Sept. 19, 2013
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. -- This week's Lady Vol Hoops Preseason Report focuses on Tennessee's returning point guards, who will be responsible for piloting the 2013-14 UT squad as far as it can possibly go. The destination, of course, is the NCAA Final Four in Nashville.
Junior Ariel Massengale is back after starting the past two seasons, and she added to her experience over the summer by helping USA Basketball win a gold medal at the World University Games.
Redshirt freshman Andraya Carter returns to play her rookie season all over again after seeing her rookie campaign cut short by an injury to her right shoulder and season-ending surgery.
The two players are being called upon to lead more vocally, and both are embracing that challenge. They also are supportive of one another and willing to do what it takes for their team to reach its goals in the coming season.
DOUBLE TROUBLE IN THE TENNESSEE BACKCOURTFor the past two seasons Massengale has shouldered the burden as Tennessee's point guard, earning 30 starts a year ago and getting 24 in 2011-12 after head coach emeritus Pat Summitt declared Massengale the Lady Vols' starter before the product of Bolingbrook, Ill., had enrolled at UT.
But this year, with the return of Carter, the duo is looking forward to complementing each other to make Tennessee's backcourt even stronger.
"I think (our competition) is great," Massengale said. "We make each other better. She has strengths where I may be weak, and I have strengths where she may be weak, so we complement each other well. We can be one of the best backcourts in the country along with Meighan Simmons and Jordan Reynolds. It's going to be tough to stop us."
Carter, who sat on the bench due to injury her freshman year, is using the experience she gained from being on the sidelines to better herself as a leader and together with Massengale, chart the course for their team.
"It's great having Draya back," Massengale said. "She's an unbelievable athlete and basketball player. Her knowledge that she gained last season is going to help her individually and our team this season. For me, it's nice being able to share that leadership role so I don't have to take it all by myself and I have a partner right next to me."
Not only the leadership, which Massengale has shown since her arrival on Rocky Top, has spread to her younger teammate, but also her playing ability and hard work has as well.
"Ariel pushes me, and I push her every single day," Carter said. "But we're more just here for each other, and we want each other to play well. We both know that we need each other. If I'm having an off day, Ariel has to step up and if she's having an off day, I know that I have to step up.
"She's helped me so much. We push each other in practice, but off the court, we're there for each other. She's there to help me, and I'm there to help her. It doesn't put a damper on our friendship at all. It's a positive relationship, and we know that we need each other. I love being on the court with her and I love being there to back her up. I like that she has my back."
And it's the off-the-court chemistry that will propel the Lady Vols to the start of a successful season. Today marked the first practice with all ten Lady Vols together, and it's a short 46 days until Tennessee takes the court for its first exhibition game in Thompson-Boling Arena.
A HEALTHY CARTER IS BACK CALLING THE SHOTSBeing a vocal leader is new to Andraya Carter, but it doesn't make her uncomfortable. Not only her position, but her heart and her drive, she says, are what made her a leader from day one.
"At first, I was a leader naturally because of the way I played," she said. "I was a leader by example because I played hard every single day no matter what, due to the heart and passion that I have. This year, the difference is that I'm more of a vocal leader because that's what the coaches want from me.
My leadership is developing into something different this year."
That difference should only pay dividends for the Big Orange.
Also different about the redshirt freshman is her newly-repaired right shoulder. Carter missed the majority of her true freshman campaign and medically redshirted after surgery ended her season. The injury, although painful, gave her new insights and helped her grow as a player, which she is using to her advantage this season.
"It's made me more thankful," Carter said. "It's a blessing to be healthy. I appreciate it so much more because it could be taken away from me at any moment. In the Miami game, it was taken away just jumping for a pass. I take advantage of the time I have and when I'm out there, I'm just happy. It's what I love to do."
Carter also loves being aggressive. It's what she's known for.
"My teammates expect me to be that spark," she said. "I love being the one to make the defensive plays or dive on the floor. It just spreads a ton of energy to the rest of my team. I know that when Meighan or Cierra make great plays that take a lot of hustle and a lot of heart, it makes me want to play harder, and I want to do that for all my teammates."
With four more years ahead of her, her time on the sideline while being injured gave her a new perspective on coaching and playing. Even though it's been mentioned to her that she would make a good coach upon graduating, the new perspective will be put to work this season.
"Being on the bench, I was paying attention to what the coaches were saying and really watching my teammates to try to notice different things," Carter said. "I just wanted to help my teammates and bring the high energy and just be there for them."
Carter even sometimes acted as a liaison between coaches and players because she saw things from both sides. And even though she couldn't participate, Carter remained as active as possible while she recovered.
But now, completely healthy for the first time since the beginning of her junior year of high school, she is back and ready to help lead Tennessee where it wants to go.
"I feel normal and I feel great. I don't feel hesitant and if I did, then I shouldn't be out there. I want to be the player I was before, if not even more aggressive."