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Vols uncover diminutive sparkplug

At 5 feet 2, Shannon Bobbitt has the distinction of being the shortest player ever offered a scholarship to play at Tennessee. Her other claim to fame? Coach Pat Summitt had gone 29 years without signing a junior college player before Bobbitt arrived.

By GREG AUMAN
Published April 1, 2007


CLEVELAND - At 5 feet 2, Shannon Bobbitt has the distinction of being the shortest player ever offered a scholarship to play at Tennessee. Her other claim to fame? Coach Pat Summitt had gone 29 years without signing a junior college player before Bobbitt arrived.

That's two potential obstacles she has sped by without a hitch, starting 34 games in her first season and pushing the Vols back into the Final Four. Her statistics, like her stature, aren't overwhelming - 8.7 points and 2.8 assists per game - but just listen to teammate Candace Parker talk about the junior.

"Shannon was huge this whole year," Parker said Saturday as the Vols prepared for tonight's semifinal showdown with North Carolina. "She has come in and made her mark. People doubted her because she's so small, but she doesn't play 5-2. I feel like without her, we wouldn't be anywhere near as good as we are. Her addition was huge for our team."

Bobbitt was the stuff of youtube.com legend even before she got to Knoxville. Search for her name on the site and you'll find plenty of clips, including a 30-second highlight from New York's famed Rucker Park courts, accurately titled "Girl Breaks Some Guy's Ankles."

Her playmaking ability is the reason the winningest coach in college basketball history turned to tiny Trinity Valley College in Texas, where she found the floor leader her team needed.

"I loved her style of play. She pushes the basketball really hard, and that's something that's very appealing to myself and a lot of coaches who like uptempo basketball," Summitt said.

North Carolina coach Sylvia Hatchell, whose team has handed Tennessee two of its past four losses, said the biggest difference in the Vols from a year ago is improved guard play and ball handling.

"Bobbitt is out there now, and she's doing a tremendous job," Hatchell said. She's "the little general out there. ... I think she's really come a long way and Pat's really done a great job coaching that kid."

For all her quickness and 40 percent shooting on 3-pointers, what distinguishes Bobbitt is her attitude, Summitt said.

"She's like a freshman in our program, but she plays like a veteran," Summitt said. "I've had a lot of great point guards, but I don't know if I've had a better relationship with any point guard that I've coached because of her willingness to listen and learn."

Asked of the toughest transition from junior college to the Final Four, Bobbitt said, "I haven't had any," conceding a second later that Vols basketball is "a little bit more uptempo, a little more defensive involved."

Tonight, she'll go against another undersized guard, UNC's 5-6 Ivory Latta, eager to show she belongs among the nation's elite.

"Tennessee's a great program that should make the Final Four every year," said Bobbitt, who had USF in her final three schools with Rutgers. "It's an honor to be here, and I just have to make the most of this opportunity."