Bashaara Graves steps into big role

Bashaara Graves

ATLANTA - Bashaara Graves arrived in college able to use both hands. That may not sound like much for a typical student but for a freshman basketball player it's tremendous. Go inside to read about Graves and get ready for Sunday's game against Georgia Tech.

When Bashaara Graves was a freshman in high school, she missed a layup from the left side of the basket, and it cost her team the game. Her mother, Keinya Graves, remembers that her daughter was devastated afterwards. Does Bashaara remember?

"Oh my God, yes I do," the now freshman post player said. "It was against McGavock High School (in Nashville) and it was to win the game and I missed a layup (from the left side) because I shot it with my right hand.

"It affected me a lot. I felt like I was a big part of the team already and missing a wide-open layup was not acceptable to me."

It affected Graves so much that she changed how she lived. First, she got in the gym for repetitions with her left hand. That was the obvious solution. But she also basically tried to become left-handed to force her to use her off hand, even away from the court.

"I did little things like eating with my left hand when I was in high school," Graves said. "That helped a lot."

If there was a task that she could do left-handed, Graves tried it, though she drew the line at changing writing hands.

"I couldn't take it that far," she said.

Graves could very well be in the starting lineup Sunday afternoon when No. 20/16 Tennessee, 0-1, takes on No. 22/20 Georgia Tech in the season opener for the Yellow Jackets. Tip time is 2 p.m. Eastern (espn3.com) at McCamish Pavilion in the women's basketball debut for the new facility.

"We're very excited to be back home in McCamish Pavilion and opening up against one of the top teams in the country in the University of Tennessee," Georgia Tech coach MaChelle Joseph said. "We have eight returners and two starters back and a freshman class ranked as high as fifth in the country. We've played two closed scrimmages against Division I teams.

"We've had tremendous success and found out a lot about our team in those two games. We're very excited to get on the floor officially and open up McCamish Pavilion."

Tennessee made the trek south to Atlanta after a desultory opening game Friday at Chattanooga, an 80-71 loss to the Lady Mocs that left coach Holly Warlick disappointed in her team's defense, not to mention the 26 turnovers on offense.

The play of Graves, however, was pleasing to Warlick.

"She just plays the game hard, and she plays it with a lot of determination and power," Warlick said. "I love her game. I love how hard she works. She is going to be a great player for us. And she has no fear."

Graves had 14 points, eight boards and just one turnover - a questionable three-second call - in 29 minutes of play. She is tenacious on the boards and has natural instincts on defense.

The fact that Graves, a natural righty, arrived to college with a well-developed left hand showed that basketball mattered to her.

"I knew in high school that when I got to college that I was going to have to be able to use both hands," Graves said. "Even though I am right-hand dominant, people would stop me going to the right, so for me to finish left was going to be a big help when I got here."

Graves has impressed sophomore post Isabelle Harrison, who welcomes the help inside.

"Her effort and her energy levels are so great," Harrison said. "She possesses every aspect of a post right now and I am loving it. She is another post in there and strong with me."

Warlick wasn't surprised that a missed layup spurred Graves as a high school freshman to develop her left hand.

"She takes everything real personal," Warlick said. "And that is what you want. You want somebody that is upset that they get beat.

"I love her energy, and I just love everything about her and how hard she plays. It's amazing that she's our go-to player, and she's a freshman. And I don't have any problems going to her. She's producing."

Warlick wants to see the same energy from every spot on the floor Sunday.

"We had zero energy (Friday)," Warlick said. "We were scared and played scared. I want to see us play hard. And that will take care of itself.

"I want to see how big our heart is. I want to see heart."

PROBABLE STARTERS

Tennessee coach Holly Warlick is expected to start: Andraya Carter, 5-9 freshman guard, No. 14, hails from Flowery Branch, Ga.; Meighan Simmons, 5-9 junior guard, No. 10, hails from Cibolo, Texas; Cierra Burdick, 6-2 sophomore forward, No. 11, hails from Charlotte, N.C.; Bashaara Graves, 6-2 forward, No. 12, hails from Clarksville, Tenn.; and Isabelle Harrison, 6-3 sophomore center, No. 20, hails from Nashville, Tenn.

For that lineup the emphasis is on the word probable. Warlick said after practice Saturday at McCamish Pavilion that the starting lineup wasn't set yet, but she did expect to put Carter and Graves on the court for the opening tip.

