KNOXVILLE (WATE) – Their jerseys bear the emblem of the trademark Power T, but the iron sharpening Tennessee’s won’t ever step on the court under the bright lights for the University. For the students that make up the Lady Vols practice squad, their help is about something bigger than themselves.
“I look on the walls near the locker room, and at all that history on the wall,” freshman finance major and practice squad player Griffin Bumpus says. “It’s cool to be able to do that, and it’s an honor.”
“They beat Mississippi State the other day and I’d like to say I had a small part in that,” says freshman history major Elijah Jackson, who hopes his time on the practice squad will help him get into coaching down the road.
The pair are just two of the students who make up the practice squad. It’s a team of former high school stars, some of whom– like Griffin– turned down scholarship offers at small schools to attend Tennessee. And if playing on the practice squad means an opportunity to keep playing competitive basketball, all the better for those who just love playing the game.
“Pat told me about this when I first came into women’s basketball,” Tennessee assistant coach Dean Lockwood said. “As good as our girls are, there’s nothing that can simulate the athleticism and size, strength, speed, and quickness of male basketball players.”
“They make us better. They just make us better,” head coach Holly Warlick said.
Their ability to contort their game to fit the variety of roles of players they need to simulate over the course of the season allows Tennessee’s players to properly prepare for their coming opponents.
“One day, they may be playing a great scorer,” Lockwood adds. “On Saturday, they may be a rebounder that’s averaging four points a game. So their ability to adapt is really pivotal.”
And they’re not just there to get scored on, either. “It’s not the Washington Generals vs. the Harlem Globetrotters,” Lockwood said.
When asked about one of his fondest moments from his first year on the team, Jackson grins. “We were doing a scrimmage in Thompson-Boling. One of our guys, Hayes hit a buzzer beater, it was a big moment. We stormed the court and everything– talked a lot of trash after that one actually.”
And all of their work on the court comes with few tangible rewards. The players get jerseys and shoes, and the ability to priority register for class. But it’s not about what they get, it’s about what they give.
“It takes a certain guy to do this,” Warlick said. “But they become a part of our team. And that’s how we view them, as a part of our team.”
That’s one way to get involved on campus.