Author Archives: Dan Fleser

About Dan Fleser

Dan Fleser writes about University of Tennessee women's basketball for the Knoxville News Sentinel.

Name recognition

Tennessee and Texas began their women’s basketball series in 1978. The schools dip into the same recruiting pool for most of their players.

Tennessee coach Holly Warlick thinks the familiarity will impact preparation for Sunday’s latest meeting, most likely in a constructive manner for the Lady Vols.

At the very least, the scouting report should be easier to grasp.

“I think our kids probably understand Texas a little bit more than they do Albany and Syracuse,” said Warlick, referring to two of Tennessee’s recent opponents. “We see them a lot on TV, not that our kids didn’t respect the teams that we played. It is just a different style. I think they understand the sense of urgency to get ready for Texas. A lot of their friends are on that team. I just think they are more familiar with who is on that team and its style of play.”

Quite an entrance

Te’a Cooper didn’t know how to make an entrance Sunday afternoon. Or at least she didn’t know enough to feel totally comfortable.

Tennessee’s freshman guard said she wasn’t prepared for the elaborate introduction ceremony at Thompson-Boling Arena, which features players running through flashing lights and smoke onto the court.

“That was probably when I was the most nervous,” she said. “I wasn’t expecting all the smoke and stuff.”

It didn’t show then or ever against Central Arkansas. She looked well-rehearsed for her women’s basketball debut at UT with 22 points, six assists and four steals. She even managed 36 playing minutes without apparent difficulty, despite having what UT coach Holly Warlick has described as a “banged-up” right knee.

There was a lot to like about Tennessee’s performance in Sunday’s 102-47 victory. A freshman who didn’t play like a freshman was high on the list.

“She didn’t play like I thought she would come in and play,” Central Arkansas guard Brianna Mullins said. “She didn’t play timid. She was scoring and her defense was amazing.”


Shared coaching moments

Tennessee soccer coach Brian Pensky took time during his press conference Wednesday morning to talk about another UT coach, volleyball’s Rob Patrick.

“It’s nice to see Rob getting off to a great start,” Pensky said of Patrick’s 14-1 team. “It’s been a rough couple of years for that program, but that guy just keeps plugging away. It’s nice to see the fruits of his labor.”

The two coaches passed each other later while going to and from the podium and literally reached over someone to shake hands. They were passing like ships going to and from port, freighted with the aspirations and challenges of their respective teams.

“We stay in touch throughout the year,” Pensky said. “We haven’t connected in the last couple of weeks. There’s value in that within any athletic department, within any coaching staff. Honestly, I wish we did it more.”

But there’s always seems to be more fruit requiring more labor.

“I ran into (UT men’s tennis coach) Sam Winterbotham the other day at my daughter’s cross-country meet,” Pensky said. “So it was great. We talked for 20 minutes, about recruiting, about our teams, about life. Those kinds of conversations, they’re very rich and they’re very helpful to all coaches.”

An inexact science

Tennessee women’s basketball assistant coach Dean Lockwood accompanied Lady Vols forward Jasmine Jones on a visit to Vanderbilt University last season as part of Jones’ recovery from concussion-related symptoms.

Lockwood took copious notes during the session. Yet one admission by a specialist who has studied concussions for 25-30 years stood out: “I don’t know everything.”

The concession spoke to the mystery surrounding such injuries. So did Jones, who punctuated her optimism this week with a cautionary “knock on wood.”

Uncertainty aside, Lockwood believes Jones is as prepared as she could be for returning after missing all but seven games last season.

“She’s in one of the best places since I’ve known her, physically, mentally and emotionally,” he said.

Jones updates her return in Sunday’s editions of the News Sentinel and online at


— Former Lady Vols guard Ariel Massengale remains on campus rehabbing from microfracture surgery on her left knee. The surgery took place in the spring, after her senior season, and sidelined Massengale for her inaugural WNBA season. She was picked by Atlanta in the third round of the league’s draft in April. Massengale said she plans to play overseas, beginning in January.



A Mavunga marathon

North Carolina transfer Stephanie Mavunga apparently was in Knoxville Wednesday and her day lasted until early Thursday morning.

Tennessee women’s basketball freshman Meme Jackson posted several entries on her Twitter account that chronicled an overnight “hooping” session involving Mavunga, fellow Tennessee freshman Te’a Cooper and sophomore Kortney Dunbar.

Mavunga, an all-Atlantic Coast Conference forward, was granted a release last week by North Carolina to pursue a transfer. In a statement posted on the school’s website, the 6-foot-3 Mavunga said she had “a heavy heart” in asking for the release.

Her visit to Knoxville coincided with Lady Vols head coach Holly Warlick’s stint as an assistant coach with the U.S. World University Games team. Warlick currently is in Guangju, South Korea.

