When Jewel Spear entered the transfer portal last spring, Tennessee wasn’t even on the Texas native’s radar. But her father knew who the Lady Vols had just lost to the WNBA draft, and LeRonne Spear told his daughter she needed to take a look at Tennessee.
Fast forward to February, and Spear has scored 77 points in her last three games while also stuffing the stat sheet with assists, steals and rebounds. After guard Jordan Horston landed with the Seattle Storm last April – and made the WNBA All-Rookie team – coach Kellie Harper wondered who could fill that same role of filling up a box score.
“It didn’t take me to February to give him a high five,” Harper said when asked about her appreciation for LeRonne Spear’s advice for his daughter. “We knew from the first phone call I had with her. I got off the phone and knew that I wanted her on our team. I fell in love with her immediately.
“She is a great person. Obviously, you can look at all the highlights, all the clips, see the basketball and know she checks a lot of boxes, but everything about her has been awesome. We love her; so glad she is a Lady Vol.”
Spear, a senior from The Colony, Texas, who transferred from Wake Forest, earned her first-ever conference honor as co-SEC Player of the Week on Tuesday.
“It’s turned out pretty good,” Spear said with a laugh. “I always listen to advice from my dad and mom. Entering the portal it’s not an easy thing for anybody. Change isn’t easy for anybody but with the support of my family and the people around me it just allowed the transition to be really easy.”
It’s easy to see why Harper wanted Spear so much and it has as much to do with her personality as skill. Ask Spear just about any question after a game, and she mentions the staff and her teammates and even the fans. She seems to always be smiling and has a competitor’s drive on the court.
After the 95-73 win at Georgia last Thursday – Spear posted 25 points – she was asked about her offensive output.
“I’m always going to give credit to my coaches and my teammates. JP’s out here crossing people up, getting to the lane, making the right read, making the right pass,” Spear said, referencing point guard Jasmine Powell, who had nine assists. “I’m just doing what I’m supposed to do, make shots, make plays for my teammates. So it’s not really all about me.”
Four of Tennessee’s last six games have been away from home. After a brief stop in Knoxville against Missouri, the Lady Vols get right back on the road for a matchup with Alabama on Thursday, Feb. 8, with tipoff set for 7:02 p.m. Eastern at Coleman Coliseum. The game will be livestreamed on SECN+.
Last Sunday, 9,190 fans enjoyed the 80-69 win over Missouri.
“It was really nice hearing the home crowd, getting back out here seeing the fans and all the people that support us,” Spear said. “But we know going on the road our fans travel as well. We’re just going to go out there, have fun, share the ball and compete against a really good Alabama team.”
Tennessee is 7-2 in the SEC with Alabama at 5-4. The Lady Vols, who are in second place but still have to play South Carolina twice and LSU, need to claim as many wins as possible in February as the competition for the double byes in the SEC tourney are as tight as ever. Additional wins also will help NCAA tourney seeding.
The team will finally be home for two games in a row by hosting Arkansas on Monday, Feb. 12, and South Carolina on Thursday, Feb. 15. The Arkansas matchup is Tennessee’s pink game, which will be especially poignant this year after the deaths in 2023 of former Lady Vols Nikki McCray and Tasha Butts to breast cancer.
GIRLS INC.: Tennessee had a cheering section last Sunday of youngsters from Girls Inc. of Tennessee Valley, many of whom were attending their first-ever Lady Vols game. Nicky Anosike, who played for the late Pat Summitt from 2004-08, is now the athletic director for the nonprofit, and she and Executive Director Amanda Ingle helped arrange the group outing.
The girls participated in greeting the players as they ran onto the court, took a group photo at the Summitt statue and cheered loudly throughout the game.
Girls Inc. posted on Facebook: The game was a burst of energy and a powerful display of teamwork. We love providing our girls with these meaningful experiences, and for many, the Lady Vols game was a source of inspiration and empowerment. Join us as we continue to nurture their spirits, fostering determination and teamwork, both in sports and in life. Let’s create a brighter future together!
Terria, whose face lit up with she took the field with Lady Vol softball player Kiki Milloy last September, became emotional when she got in line to greet the basketball players.
“I do this because these girls deserve to be poured into by trusted members of their community who love them, care about them and want to see them reach their full potential,” Anosike said.
Like any nonprofit, the organization relies on donations. If possible send some dollars their way HERE. Anosike would appreciate it. Summitt likely would, too.
Maria M. Cornelius, a writer/editor at Moxley Carmichael since 2013, started her journalism career at the Knoxville News Sentinel and 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.