many as three losses, which has never happened.
Arkansas coach Tom Collen furthered that notion by previewing the other end of the standings.
“I think when the season ends, the last place team in the league will have 5 or 6 wins,” he said. “That’s never happened before. Where are they going to get the wins?”
Landers considered personnel in saying: “There’s not a dominating player, so there’s not a team people look at and feel comfortable about predicting as the best team.
“You go back through the years, the team with the best player generally was the best team. There’s an absence of that.”
Tennessee’s reflects the range of this overview. The Lady Vols have the talent and the pedigree to be considered one of the favorites. They are Chancellor’s pick to win the championship.
No Lady Vol dominates the preseason marquee, however. Shekinna Stricklen and Angie Bjorklund were allconference selections. The voters were conflicted about Bjorklund. She made the second team but received a vote for player of the year.
The Lady Vols’ struggles last year in finishing tied for fourth at 9-5 and their relative inexperience still resonate. UT normally brings a senior to this annual event. Junior guard Bjorklund was the Lady Vol representative and this was her second appearance.
“I’m not holding back and saying that I don’t think we’re going to be competitive,” Summitt said. “I really like our talent and last year I really didn’t like our team on a lot of days because they just weren’t competitive.”
Summitt did concur with the other league coaches in basing her team’s prospects on its attention to detail. Everything from defense and rebounding to the finer points of game preparation and team chemistry comprised a lengthy list of key variables.
Chancellor went so far as to mention the vagaries of the expanded 16-game, roundrobin schedule, a format he doesn’t favor.
“I believe at the end of the year, the SEC conference championship will be determined possibly by who you catch on your schedule,” he said.
Summitt was preoccupied with the Lady Vols becoming better at assessing themselves and their play.
“We want them to look at game tape, watch themselves, critique themselves, meet with coaches, so that it’s clear when you go into a game,” Summitt said. “There’s not the confusion of ‘What are we going to do on this ball screen?’ or ‘What are going to do on this back screen?’ (It’s) them being just more comfortable with it and playing with a little more freedom and being relaxed.”
Unlike some of the other players in attendance, Bjorklund didn’t sound overly ambitious or angry – merely realistic.
“You can’t stress enough,” she said, “how much every game counts.”