By Rhiannon Potkey
Vicki Baugh doesn’t view herself as a celebrity. But that’s how she feels at times walking down the street in Knoxville, Tennessee.
Getting recognized comes with the territory when you play for the University of Tennessee women’s basketball team.
“It’s really funny how people react actually,” Baugh said. “I constantly have to remind them I am just a college basketball player.”
The adoration is in stark contrast to what Baugh experienced growing up in California and starring at Sacramento High.
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“It is very, very different. Women’s basketball is huge here and we have the best fans,” she said. “I think we have more fans and more support than some of the WNBA teams. That is how the South is, period. Hopefully the West Coast can catch up one day.”
Baugh is only the fourth player from California to be a member of Tennessee’s program.
She considered staying out West for college, and took recruiting trips to UCLA, Cal and USC.
“But I just felt like Tennessee was the right fit for me. It was literally like the shoe fit and I really thought it fit well,” Baugh said. “I love the team and the style of play and I really admire Pat Summitt’s coaching.”
But Baugh’s career hasn’t been without its share of adversity. The 6-foot-4 junior forward is still waiting to play in her first game this season, recovering from her second torn anterior cruciate ligament in the last two years.
Baugh first tore the ACL in her left knee as a freshman during Tennessee’s NCAA championship victory over Stanford.
She tore the same ACL last January in a game against Oklahoma, and had surgery in late February.
Baugh has been practicing with the Lady Vols, and hopes to return to game action this month.
But she is not rushing the process, and Tennessee head coach Pat Summitt has left it up to Baugh to determine when she makes her debut.
“She doesn’t want me coming on the court and in a game until I feel completely comfortable,” Baugh said. “I am not back where I want to be yet, but I am very, very close.”
Baugh used a donor graft for her first reconstruction surgery, but her body rejected it. So this time around she used her own tendon to repair the injury.
“If you use a donor you recover faster. If you use your own tendon, it is a lot more painful,” Baugh said. “So in that regard it is a little bit longer of a recovery.”
There has also been an emotional difference.
“The first time I didn’t really care because we just got through winning a championship and it’s hard to be down,” Baugh said. “But now I just want to get back to help my team as soon as possible.”
Having spent so much time in rehabilitation, Baugh has developed a tight bond with Tennessee trainer Jenny Moshak.
“Jenny is the best,” Baugh said. “We know each other pretty well and have become best friends over these past couple years. She is really a great, great person and she really cares about you and is passionate about her work to make sure you get better. A lot of former athletes like to come here and still have Jenny rehab them.”
Baugh’s injury was one difficult aspect of Tennessee difficult season a year ago.
The Lady Vols lost in the first round of the NCAA Tournament for the first time in program history. But the young team has matured this season and it’s showing in its play.
Sixth-ranked Tennessee improved to 6-0 after Tuesday night’s victory over George Washington.
One week earlier, the Lady Vols earned back the right to use their 4,500-square foot locker room for the first time in nine months following a strong road performance against Virginia.
“Last year we were depending on freshmen, and we learning how to be leaders. This year we understand what we need to do and the freshmen learned a lot,” Baugh said. “The process was more mental because we have always had these same abilities that we are showing now. It’s just a matter of us pulling it together and being the team we know we can be and we are definitely doing that this year.”
Baugh will be returning to Northern California in a few weeks when Tennessee plays Stanford on Dec. 19 and San Francisco on Dec. 22.
It will be a chance for her to reunite with family and friends.
Baugh was raised in Sacramento by her grandparents and lifelong guardians, Calvin and Barbara Baugh, and has five siblings. She is also extremely close with her four cousins.
If Baugh’s knee is ready, her family may even get to see her in uniform.
“I can go out there and play if I wanted to, but honestly I would be coming back a little too early right now,” Baugh said just before Tennessee played Virginia on Nov. 22. “That’s the reason I haven’t been playing yet. I am just taking it on a day-by-day basis.”