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Lady Vols look scary
Posted: Friday October 23, 1998 04:18 PM
Sports Illustrated's Kelli Anderson checks in with the second in a series of glances around the college basketball scene.
TEAM: Tennessee Lady Vols
VENUE: Thompson-Boling Arena (24,535)
`97-98 record: 39-0 (won national championship)
PREDICTED `98-99 STARTERS: F Tamika Catchings, G Kellie Jolly, F Chamique Holdsclaw, G Semeka Randall, C LaShonda Stephens
OBSERVATIONS: It's almost Halloween on the Tennessee campus in Knoxville, but how can you tell? The color pumpkin rules here all year long, as does sports information student assistant Jania "Pumpkin" Marshall , my guide for my visit on Oct. 8 and 9. (I suspect, though, that the pumpkin bread that was set out in a back room in Stokely Auditorium on Friday is strictly a seasonal offering.) Basketball season is around the corner, too, but you wouldn't necessarily know that either, from walking around the UT campus. The Lady Vols are preparing to try to extend their 45-game winning streak while the men are mustering the school's first Top 10 team in years, but there is no rushing football season. Georgia was on everybody's mind. So, too, it seemed, was Peyton Manning , who still commands heavy ink in the Knoxville News-Sentinel sports section despite the fact that he hasn't quarterbacked the Vols in nearly a year and now plays pro football in Indianapolis. He remains fervently adored in Big Orange country, and like coaching legends Pat Summitt and Johnny Majors , has had a campus street named after him.
Will the Lady Vols transcendent star Chamique Holdsclaw ever be so honored? Perhaps, if she leads her team to the conclusion everyone, perhaps unfairly, expects: another perfect season and a fourth consecutive NCAA title. Barring injury or other unforeseen disasters, this team will be even better than last year's, a group that was widely considered the greatest team of all time. The Lady Vols lost no major contributors to graduation, and they welcome back defensive stopper Kyra Elzy , who sat out most of last year with a knee injury. Plus, they and add two highly touted freshmen post players, 6'3" Shalon Pillow of Addyston, Ohio, and 6'5" Michelle Snow of Pensacola, Fla. Summitt has been particularly impressed with Snow, a slender shotblocker who can play at the rim. "We've never had a post player like her," said Summitt. Everybody else, including the storied "three Meeks"Holdsclaw, Tamika Catchings and Semeka Randall are stronger, wiser and perhaps even hungrier than last year. Assistant Mickie DeMoss has even teased Holdsclaw, who she says has "finally gotten serious about her game" about her suspiciously increased tempo in practice. "She was winning sprints the other day!" exclaimed DeMoss. "I told her I never thought I'd see the day. You can tell it's her final year."
Just one more year for Holdsclaw, a native New Yorker, to soak up the glories of Knoxville, which surely exist somewhere beyond the airport-to-gym-to-hotel triangle I've been limited to in my three trips there. On this visit, time constraints precluded me from making it to Callahan's cholest-o-fest by the river (among the most popular items on the menu: smoked ribs, creamed spinach and Jack Daniels pie), so I had to indulge in artery-hardening of a different order: the Burger King on Cumberland Ave., which was the best option I could find near campus for lunch. Oh well, Knoxville has never pretended to be a terribly cutting-edge destination, food- or otherwise. At Knoxville's Tyson-McGee Airport, you still have to walk across the tarmac to board most flights. If that experience doesn't take you back a few decades, the aircraft will. As I climbed onto my delayed TWA flight to St. Louis on Friday, a gentleman ahead of me said to another adult, "Trust me, Bob, this plane was built way before you were born. What you are walking into here is aviation history." As always, it was a pleasure to walk out of it.
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