A matter of consistency

The five-questions preview of Tennessee’s women’s basketball season for govolsxtra.com and Sunday’s editions of the News Sentinel, had a recurring theme.

Consistency cropped more than once as a key variable. Suppose this would be the case for any team or season. But when we last saw the Lady Vols, they had just  stumbled out of the NCAA tournament, looking nothing like the team that had stormed through the SEC tournament two weeks prior.

I submitted my SEC preseason ballot last Thursday in advance of Tuesday’s media day in Charlotte, N.C. My top three picks were South Carolina, Texas A&M and then Tennessee.

The Gamecocks weren’t a difficult choice as champions. All five starters return from last season’s regular season championship team. Plus, the nation’s No. 2 ranked recruiting class has been added featuring 6-foot-4 A’ja Wilson, the top recruit.

Choosing between A&M and Tennessee was a difficult call. The Aggies return a trio of standout guards. One of them, junior Courtney Walker, might turn out to be the best player in the conference. She averaged 21.2 points per game last postseason and led A&M to the Elite Eight. The Aggies also have added 6-5 Khaalia Hillsman, a five-star recruit, to their frontline, thereby addressing their most glaring weakness in two losses to Tennessee last season.

The Lady Vols, meanwhile, have lost leading scorer Meighan Simmons. She played one of the best games of her collegiate career at A&M last season, scoring 26 points and shooting 12 for 19 from the floor. Foot surgeries, meanwhile, have sidelined 6-5 Mercedes Russell for the season.

All three teams will be among the top six of the Top 25 preseason ballot I’ll submit to the Associated Press later this month. Their tug of war over the top spot in the league could continue over bigger prizes.

Tennessee ought to benefit from having swept its top conference rivals last season. In general, the Lady Vols still have more experience. This season, that ought to translate into more consistency for this team – no question.



‘Thanks for the support’

Tennessee thinks social media is a good thing and the women’s basketball team is no exception.

Twitter and Instagram handles are included in each players’ online biography. Jannah Tucker and Nia Moore are the only two players who don’t have both. Instagram accounts suffice for both.

Of the Lady Vols’ newcomers, Kortney Dunbar has been very active. She interacts with fans, fellow students and peers. She tweets about life and hoops and retweets those who mention her. However, the freshman forward from Edwardsville, Ill., said she realizes that there can be too much of a good thing.

“They want us to interact with the fans but it needs to be kept to a minimum,” she said. ” ‘Hey thanks for the support’ or things like that.

“I want to show my fans that I appreciate their tweets and all that. I am playing for them. … They come to watch us. I definitely do appreciate the support I get.”

A question and answer feature about Dunbar will appear in Wednesday’s editions of the News Sentinel and will be online at govolsxtra.com


A puncher’s chance

A question-and-answer profile of Tennessee redshirt freshman Jannah Tucker in Sunday’s editions of the News Sentinel and online at govolsxtra.com will chronicle her family’s affinity for basketball.

Turns out Tucker’s father, Robert, also has a background in boxing.

“We were in the weight room one day and he started hitting this speed bag and I was amazed,” Tucker said. “He showed me and I struggled. I could not do it. I don’t know what it was. I couldn’t hit it past two times.”

Father and daughter kept at it and the daughter’s arms burned. The eventually moved on to footwork and other maneuvers associated with father’s other sport. And so it began …

Tucker eventually realized that they were working their way back toward basketball with such workouts. She became adept enough to forge a useful correlation between the two.

“For instance, shooting,” she said. “You have to bring the ball up when you shoot. If you can bring the recoil up quicker, it makes your shot quicker.

“So having hands up there all the time built up strength in my shoulders and arms. So that way I could rip the ball up quicker and with my feet I got quicker.”



‘It’s just love’

Liza Graves describes her father, Tracy, as a strong man. The former Tennessee women’s basketball player meant her description primarily in terms of muscle gained through hard work.

Tracy’s strength also has been reflected in his support. When Liza was undergoing chemotherapy for breast cancer 18 years ago, her father served as her transport service to and from the treatments. He also let the dogs out and mowed the lawn, etc. Anything his daughter needed, he did. His strength served as her strength.

Graves survived her battle with cancer. Her story will be chronicled in Wednesday’s editions of the News Sentinel and online at govolsxtra.com in conjunction with the start of National Breast Cancer Awareness Month.

The Graves’ supporting roles are reversed now. Tracy, who’s 96 years old, has Alzheimer’s. Liza has been helping with the care-giving for years now and is determined to do everything in her power to keep him in his home.

“It’s not a problem; it’s not an effort,” she said. “Anytime I start to get frustrated, I think of all that he’s done for me, all the times he’s been there for me and all the times he drove me to my treatments.

“So it’s just love. It’s what you do for your parents.”


A sense of security

Not only is Jannah Tucker happy about being at Tennessee, the women’s basketball guard also feels safe as well.

The latter feeling is important.

Joshua Anthony Gerrard pleaded guilty in July to one count of second-degree assault. Court documents obtained by the News Sentinel last October allege that Gerrard assaulted Tucker. According to the documents, Tucker and Gerrard had been dating for two years and lived together for three months.

“I really appreciate the day after I got here, with everything that had happened, we went over the security guidelines,” said Tucker, who enrolled last January. “Like I said, I really appreciated that. My mom was here. She really appreciated it, just being a mom. I do feel safe.

“They went out of their way to make sure I was protected. That’s something I really show my gratitude toward.”

Tucker said that her relationship with Gerrard was her first. Despite what happened, it shouldn’t be her last.

