Aug 29, 2013
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. -- In the first edition of the 2013-14 Lady Vol Hoops Report, Tennessee Head Coach Holly Warlick, junior point guard Ariel Massengale and sophomore forward Bashaara Graves talk about the players' gold medal summer with USA Basketball, UT's two newcomers and this season's schedule.
FOUR-TIME GOLD MEDALISTS WITH USA BASKETBALL
Massengale and Graves each helped their USA teams to gold medals over the summer, with each earning the fourth gold medal of their international careers. Massengale played for the World University Games Team in Kazan, Russia, while Graves was a member for the U19 World Championship Team in Panevė?ys, Lithuania.
Graves started all nine U19 games and averaged 8.4 points and 6.2 rebounds. She also shot a blistering .592 (29-49) from the field and connected on .750 (18-24) from the free throw line. Massengale, meanwhile, came off the bench and averaged 4.0 points, 3.0 assists and 1.8 rebounds in six WUG contests. She also was cited by coach Sherri Coale for her defensive effort.
"It was amazing and having this opportunity was a blessing," Massengale said. "Playing with 11 of the best players in the country was a great opportunity."
"It gives you all the motivation in the world when you win. There's nothing like winning and standing on that podium at the end with your flag raised above all the others. It's a great way to end something."
Massengale said that experience will benefit her this season.
"I gained confidence and leadership skills," Massengale said. "With USA Basketball, you have to put your ego aside because everyone who comes in there is good and you have to do what's best for the team."
Warlick believes the international play taught Massengale some valuable lessons.
"Ariel was in a different situation (during USA Basketball) where she didn't start, so she had to learn to come off the bench," Warlick said. "I think it gives her a greater appreciation of what she needs to do with the team that she needs to rally around it. It was a great learning experience for her. I think this made her see how important her leadership is. She has to lead this team because she has the most experience."
Also an veteran international player, Graves was required to take more of a leadership role with her team. It made her step outside her comfort zone.
"I took more of a leadership role, because the players looked up to me more since I had a year of college under my belt," Graves said. "I had also already played USA Basketball, so I knew how things went.
"It was difficult at first because I knew that Coach Meyer wanted me to be a leader on the team, and I'm not really a talker. So, it was hard for me. Then, I just fell into it and led on the court - I was just leading by example, and I think I did well with it."
Warlick agreed with Graves' assessment of her role.
"I think Bashaara is extending her range," Warlick said. "She was looked upon for her leadership, and she was a leader by example. She is a hard worker and those things then followed for her.
ROOKIES ARE FITTING IN NICELY
The two Lady Vol freshmen, who both hail from Oregon, seem to be fitting in very well with university life and their new team. Mercedes Russell, a 6-foot-6 post player from Springfield, and Jordan Reynolds, a 5-11 guard from Portland, are earning praise from their coach and teammates.
"I'm very pleased," Warlick said. "Both are extremely athletic. Jordan has flown under the radar and is everything we expected her to be and actually a little bit more. She's a vocal leader, and we haven't had that in a while, but it's exactly what we needed. She plays hard and picks up on things very well. I think she's going to be a good defender for us.
"Mercedes moves better than I thought she would laterally, as far as getting down in the defensive stance. I haven't seen them yet on the offensive end, but just her presence and how hard she works and what she's done in the weight room, I've been really pleased. She's quiet, but when you get to know her, she's pretty outspoken and she's fit in really well. I see her fitting in with our style maybe even better than I anticipated. I've loved what I've seen on the defensive end. Not too many big kids can get out and guard the perimeter and that's what she's doing."
Graves is impressed with the work ethic the rookies have displayed thus far.
"They're great workers," Graves said. "For Jordan and Mercedes to work just as hard as the veterans are, it was great and they impressed me a lot.
"They get along with us really well. We're still getting used to the way they play and passing them the ball and where they get their shots from, so it's great that we're picking up on that early."
Massengale echoed Graves' sentiments.
"They're great," Massengale said. "We've been having some tough workouts with Coach Taylor, and he's been putting us through things, but they don't give up, they fight hard, play hard in pick-up games and get after it. They're everything you could want in a freshman so far."
SCHEDULE FEATURES CHALLENGES RIGHT OFF THE BAT
Tennessee released its schedule on Tuesday. Warlick addressed the tough manner with which it begins.
"I think the big challenge for us is our first two games - going to MTSU, which they have made it to the NCAA tournament, and then going to North Carolina, which they had a great freshman recruiting class and some good people back," Warlick said. "Those are two challenges right off the bat for us and two that we really need to focus on.
"Then we go to Stanford, and it's always fun to go there because the place is always sold out. I think those games are the most important and then having Notre Dame come here will be a challenge as well. Then, of course, we have a tough SEC schedule."
After playing host to Carson-Newman in an exhibition game on Nov. 4, the Lady Vols open at Middle Tennessee at 8 p.m. ET (7 CT) on Nov. 8 and follow that with a visit to North Carolina in Chapel Hill on Nov. 11. That game is slated for a 9 p.m. ET start on ESPN2 as part of the 24-hour ESPN's Tip-Off Marathon.
The Lady Vols play their home opener on Nov. 14 when Chattanooga comes to town.