Good, Better, Best
Continued from previous page
Posted: Wed April 1, 1998
Fortunately, Holdsclaw's burgeoning popularity has done nothing
to subvert her play or her blithe spirit, both of which have
blossomed this season. After two tours of duty on the U.S.
national team last summer, she has developed her game to the
point where even the exacting Summitt feels comfortable heaping
on praise. "I think she's the best," says Summitt. "I've said
that all year. Before this season I didn't think she was
committed to running the floor, and her defense was average, and
her ball handling was below average." Because she is now
surrounded by other prolific scorers, such as Catchings and
Randall, who averaged 18.2 and 15.9 points, respectively,
Holdsclaw's offensive burden has eased, and she has been able to
work on other parts of her game.
"This year I realized how good I can be," says Holdsclaw, who
led the national team in scoring and rebounding, as its only
collegian. "What was holding me back was that I never wanted to
consider myself one of the top players. That's the way I
motivate myself. I always put a person ahead of me and try to
climb up to that person. Last year the player that I put on that
pedestal was Nykesha Sales [of Connecticut]. From playing on
that USA team, I got it in my head that no college player in the
country was getting the experience that I was getting. So I
figured I better go back to college with some kind of work
ethic, some knowledge of the game."
One of the Vols' vaunted freshmen, Randall met high
Defense, says Lady Vols assistant coach Mickie DeMoss, has been
Holdsclaw's "most glaring" area of improvement this season.
"Everyone in the country knows that I can score," says the 6'2"
Holdsclaw. "I figured, I'm quick, big, athletic, and I know I
can stop someone. When I see all these players around meeven
those that aren't as gifted athletically as I amgo out there
and play great defense, I say, 'Mique, you've got to pick it up
a little bit. You can't have any weaknesses in your game."
Not that her teammates have seen any lately. "When you're
guarding Chamique Holdsclaw, you can't back off of her," says
Jolly. "You can't go guard her for the three. You can't assume,
when she starts penetrating, that she'll take it all the way;
she can pull up and shoot a jump shot. And she finishes. It
doesn't matter if she has an open look, and it doesn't matter
where she's shooting from, she finishes. She has elevated her
game, and the game of women's basketball."
(She has even elevated the virtual game: The Michigan men
players, who spent most of their free time at the Atlanta
subregional playing the video game March Madness 98, found out
they could make the virtual Holdsclaw dunk but not the animated
version of Connecticut's Sales.)
"Chamique has been so coachable this year," says DeMoss. "Last
year there were times when she got frustrated. I know she felt a
lot of pressure to carry the team. Pat may get on her about
something, and she'd say, 'Well, I'm doing all I can.' Now you
say, 'Chamique, you didn't switch on that screen,' and she'll say,
'I know, my fault.' I think it's maturity, and I really don't
think she feels the pressure anymore. She may, but she looks
like she's really having fun this year."
That could be the main reason Holdsclaw will stay in Knoxville
next season rather than become the first female undergrad to
challenge the pro leagues' no-underclassmen rule. "If they're
going to pay you $25 million, sure you go," she says of the ABL
and the WNBA. "But right now the salaries aren't enough for me
to get up and leave. I have a commitment to this program, a
commitment to my grandmother [to get a diploma] and a commitment
to this team. We all get along great, we're winning. If we have
the team that's considered the best this year, it's going to be
better next year. We've got some recruits coming in."
DeMoss worries that Tennessee will be expected to keep
replenishing the wealth of talent that Summitt's staff has
assembled. "This team is so good, honestly," says DeMoss. "Now
we've created this monster, this standard, and I don't know if
we'll be capable of ever repeating this. I've been recruiting 21
years, and I knew Randall and Catchings were two very special
athletes. That quality doesn't come around very often. And for
us to get both of them? Along with Chamique?"
Could the Lady Vols become the UCLA of women's basketball and
match the Bruins' streak of seven consecutive championships?
They took another step in that direction on Sunday with their
resounding victory, which was something worth celebrating as the
night ticked away. But first there was one little thing
Holdsclaw had to attend to. Before the Final Four she had
written "'96 '97" and a "?" on her right shoe. Was there ever
really any question?
Issue date: April 6, 1998