“The big thing for me was learning from it and moving forward,” she said. “If I were gun-shy from relationships that would be giving my power away instead of embracing that and moving forward and continuing to be strong.”

There’s more about Tucker and her thoughts about domestic violence in Saturday’s editions of the News Sentinel and online at govolsxtra.com.

Oh and about the knee: Tucker estimated that she’s about 75 percent of full strength and progressing steadily in her recovery from offseason surgery . Along with having an ACL revision, Tucker said she also had a microfracture procedure.

Tucker initially suffered a torn ACL in her left knee in August of 2012 and had surgery that fall.

“I feel strong; I feel stable,” Tucker said. “I don’t feel like I’m going to tear it again.”






Ely expecting

Former Tennessee women’s basketball All-American Shyra Ely has used social media to announce that’s she pregnant.

Ely, who was named an All-American in 2004 and scored 1,673 career points, said the expected due date is April 4th.

Ely is married to Rich “Pee Wee” Gash, who played for the Tennessee men’s basketball team in 2003-04. Ely lives in her hometown of Indianapolis and has her own styling business “Styles by M.E.”

Former Lady Vol Ashley Robinson, a former teammate of Ely’s, announced last week that she’s pregnant and expecting in March.

Mompremier wants to ‘see everything’

Beatrice Mompremier, one of two women’s basketball post players still being recruited by Tennessee from the Class of 2015, will make a campus visit to UT the weekend of Oct. 25.

Samuel Baumgarten, Mompremier’s coach at Miami (Fla.) Senior High, confirmed the date Tuesday. He said the 6–foot-4 post also has visits set for Baylor, North Carolina and Ohio State. She likely will add a fifth school as well since the visits will figure greatly in her decision, Baumgarten said.

“I don’t think she’s comfortable making a decision until she sees everything,” he said. “She’s leaning on herself a lot in this process. She wants to see everything.”

In the meantime, Mompremier took the ACT college entrance exam last Saturday. Baumgarten said it was her second try at the test.

Tennessee wants to add a post player to its signing class. The Lady Vols also are recruiting Kalani Brown, a 6-5 center from Slidell, La. She’s narrowed her choice to Baylor, Texas A&M and Tennessee.


Tough profession to crack

Josh Baney’s last day as video coordinator for the Tennessee women’s basketball team is Monday.

Baney, a former Lady Vols practice player who’s been on the staff for two years, is taking a job in the private sector. He will be working for an Industrial and Electrical Distribution Company. The father of his college roommate is the company’s president and the company is starting a new division. Baney characterized the opportunity as one he’d regret not taking.

Baney likely has a greater appreciation for opportunity.

After graduating from UT in 2005, he played a year of professional basketball in Ecuador. He then coached boys basketball at Briarcrest Christian High in Memphis . He met his future wife in Puerto Rico while coaching an Athletes in Action team.

His resume seemed to be building toward a career in coaching. But then he tried to get a coaching job in women’s basketball. By Baney’s count, he checked out 15 openings, only to find that 12 of them essentially were reserved for a woman.

“It’s hard to get into women’s basketball if you’re a male,” he said. “You’re automatically getting disqualified by being a male.”


UT in final three for Brown

Kalani Brown, one of the top recruits in the Class of 2015, has narrowed her choices to Tennessee, Texas A&M and Baylor and will make official visits to all three schools, according to a tweet from LetsTalkBB.

Brown, a 6-foot-5 post player from Slidell, La., is ranked No. 11 in the class by ESPN HoopGurlz.

The Lady Vols already have commitments from point guard Te’a Cooper from Powder Springs, Ga., and wing MeMe Jackson from Murfreesboro but are looking to add a post player to the signing class. Tennessee also is recruiting 6-4 Beatrice Mompremier from Miami, Fla.



More about Nared, recruiting

Along with the Q & A feature on Tennessee women’s basketball freshman Jaime Nared for Friday’s editions of the Knoxville News Sentinel and online at govolsxtra.com, here’s a few other items on the 6-foot-2 forward:

— Jaime’s father, Greg, played collegiately at Maryland and was a teammate of Len Bias, who died of a cocaine overdose shortly after being chosen in the first round of the 1986 NBA draft by the Boston Celtics.

— Since Jaime’s younger sister, Eboni Clay, is only 8 years old, Jaime said she’s mindful to not act too much like a parent toward her.

“Just because you see her growing up and you just want to be the best role model and you want her to be the best person,” Jaime said.

Nared is from the same town (Portland, Ore.) as teammate Jordan Reynolds and shares the same affinity for wearing short shorts.

“They said it’s an Oregon thing,” Nared said of her UT teammates. “They always make fun of it.”

— For what it’s worth, Nared has the firmest handshake of any Lady Vols freshman I’ve met. And I’ve been covering the team since 1988. Will be interesting to see how that translates to the court.  Ought to help with rebounding and loose ball scrambles.

On recruiting:

— The entire Lady Vols coaching staff was in Cedar Hill, Texas, on Wednesday. UT is recruiting Joyner Holmes, a 6-3 forward who is ranked the No. 2 prospect in the Class of 2016 by ESPN HoopGurlz.

— The coaches also have been on the road this week, recruiting two post players in the 2015 Class: 6-5 Kalani Brown from Slidell, La., and 6-4 Beatrice Mompremier from Miami, Fla.

— The Lady Vols also will pay a visit this month to Elizabethtown, Ky. The Lady Vols are recruiting 6-2 forward Erin Boley,  who’s ranked No. 9 in the Class of 2016 by HoopGurlz.