It’s summertime, which is technically the offseason for women’s basketball, but the players are both in the gym on their own and allowed several hours each week under NCAA rules to be on the court with their coaches and participate in strength and conditioning workouts.
Offseason doesn’t mean lack of fan activity either. This is the final week for fans to renew their season tickets. New buyers also can secure the best seats available as season ticket sales overall continue this summer before single game tickets go on sale in the fall. To access season tickets at All Vols, go here and click on women’s basketball. So far, more than 4,200 season tickets have been sold.
As Kellie Harper enters her fourth season at Tennessee – after the first two were disrupted by a pandemic and she reached the Sweet 16 in her third – she has a full roster that is stacked with veteran players and talented newcomers. The home schedule includes ranked non-conference opponents such as Indiana, Virginia Tech and UConn and a tough UCF team, along with the SEC opponents, which will include defending national champion South Carolina on “The Summitt” court.
The late Pat Summitt always said champions are made in the offseason – just one of the reasons she liked to recruit “gym rats.” In basketball vernacular, that’s a player who never has to be told to get in the gym. Candace Parker is lauded for her basketball skills. She also was – and still is – a gym rat. One of the best players on the planet doesn’t need directions to the gym and when Pratt Pavilion opened at Tennessee in 2007, she might as well have set up a cot. If Summitt drove by at night and saw the lights on, she knew Parker was inside.
What do basketball players do in the offseason on the court? Work on jump shots, ball handling, footwork, layups, free throws, et al. None of it is particularly exciting. It can be rather tedious at times. No one is watching. Or cheering. But it separates players when the game matters.
Harper has spent the last three years retooling her roster and in 2021 added one of the best and most experienced recruiters in the game in the nearly 49-year-old Samantha Williams, whose TikTok videos reflect someone much younger and resonate with teenagers and young players, who know the music and get the humor. (Her take on going to the “new age” church on Easter with current players is must-watch. Her TikTok account is here.)
Williams’ off-season social media posts give a hint of what is to come this season. Basketball coaches have spent most of July on the road crisscrossing the country to watch high schoolers play with their summer teams at showcase events. They finally got back to their campus on Tuesday.
On July 24, the day before the final showcase stretch of July ended, Williams posted on Twitter: Excited about the possibilities for this year’s team. Having a really good summer so far… Can’t wait to get back to campus and in the gym with them. One team…One Goal…the standard of excellence remains the same.
In mid-July, she posted a hype video of last season’s best plays with the words: You’re gonna wanna be here. (For those on Twitter, Williams’ account is here.)
“We can be great,” senior guard Jordan Horston said. “Coach Sam, we had a conversation with her the other day. She said this team is a good team, we’re good on paper, we’ve got the talent, but we’ve got so much more to keep working on. We want to be great. We want to win. We’ve got the potential.”
The Lady Vols haven’t been to a Final Four since 2008. If the players work together on the court, the 2022-23 team has an excellent shot at ending that streak – probably the best of any Lady Vols team since 2015 and 2016 when the program reached back-to-back Elite Eight berths.
Fans might want to secure those season tickets now.
Maria M. Cornelius, a writer/editor at Moxley Carmichael since 2013, began writing about the Lady Vols in 1998. In 2016, she published her first book, “The Final Season: The Perseverance of Pat Summitt,” through The University of Tennessee Press.