Vols open preseason basketball practice

KNOXVILLE - The Tennessee basketball team conducted its first official practice of the preseason Friday, working out for two hours at Thompson-Boling Arena.

"The effort and enthusiasm were there," first-year head coach Cuonzo Martin said. "Guys were diving on the floor for loose balls, took some charges, everyone played hard for the most part."

As has been the case for most of the fall's limited team-individual workouts, the Vols wore 10-pound weighted vests for the first hour of Friday's practice.

"It feels like a lot more than 10 pounds," said freshman guard Josh Richardson, who has gained nearly 20 pounds since enrolling during the summer. "But it makes you a lot stronger. When you take it off, you feel lighter and everything feels easier to do. "

Martin sees a benefit in wearing the vests during practice.

"It's not an easy thing to do, to wear that and compete and do the things we're doing," Martin said. "It's a plus for our guys to get that mental edge, so to speak."

The coaching staff split up and put the squad through some live, half-court, 5-on-5 ball-screen defensive drills, with Martin and assistant coach Jon Harris leading the defense, and assistants coaches Tracy Webster and Kent Williams taking charge of the offense.

Other drills emphasized transition defense, help-and-recover and crashing the glass. The team closed practice with a competitive 4-on-4 defensive breakdown drill.

Prior to every Tennessee practice, Martin gathers the Vols at midcourt and discusses the "Emphasis of the Day." Friday's emphasis consisted of three simple bullet points.

• When someone does well, we all do well
• When someone makes a mistake, we all make the mistake
• Let's figure out the best way to constructively help each other

"Every day when coach gives the guys the emphasis of the day, it's something that really makes them think and become closer as a team," assistant coach Tracy Webster said. "A lot of times, the things that he says really hit home with the guys. It can be about family life, it can be a scripture, it can be a quote from someone, but it's all geared around `team.'

"If the guys are having a hard time understanding the message, he breaks it down for them and makes sure that they do. It's kind of like prayer before a meal. It's to help you get off to a good start.

"And, it's not just for the players, it's for us as coaches, too. For instance, today he talked about collective responsibility; that applies to the staff, as well as the players. All of us have to be on the same page. When one loses, everyone loses. These guys look forward to hearing the emphasis every day."

Fans who attended Friday's practice were treated to a spirited session that focused on defense, a mantra Martin's Volunteers will hang their hat on.

"I'm interested in seeing how (the team) looks this year," Scott Weber, a UT freshman from Lenoir City, Tenn., said. "They look pretty good so far. Practice is very organized, and it's pretty fun to watch."

Fellow UT student Josh Varner, a sports management major, found out about Friday's open practice through social media.

"I saw (that practice was open) on Twitter," Varner said. "So I thought I'd come check it out. They're pretty fun to watch. Everybody is working really hard, and it's pretty intense."

Several former Tennessee basketball lettermen were among those in attendance Friday, including Melvin Goins (2010-11), Steve Hamer (1993-96), Pat Walden (1982), Josh Bone (2010-11), J.P. Prince (2008-10) and 2011 NBA Draft pick Tobias Harris (2011).

"It was different," freshman Josh Richardson said of practicing in front of the fans. "It made everyone compete harder."

Sophomore guard Tyler Summitt was the only player on Tennessee's 17-man roster who didn't take part in Friday's practice.

The Knoxville, Tenn., native continues to rehab a left wrist injury. Summitt underwent surgery on Aug. 24, and senior associate athletic trainer Chad Newman projects Summitt to return to full contact in early November.

While full-contact basketball hasn't been a part of Summitt's preseason regimen, that doesn't mean he hasn't been subjected to exhausting activity. Newman has kept Summitt in shape running steps, performing strength and flexibility exercises and--as of recently--doing limited dribbling and shooting work.