Snow Falls on Vol Foes
First, it was a little story, getting big.
Now it’s a big story, getting huge.
And in the future: Gargantuan.
Michelle Snow of Tennessee, standing flat-footed, can hold a basketball more than eight feet above her head.
She’s a trombone-playing 20-year-old who rises a lean 6 feet 5 inches, and many in the women’s game believe she will keep on rising, until she stands head and shoulders above everyone in her sport.
She could be the difference in the women’s Final Four this weekend, swatting away shots inside, dominating backboards, altering shots and generally attracting so much attention inside that the thoroughbreds Coach Pat Summitt has arrayed around her could more readily upend Rutgers tonight and then the Connecticut-Penn State winner Sunday.
That’s the theory held by many, anyway.
And this much is certain: She will become the first woman to dunk in an NCAA game in 16 years. If not this weekend, then next season.
No one watching the women’s game the last month or so has missed it: Michelle Snow, suddenly, is in a rapid state of development as the game’s next great low-post player. It started at the Southeastern Conference tournament, where she was at times unstoppable, making 68% of her shots.
Snow, a sophomore, made 24 of 32 shots in the three-game SEC tournament. In 17 SEC games, she made 65.5% of her shots and had 23 blocks.
Rutgers Coach Vivian Stringer, whose team plays Tennessee tonight in the semifinals, didn’t mention Snow by name but alluded to her Thursday when she said, “When we lose, its been because someone attacks us successfully inside. That’s what we have to prevent.”
Said Florida Coach Carol Ross: “Michelle’s upside is off the charts. The better Michelle gets at making herself available down low for the ball, the more effective Tennessee’s perimeter players are going to be.
“She completes Tennessee. You’re talking about a 6-5 player with a high release on her jump shot and it’s a shot that’s very accurate.”
And since early in the season, there have been no Snow disappearances.
Billie Moore, former UCLA coach and Summitt’s mentor, was invited to tour Europe last summer with Tennessee’s team. Summitt wanted Moore to help develop Snow’s inside game.
Said Moore recently, “With every great young post player I ever saw, they tend to have great games, then disappear for a game or two. Michelle’s put that behind her now. Once she figured out how to make herself a big target for her teammates, to demand the basketball, that changed everything.”
Snow has enabled Summitt to field a team like none since 1988-89 and 1990-91, when center Daedra Charles led the Lady Vols to the first two of their six NCAA championships.
“Really, this is the first time Pat’s had a team with a dominant low-post player since Daedra Charles,” Ross said.
Recently, Moore was asked if she believed Snow was the next great center in women’s basketball, maybe the world’s premier low-post player by the 2004 Olympics.
“The only way that would not happen would be if Michelle chooses that it not happen,” she said.
“She said that?” Snow said. “Oh, no--that’s too much pressure.”
Comparing Snow to the 1992 USC sophomore Lisa Leslie, Moore said they are two different centers.
“Lisa’s mind-set is that she’s a low-post player who can also go outside and shoot the three,” Moore said.
“Snow has made a commitment to be a dominating inside player, period. That’s who she is. And when you have a low-post player who thinks like that and can back it up, it really opens up your outside game. Right now, that’s what Tennessee has going for it.”
Summitt said Snow’s development has added two dimensions to her team’s game.
“Michelle’s done a great job at presenting herself as a big target, getting open,” she said.
“That has enabled us to run plays directly at her, because she shoots a high percentage.”
Longtime Tennessee assistant Mickey DeMoss calls Snow the team’s finisher.
“When she gets that six- to 10-foot shot, or a move to the basket, she can really finish because she elevates so well,” she said.
When this was a little story, when Snow was a 6-1 pencil-like 14-year-old, she was already taller than her 5-11 father and 5-10 mother, and all her three younger siblings.
At Pensacola, Fla., where her father owns a furniture rental business, she blossomed as a high school prospect in her junior season and was pursued by all the major college powers, most actively by Tennessee, Florida and North Carolina. Today, she’s a psychology major with a 3.0 grade-point average.
Until last summer, she said, she never thought much of the Olympics.
“I played in the USA trials at Colorado Springs last summer and that really motivated me, to make my game better,” she said.
“I’m blessed with certain gifts and it’s up to me to use them properly. Pat’s always on me about making myself a big target, about making myself hard to guard and taking the ball to the basket when it’s there.”
Beginning with the SEC tournament, she’s been all Summitt would have asked for. Against Vanderbilt, she was nine for 11. Against Florida, she was nine for 10 with three blocks.
In Tennessee’s 77-56 NCAA regional semifinal victory over Virginia, the Cavaliers double-teamed Snow down low, yet Tennessee had an 11-2 lead before Snow had touched the ball.
Then, in the second half:
* Snow made an eight-foot jumper at 9:21 to give the Lady Vols a 53-44 lead.
* She took down a rebound of a missed Virginia free throw at 8:56, followed by a block at 6:40 and an inside basket at 5:12. Just like that, Tennessee was cruising, 63-47.
If Tennessee cruises tonight and Sunday, it will bring home a seventh NCAA title. And given Snow’s present rate of improvement, nine won’t seem all that far-fetched before she’s finished.
(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)
At First Union Center
Tennessee (32-3) vs. Rutgers (26-7), 4 p.m.
Connecticut (34-1) vs. Penn State (30-4), 6 p.m.
Semifinal winners, 6 p.m.
All games on ESPN