MSU, Tennessee women's coaches expect best from teams
MSU women's coach Sharon Fanning-Otis directs her team from courtside. (Kim Murrell/SDN)
The University of Tennessee women's basketball coach Pat Summitt may not have become the Hall of Fame coach she is today if it hadn't been for her older brothers.
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Playing pickup basketball games against her brothers helped Summitt develop the toughness that she brings to the court each day while instructing the Lady Volunteers.
Summitt says, "you can't be a sissy and play this game," which was the lesson she learned from her brothers.
"I got to play with my oldest brother Tommy and usually Kenneth," Summitt said on her Wednesday teleconference. "They taught me how to play the game, but they also taught me that if you're not going to be tough and not going to play hard and compete, then you can't play this game.
"It was like if you are going to play with us, then get out here and play. They blooded my nose, knocked me down and treated me like one of the guys. Right or wrong, I think it's really helped me as I moved forward as a coach and had an opportunity to play in the Olympics. Without them, I wouldn't have been in that position."
Summitt is in her 37th season as a coach at Tennessee and once again has her program at the top of the Southeastern Conference standings with a 7-0 record.
Right now, it seems the Mississippi State Lady Bulldogs, the home opponent for the Lady Volunteers tonight, are the little siblings of the SEC trying to gain some respect. Tonight's game in Knoxville, Tenn., tips at 6 p.m. and will be televised by CSS.
The Lady Bulldogs, who are 8-10 overall and 0-6 in the league, are coming off a 78-58 loss to Georgia.
"Winning is tough in this league," MSU coach Sharon Fanning-Otis said. "We can't have missed matchups. We can't have missed buckets. We can't have players not being aggressive.
"We have to be tougher. When we get knocked down, we have to get back up quicker."
Fanning-Otis began her coaching career as a graduate assistant with Summitt at Tennessee in 1976.
It was there that the two women formed a bond and established the same values for coaching.
"I've known her a long time so I guess it's been contagious," Summitt said. "I've probably learned from her and she's learned from me. The thing about Sharon is she's a really good teacher. It's a no-nonsense (approach) and we're going to do it this way, this is the way it happens and there's no compromise. I think that's why she's had success at Mississippi State."
It's the same reason why Summitt has enjoyed overwhelming success with the Lady Vols.
Summitt demands quite a bit from the Lady Vols in practice and said giving in to fatigue is not an option.
"If we give in to fatigue, then we're probably going to be on the base-line (getting ready to run) because we're showing that we're not in the best shape," Summitt said. "I always tell them to be careful what you state in your play.
"There are consequences if we don't reach our goal in certain drills or if we are going against our practice guys."
Summitt said going against men in practice gives the team a taste of what she went through playing against her brothers.
The objective Summitt is for her players to get the best of the men and not the other way around.
"One of the biggest things in women's basketball is having the guys to go against so you can simulate the toughness, the aggressiveness and the mindset you have to have," Summitt said. "That's been a true bonus."
One of the most positive things Summitt sees in Tennessee this season is a maturity level.
Meighan Simmons, a freshman, leads the Lady Vols in scoring with 15.6 points. Senior Angie Bjorklund averages 11.3 points per outing, Shekinna Stricklen scores 11 points per contest, and Glory Johnson comes off the bench to contribute 10.7 points per game.
Bjorklund has a sprained right foot and Summitt said she will not play against the Lady Bulldogs as a precautionary move.
"Right now, I just want her to rest her foot because we don't want something long range to be a factor," Summitt said. "This team needs to rally for Angie, who has been one of the best scorers in our program, has just been very dedicated every day and helping her teammates. It's time for them to tell Angie to not worry about it and we've got your back and we'll take care of business."
One of the best scorers in the history of Mississippi State's program has been Mary Kathryn Govero.
Govero, who averages 11.1 points per game, is just 10 points short of the 1,000-point mark of her career.
Junior guard Diamber Johnson leads the Lady Bulldogs with an average of 11.3 points per outing.
Even though MSU has struggled to win games in the conference so far this season, Summitt says that doesn't mean her team can take a night off.
"We have to be very focused and when you are at home, you should be," Summitt said. "We started watching them (Wednesday) morning. Guard play is a key for them and slowing them down. They do a good job with their spacing as well."