Coach Pat Summitt's phone rang just after she arrived home from
the Lady Volunteers' dismal 82-65 loss to Stanford last
December. The caller was Semeka Randall, a blue-chip recruit who
had signed with Tennessee a month earlier. "I know you don't
want to talk right now, Coach, but I wanted to ask you a
question," she said. "Can I pick up the ball next year on
A high school star who not only wanted to play defense but was
also begging to put full-court pressure on the ball handler?
Summitt could hardly contain her glee. In addition to Randall,
Summitt had already signed Tamika Catchings, Kristen Clement and
Teresa Geter, all highly decorated stars. The thought of having
them all join the Lady Vols was enough to take Summitt's mind
off the sad state of her team, which was then 7-3 and would be
10-6 by early January--an unacceptable start for Tennessee,
which had won four national titles in the previous 10 years. "It
was tough not to look ahead and say, Boy, the troops are on the
way," Summitt admits.
Then a funny thing happened: Tennessee won the NCAA title after
that unpromising start. So folks in Knoxville began dreaming
about the prospect of the nation's top recruiting class joining
the nation's strongest team.
But hold on. Over the summer Summitt dismissed senior center
Tiffani Johnson for breaking team rules, leaving Tennessee
without an experienced post player. Depth is a concern inside,
as is width. "We've got thin bodies inside," says Summitt. At
6'3", Geter will be expected to step in for the 6'4" Johnson,
although she's not as strong.
The other freshmen will contribute as well. Catchings, the
daughter of former NBA center Harvey Catchings, is a versatile
guard-forward who as a senior at Duncanville (Texas) High once
had a quintuple-double: 25 points, 18 rebounds, 11 assists, 10
steals and 10 blocks. She ranked among the top five recruits in
the country, yet Summitt was recently moved to tell her, "You're
better than I thought you were."
Clement scored 2,256 points at Cardinal O'Hara High, breaking
the Philadelphia-area high school record, held by Wilt
Chamberlain. A point guard and would-be model, she counts among
her many titles both Parade All-America and Miss Hawaiian Tropic.
The freshmen need not worry about the spotlight being too
bright, though. "You've got to think about how much people
around here talk about Chamique Holdsclaw," Catchings says.
Holdsclaw, Tennessee's 6'2" All-America junior forward, led the
U.S. national team in points (19.0 per game) and rebounds (6.2)
in the World Championship Qualifying Tournament in Brazil last
summer, although she was the only collegian on a squad of pros.
"Chamique is playing at the top of her game right now," Summitt
says. That, by itself, should be almost enough to keep Tennessee
near the top of the polls.
Returning Starters [Three]
Points per Game '96-97 77.3
PPG by All Returning Players 48.3