Georgia Tech coach MaChelle Joseph is expected to start: Dawnn Maye, 5-6 junior guard, No. 1, hails from Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., started 33 games last season; Sydney Wallace, 5-8 sophomore guard, No. 23, hails from Johns Creek, Ga., scored 32 points against Baylor last season in the Sweet 16; Tyaunna Marshall, 5-11 junior guard, No. 15, hails from Upper Marlboro, Md.; has 978 career points, named to the John R. Wooden Award Preseason Top 30; Danielle Hamilton-Carter, 6-4 senior forward, No. 10, hails from Stockholm, Sweden, helped her home country qualify for the 2013 European Championships; and Nariah Taylor, 6-5 freshman center, No. 11, hails from Indianapolis, Ind., scored 10 of her team's final 12 points to win a state title in high school last season.

Joseph anticipates two teams wanting to play essentially the same type of game.

"I expect to see a very similar style of play in terms of pressure defense, full court, 94 feet pressing, trapping, being aggressive, that's been the signature of Tennessee basketball for as long as I can remember," Joseph said.

"I've watched their two exhibition games and I don't see much different. I think the biggest thing for them right now, just like us, is we lost four or five starters and they have six freshmen, too.

"I think it's a very good matchup for us early in the season. We're excited about the opportunity. We're excited about the fan support we're expecting here on Sunday."

The capacity for McCamish Pavilion is 8,600, and Georgia Tech was hoping for a sellout.

HOMECOMING GAME: Andraya Carter, who is from Flowery Branch, Ga., will take the court in Atlanta - located about 40 miles from her high school in Buford - and she should have her own cheering section.

"I am so excited," Carter said. "I am pretty sure my whole high school team is going to be there, my family, my best friends. A lot of people are going to be there. Even some people I haven't seen in a while said they got tickets to Georgia Tech. I am really excited and hopefully I will make everyone proud."

Carter, who is expected to be on the court for the opening tip, will need to keep her nerves in check.

"I try to relax. I pray," Carter said. "And I know my teammates and coaches are going to be there. That is who I lean on the most for sure."

Holly Warlick has a lot of faith in the freshman and has tried to keep the process as simple as possible for the first-year player.

"She tells me little things to do, push the ball, slice the floor when I need to," Carter said. "It's not very complicated. A lot of people think the point guard job is hard, but she's making it really easy."

Carter is playing this season at Tennessee for a basketball player from Buford High School, who passed away unexpectedly last September. Adam Smith, 16, collapsed during preseason workouts while running laps and died three days later.

Carter and Tennessee freshman softball player Lexi Overstreet, who also played for Buford, are both wearing armbands to recognize Smith.

"He was number 10, and his nickname was Superman so we got armbands made with the Superman symbol, AS, Adam Smith, No. 10 and then Lady Vol colors," Carter said.

"Adam was one of the greatest guys I've known. And he played basketball, and he loves to play. He wasn't a star but when he got on the court he played as hard as possible. We think, ‘Play for Adam,' because I know he would love to be in a Division I position and if he was here he would be giving his everything. So I just think when it's hard or when it's tough, Adam would be giving everything."

LET LOOSE: Andraya Carter didn't enter in the second half Friday until midway through it and that was mostly because Tennessee was playing from behind, and the freshman hasn't been aggressive on offense.

But her defense is too stout to leave her on the bench - Holly Warlick mentioned after Friday's loss that the only player to pressure the ball was Carter - so she's got to get on the court. That means getting the freshmen to shoot the ball and attack the paint.

"Andraya is not looking for her shot," Warlick said. "She has the capability. I've seen her. She's just got to get the confidence and understand what's a good shot."

Warlick also is open to playing two points guards on the floor at one time - Carter and sophomore Ariel Massengale. Carter is the better defender and Massengale was 2-4 from long range against Chattanooga.

SOLID SENIOR: At one point during Tennessee's first exhibition game, Taber Spani was on the floor with four freshmen.

The senior, who is a football fan, has taken the role of the Mike linebacker, the player responsible for calling out defensive signals.

"I try to," Spani said. "Absolutely. As a leader you have to be always talking and communicating. I can't just focus on my game and how it's going. I literally have to be looking at all five and if they're talking and how they are, if they're matched up, if they're in our right defense.

"I enjoy embracing that challenge, and it definitely is a challenge. But I love it. I try to be an extension of the coach on the floor so if I can be on the same page with Holly that is really what I try to do. Make sure I am on the same page with her first and then secondly relate that to the other four on the floor."

That will be especially important to start this season with three of the first four games on the road and freshmen all over the court.

"You have to communicate even more and that's just because they're young," Spani said. "They have a lot of talent but college basketball is completely different and there are things that we are doing that they've never seen before. That is exciting for them and as a senior it is my responsibility to make sure that they understand."

Newcomer Andraya Carter appreciates Spani's efforts.

"Taber is so much help," Carter said. "She really is like a mom out there. She is comforting. She always knows what to say. If I have a turnover or I mess up in practice, she knows exactly what to say every single time.

