Coach Kellie Harper crafts roster built to cut nets

Maria M. Cornelius2MCsports

It ain’t over ‘til the fax lady sings.


I can’t take credit for that. I read it years ago on a Tennessee sports message board in regard to football recruiting. As anyone who follows recruiting knows, no matter the sport, it’s never over until those signatures officially hum through the fax machine.

Fax machines actually are becoming antiquated in college athletics. Some signed paperwork from a recruit still will arrive via fax from a high school principal’s office or a parent’s place of work, but most are now sent via overnight mail and delivered into the waiting hands of a relieved coach.

The one rule of recruiting? It can and will change. I will take credit for saying that years ago – it was in response to Lady Vols basketball fans wanting irrevocable news about high school players during a recruiting cycle – but I didn’t foresee an NCAA portal in 2021 that allowed all Division I college athletes a one-time waiver to transfer and play immediately instead of having to sit out a full season. (Coaches, primarily in football and men’s basketball with some egregious cases in women’s hoops, too, brought this on themselves by blocking schools and adding draconian restrictions – who can forget former Vols Coach Derek Dooley saying the new school must be an eight-hour drive away from Tennessee? – but that’s a column for another day.)

Tennessee Coach Kellie Harper signed four players from the transfer portal this spring, and all will have an immediate impact for the Lady Vols on the basketball court. They can enroll this summer and start workouts with coaches, teammates and strength and conditioning staff to get ready for the new season.

Two players who hail from the state of Michigan were the first to sign with Tennessee in March. Jasmine Powell, a 5-6 senior point guard at Minnesota, and Rickea Jackson, a 6-2 senior forward at Mississippi State, will wear orange in the 2022-23 season. April brought graduate transfer Jasmine Franklin, a 6-1 forward from Fayetteville, Arkansas, who played at Missouri State, and Jillian Hollingshead, a 6-5 sophomore post from Powder Springs, Georgia, who played at Georgia. Harper already coached Franklin as a freshman when Harper was at Missouri State before returning to Tennessee in 2019 to coach at her alma mater.

Jasmine Powell and Rickea Jackson (UT Athletics)

Jackson, who led the SEC in scoring last season at 20.3 points per game, was the fifth-best high school player in the country in 2019 coming out of Detroit Edison Public School Academy. The signing of Jackson hushed most naysayers who had questioned if Harper could recruit effectively at Tennessee – but, of course, not all of them including one dude on Twitter who said Harper “has a ways to go” as a head coach and a recruiter in response to my tweet about the commitment of Jackson.

Harper is 45 years old and has taken four different schools to the NCAA tourney – one of only two Division I women’s basketball coaches to have ever done so. She earned the Tennessee job after leading No. 11 seed Missouri State to the Sweet 16 in 2019 – the only double-digit seed to get that far – and nearly taking out No. 2 seed Stanford. A statement that she has “a ways to go” is uninformed, arrogant and misogynistic, all of which ride shotgun on social media.

Harper added two new assistant coaches a year ago in Samantha Williams and Joy McCorvey. Williams also handled the duties of recruiting coordinator, and everyone got to work positioning the Lady Vols for the upcoming high school classes from 2023 to 2027.

Assistant coaches Joy McCorvey and Samantha Williams (UT Athletics)

High school recruits usually are signed in the fall of their senior year, and the Lady Vols also will add McDonald’s and WBCA All-American Justine Pissott, a 6-4 sharpshooter from Toms River, New Jersey, to the 2022-23 roster as a freshman. The NCAA transfer portal now means another recruiting season is held in the spring when college players change locations.

Tennessee set women’s basketball on notice with its 2022 haul from the portal. The addition of Powell, a player with All-Big Ten credentials, meant the Lady Vols will enter the season with a seasoned true point guard. The commitment of Jackson was a seismic shift and sends a signal to rival teams that Tennessee was back in play for a national championship. The addition of Franklin provided needed depth in the paint. The surprise signing of Hollingshead – a 6-5 post with her athleticism and skill set is not common – showed that Tennessee also can operate well under the radar before striking and get a top player that rivals didn’t even know the Lady Vols were recruiting.

Mickie DeMoss, a former coach at Tennessee, was at the late Pat Summitt’s side for six of the program’s eight national championships. DeMoss noted that in its heyday, Tennessee didn’t recruit so much as select. Tennessee hasn’t been to a Final Four since 2008. The freshmen and sophomores on the 2022-23 team were entering kindergarten and first grade the last time Tennessee cut down nets on a national stage. In three seasons – two of which were disrupted by a pandemic – Harper has the Lady Vols selecting again.

For the basketball team this off-season, the fax lady didn’t just sing, she performed an entire opera.

Maria M. Cornelius, a writer/editor at Moxley Carmichael since 2013, began writing about the Lady Vols in 1998. In 2016, she published her first book, “The Final Season: The Perseverance of Pat Summitt,” through The University of Tennessee Press. She can be reached at mmcornelius23@gmail.com.

 

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