TAMPA — Early Wednesday morning, Tennessee coach Pat Summitt and her starters, Candace Parker, Shannon Bobbitt, Alexis Hornbuckle, Nicky Anosike and Alberta Auguste, sat at a podium for their second news conference as the newly crowned NCAA champions.
Voices were hoarse. Faces were weary. And Summitt admitted there had been little sleep amid the celebration the night before.
As they spoke of their elation, their place in Tennessee history and the legacy this class would forever leave behind, a simple reality began to set in.
With every starter selected in Wednesday's WNBA draft, Tennessee is officially rebuilding.
"I'm not going to be nearly as smart this next year," Summitt said, half-jokingly. "We're going to have a young team, but we're going to have talent. It's going to be quite a transition, but I'm looking forward to our incoming freshmen and I'm just excited to start working with them."
The 2004 class leaves with back-to-back national titles, the second class in Tennessee history to achieve that feat. For any coach other than Summitt, the task might be daunting. But the Vols return freshman of the year Angie Bjorklund and several players who were key reserves, including Vicki Baugh and Alex Fuller.
And with five of the nation's top 20 recruits headed to Knoxville, the Vols expect to be back in the championship hunt soon.
"We have a great class coming in," Bobbitt said. "Coach Summit is a great coach, and she's been doing this a very long time. Tennessee will be fine, they'll keep going with all the new people and the players we have returning."
Summitt realizes that it will take some time to get the new players to buy into the thing that distinguishes all of Summitt's teams — and the biggest reason they have the 2008 title.
"We're going to have to drill in into their heads because most of them come in as shooters and the best offensive players on their teams," Summitt said. "The returning players and the coaches have to sell it and talk about how we do it at Tennessee."
Part of that conversation will include talk of the outgoing class. As they pondered their accomplishment, the players acknowledged the second title was more special in some ways.
"There was more pressure this year," Anosike said. "We had to go out with a bang. We did all we could for this program. I'm more satisfied this season than I was last year."
The future begins today, but first Summitt, 55, will take time to savor her eighth national title.
"This is a special class," she said. "I love them all. They are going on to pursue their dreams in the WNBA, and I wish them all well. They certainly gave so much to our program."
Most notably two national titles.
Antonya English can be reached at email@example.com.