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DID SOMEONE SAY MEEK? TENNESSEE RELIES ON THREE PLAYERS CALLED MEEK, BUT THE NO. 1 LADY VOLS AREN'T THE LEAST BIT RETIRING

Dec. 08, 1997
Dec. 08, 1997

Table of Contents
Dec. 8, 1997

Faces In The Crowd
Special Report

DID SOMEONE SAY MEEK? TENNESSEE RELIES ON THREE PLAYERS CALLED MEEK, BUT THE NO. 1 LADY VOLS AREN'T THE LEAST BIT RETIRING

For the record, there were a few weeks this fall when
Tennessee's four newcomers acted like the nobodies that freshmen
are supposed to be. For instance, when the two-time defending
women's national champion Lady Volunteers were introduced at
halftime of the Tennessee-Mississippi football game on Oct. 4,
the four rookies, each a top recruit, were made to stand on the
sideline, out of the limelight. When the Lady Vols visited the
White House on Oct. 27, the freshmen stayed home. And when the
1997 NCAA championship banner was raised and the rings were
doled out at Thompson-Boling Arena before a game against No. 2
Louisiana Tech on Nov. 21, the rookies huddled in the shadows
and watched from a distance, uncertain smiles crossing their
lips. "It was a good feeling, seeing our teammates get their
rings," says forward Tamika Catchings, who shares a dorm suite
with fellow freshmen Kristen (Ace) Clement, Teresa Geter and
Semeka Randall. "But I think we felt a little jealous. We want
rings, too."

This is an article from the Dec. 8, 1997 issue Original Layout

The NCAA's jewelers should consider themselves forewarned. After
ending 10th-ranked Stanford's 49-game home winning streak with a
convincing 88-70 victory at San Jose Arena last Saturday and
then prevailing 74-51 at Portland on Sunday, Tennessee was 6-0
and looked ready to deliver the first three-peat in women's
college basketball. The freshmen? They still stood apart--but
only from other first-year players. "They don't play like
freshmen," said Stanford assistant Amy Tucker after watching
Catchings and Randall combine for 37 points and 19 rebounds
against the Cardinal. "Right now our freshmen are playing like
freshmen, but the Tennessee freshmen are dominating."

Clement, a point guard who last year surpassed Wilt
Chamberlain's Philadelphia-area high school scoring record, has
seen little action because of a stress fracture in her right
foot. But Catchings, Geter and Randall have made themselves
right at home at center stage, alongside the Lady Vols' two-time
All-America, Chamique Holdsclaw. The three freshmen have
contributed 40.4% of Tennessee's scoring and 37.2% of its
rebounding.

Holdsclaw, a junior forward who shouldered a heavy burden for
the Lady Vols last season, is thrilled to have the company. "I'm
so much more relaxed," she says. "I know I have to play hard,
but it's not like last year, when we'd be down by 10 points and
my teammates would look at me for five straight possessions.
Teams can guard me tight, but Tamika and Semeka can slip in
there and score now."

With three reliable perimeter scorers, this Tennessee team
doesn't much resemble last year's erratic and often exasperating
edition, which lost 10 games before running through the NCAA
tournament and winning the championship game against Old
Dominion. In fact, without a wide-body enforcer such as 6'4"
Tiffani Johnson, who was kicked off the Lady Vols this summer
for breaking unspecified rules, this group doesn't look much
like any of Tennessee's five previous championship teams. But
that's a quickly diminishing concern for coach Pat Summitt, who
watched the willowy and begoggled Geter, who stands 6'3", hold
her own at home against Louisiana Tech's preseason All-America
center, Alisa Burras. Geter had 11 points, six rebounds, five
blocks and three steals in 17 minutes against the Lady Techsters
as Tennessee won 75-61. Even after Geter got rattled on the road
against Stanford, contributing just four points and four
rebounds, Summitt was serene. "I thought Teresa looked like a
freshman today," she said. "But that's good. She'll look better
tomorrow."

It's hard for Summitt not to be optimistic about this team. To
begin with, she admires the way her veteran players have
responded to winning the title. "They've handled success better
than most," she says. "They all worked really hard over the
summer."

So far there has been no sign of the inconsistency that plagued
the 1996-97 Lady Vols. (Summitt isn't particularly proud of last
year's 29-10 record; the ring commemorating that championship is
the only one of the five in her jewelry box that isn't engraved
with Tennessee's record.) The squad's dedication has allowed
Summitt to do what she enjoys most: teach. If she's not careful,
she might find herself sitting back and rooting, because along
with being talented and motivated, these Lady Vols are fun to
watch. "I've worked 24 years to see a team this exciting," she
says.

Most of Tennessee's new electricity can be traced to the Three
Amikas--Chamique, Semeka and Tamika--who share, besides a middle
syllable that gives them all the nickname Meek, the poise and
athleticism that typify the new breed of woman player. But as
good as Catchings and Randall are, Holdsclaw, who has a chance
to become the first four-time All-America since Southern Cal's
Cheryl Miller, is still the standard of excellence. Her
combination of quickness, skill and grace makes her a singular
star, "maybe the best ever to play this game," says Louisiana
Tech coach Leon Barmore. And she's still improving. Though she
was the only nonprofessional player on a U.S. team that toured
Canada, Europe and South America last summer, Holdsclaw was the
leading scorer and rebounder and came into her own as a defender.

Her fellow Meek, Randall, is a great lover of music. She
recently passed on an opportunity to see an NBA preseason game
in Knoxville to attend the opera. She gave up playing the
trumpet long ago, however, to concentrate on basketball. "I can
tell you every mistake I've made on the court since sixth
grade," says Randall, a 5'10" guard from Cleveland who was the
Parade co-Player of the Year last season. Which is not to say
she's all grim purpose on the court. On the contrary, her
exuberance is riveting. Vibrating with anguish over every foul
and with joy after every score, she is "like a stick of dynamite
for the fans," says Summitt.

While Randall's desire to be at Tennessee was never in
doubt--she called Summitt collect nearly every other day last
summer just to check in, leaving the Lady Vols with a phone bill
that still makes Summitt wince--Catchings, daughter of former
NBA center Harvey Catchings, was harder to read. Though she says
she has known since eighth grade that she would "kill to play
for Pat," she was also tugged by a desire to be reunited with
her older sister, Tauja, with whom she won a state championship
at Stevenson High in Lincolnshire, Ill., in 1995. When Harvey
and his wife, Wanda, were divorced, Tauja stayed with her dad in
Chicago while Tamika moved with her mom to Duncanville, Texas,
where she picked up every national player of the year award not
claimed by Randall last season.

"The plan was that Tauja and I would hook up again in college,"
says Tamika, who is a year behind her older sister in school but
was the more highly recruited of the two. "When she told me she
had signed with Illinois, I was hurt. A lot of schools I was
interested in had been recruiting her."

Even Tauja's presence at Illinois couldn't bring the Illini into
Tamika's range of interest, which was good news for Summitt.
With the three Meeks, Ace and the Big Smooth, as Geter is
called, the future of Tennessee women's basketball looks as
bright as its past. Even if the Lady Vols don't pull off a
three-peat, the members of the class of 2001 are good bets to
eventually get championship rings of their own. And they can be
sure they'll never be consigned to the shadows again.

COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY ROCKY WIDNER LaShonda Stephens (34) stuffed Heather Owens as the Lady Vols broke Stanford's winning streak. [LaShonda Stephens, Heather Owens, and others in game]COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY ROCKY WIDNER Holdsclaw is the hardest Lady Vol to stop; thanks to her precocious teammates, the job is now tougher. [Chamique Holdsclaw and other in game]