"She is very reassuring, very positive, very motivating and she is working hard for us so you want to give right back to her and work as hard as you can."

Spani also is on the floor to hit shots and is expected to be one of the team's long ball threats. The trey hasn't been falling for Tennessee - the team shot less than 30 percent in the two exhibition games from long range and an abysmal 18.8 percent in the season opener - but the shooters remain confident.

"The looks are there," Spani said. "If the looks are there, you're happy with it, and you know that they're going to fall."

TOUGHEN UP: Tennessee is a very young team - that is obvious with all the freshmen and sophomores on the court - but no opponent has any sympathy. In fact, orange seems to invoke the opposite reaction.

"It's a little bit like when those freshmen came in four years ago," Lockwood said. "We told them for two years we've been steam-rolling people. Everybody now is going to take their punches at Tennessee.

"The tough guy on the block that protected you? He just joined the Marines, and you've got to walk to school every day, so every guy that that guy used to belt in the mouth is going to be lining up to belt you in the mouth and you had better be coming out swinging. And I think that's a little bit where we are right now as a program."

BOUNCE BACK: The Lady Vols don't have time to stew over Friday's loss. They left Chattanooga on Saturday and were on the court for practice that afternoon at Georgia Tech.

"We were pretty tough on them, and we should be," Holly Warlick said. "They are feeling pretty guilty about how they played."

A young team could get rattled by the loss, but Warlick said the team has to bounce back fast and be ready for the attack of Georgia Tech.

"This schedule doesn't allow it," Warlick said. "They've got to get over getting rattled. This schedule is too hard. They're going to get pounded. They've got to have to handle it.

"They've got to learn from game situations. They come in here (for practice), and they bust their butt, but we have control over it. And then they get in a game and they're nervous.

"That is what I said out there (at practice Saturday). What are we nervous about? You came not to just practice. You came to play the game."

Warlick also tried to take some pressure off of her youngsters. It is Warlick's debut season after Pat Summitt retired after 38 seasons. The players know they need to continue the legacy, and that's a tough task for a bunch of freshmen and sophomores.

"I said, ‘Don't play for me,' " Warlick said. "I told them you play for what's on your chest. Don't play for yourself. You play for Tennessee."

SPECIAL EVENTS: Georgia Tech will use Sunday's platform to recognize landmark events and successful women.

Georgia Tech will celebrate the 20th anniversary of the Yellow Jackets' 1992 National Women's Invitation Tournament title, the 40th anniversary of Title IX and the 60th anniversary of women at Georgia Tech.

Former Auburn head coach Nell Fortner will be on hand to launch her traveling women's basketball pre-game show, "Nell on Wheels." Fortner is driving an RV to various locales to promote women's basketball, and Sunday marks the debut.

The on-site show will originate from McCamish Pavilion prior to tipoff and will include Pat Summitt, head coach emeritus of Tennessee; Indiana Fever assistant coach Mickie DeMoss, a former Lady Vol assistant; and Indiana Fever head coach Lin Dunn on hand to discuss women's basketball.

They will discuss women's basketball in general, the Tennessee-Georgia game and sign autographs for fans and take questions from the crowd.

Georgia Tech will recognize several women who played prominent roles in the advancement of women's athletics since the inception of Title IX in 1972. Among those honored will be Summitt, the winningest coach in all of NCAA Division I basketball, men's or women's; Lin Dunn, who has coached women's basketball at the collegiate and professional level since 1972 and recently led the Indiana Fever to the 2012 WNBA title; Betty Jaynes, who served as the first Chief Executive Officer of the WBCA from 1982 until 2001; Michele Smith, a two-time Olympic gold medalist with the United States' softball team and DeMoss.

ODDS AND ENDS

Tennessee leads the series with Georgia Tech, 4-0. The teams last met in the Virgin Islands in a Nov. 26, 2010, game in which four island-wide power outages stopped the game. Tennessee won 66-47. The two teams were in the same place last season but didn't meet. Tennessee defeated Kansas in the Sweet 16 in Des Moines, Iowa, while Georgia Tech fell to Baylor, which went on to beat Tennessee in the Elite Eight. The teams were assigned to the same hotel in downtown Des Moines. … Georgia Tech coach MaChelle Joseph is starting her 10th season for the Yellow Jackets and has 179 wins with 200 the next threshold. Her predecessor, Agnus Berenato, is the only women's basketball coach at Tech to finish with at least 200 wins. Berenato, who is now at Pitt, finished her 15-year tenure with a 223-209 record. … Georgia Tech was picked third by both the coaches and the media in the 2012 ACC preseason poll at the conference's media day in October. It is the highest the Yellow Jackets have been selected in the preseason conference poll.

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