Mavunga, who is from Brownsville, Ind., is believed to have visited Ohio State as well. She is the final player to transfer from North Carolina’s four-player 2012 signing class, which was ranked No. 1 nationally. One member of that class, Diamond DeShields, already has transferred to Tennessee. She’s with Warlick in South Korea, playing for the World University team.

In May, Mavunga was chosen to the U.S. Pan American Games team. Training will begin soon for the competition, which is July 16-20 in Toronto.




Massey not happy with Board of Trustees

The University of Tennessee Board of Trustees didn’t consider the Lady Vols name and logo issue last week during its annual meeting in Knoxville and state senator Becky Massey wasn’t happy about it.

Massey, who represents the sixth district (Knoxville), wrote a letter to the board of trustees last week, disagreeing strongly with the board’s position to refrain from considering the athletic department’s decision that, effective July 1, all women’s athletic teams except basketball became known as “Volunteers” and will wear a Power T logo.

Massey was one of 45 legislators who signed state representative Roger Kane’s letter to board members. He asking them to consider the issue based on “constituent-driven concerns.”

In her letter, Massey wrote: “I believe that, when a decision of the administration causes as much problems and outcry by the citizens of Tennessee….it is the Board of Trustees responsibility and duty to address this in their meeting.”

Massey wrote about the petition with “approximately 25,000 signatures”, the “countless letters to the editor” published in the News Sentinel and former UT athletes all expressing “disappointment and total disagreement” with the decision.

“I have had many discussions with some major donors and they feel the same way too,” Massey wrote.

Massey believes the outcry was sufficient for the board to take up the matter.

The Board of Trustees are representatives of the people of the state of Tennessee,” Massey wrote. “I feel it is their responsibility to have a discussion of this issue at their meeting and take into consideration the overwhelming views of the fans and constituents on keeping the brand. Frankly, I have never seen anything like this.”


It’s like she never left

Never thought I’d see Alyssia Brewer again but the former Lady Vols post player strolled into Smokey Mountain Athletics Saturday morning with former teammate Kelley Cain for the grand opening of a facility being renovated by Lady Vols alums Cait McMahan and Alexis Hornbuckle.

Even more surprising, it seemed like Brewer never left.

“Complete love,” she said in reference to her UT career. “Three years here. That’s a long time.”

She said a mouthful, considering how her career ended. Then-UT coach Pat Summitt announced on the eve of Brewer’s senior season in 2011 that she no longer was part of the team. The announcement was stunning. The timing seemed harsh. She completed the fall semester and then transferred to UCLA.

Brewer bases her feeling on Cain, her other former teammates and their “unbreakable bond.”

“I got sisters for life out of that,” said Brewer, who played professionally in Poland last season.

Brewer said that she and her sisters convene regularly in a group chat on social media. They’ve talked about the university’s decision to constrict use of the Lady Vols nickname and logo to basketball beginning July 1. In the process, Brewer formed an opinion that I referenced in an online story and today’s editions of the News Sentinel.

“I don’t agree with it,” she said, “regardless of whether I ended my tenure here or not.”




Following Catchings’ lead

As the Indiana Fever’s president and general manager, Kelly Krauskopf has watched the entirety of Tamika Catchings’ WNBA career. Krauskopf has witnessed the most change in terms of Catchings’ leadership.

“Initially, she sort of shied away from the leadership role,” Krauskopf said. “She just wanted to play. The next phase was holding teammates accountable and having an expectation for them.”

Catchings remembered coming to the University of Tennessee as a freshman and following the lead of veteran players Chamique Holdsclaw and Kellie Jolly. She didn’t have that luxury with the Fever. After missing her first season in 2001 while recovering from a knee injury, she debuted essentially as the team’s star player. The distinction conferred more responsibility.

“I’ve had to learn how to be a leader, not just by example but by being vocal,” Catchings said.

Her non-basketball pursuits have helped in this regard. She has her own foundation and has been in great demand for speaking engagements and public appearances. Children benefit from her foundation’s mentoring mission. Audiences want to hear what she has to say.

“The correlation is there,” she said. “In every aspect, that’s what’s expected of me. At the end of the day, people expect me to lead.”


The 200 Club

The number “200” figures prominently in two upgrades that would be worthwhile for Tennessee.

The number first applies to Tennessee’s 3-pointers. The Lady Vols ought to be shooting for that number on a seasonal basis. And that’s only a starting point. Having hit a program-best 242 in 2010-11, they ought to be aiming higher.

The Lady Vols had been steadily backsliding since the record number. This season’s 172 amounted to an upgrade over last season’s 160. But they had senior guard Ariel Massengale for a full season and she made a team-high 74 treys. She missed the final 16 games last season with a concussion.

One of the more encouraging aspects of signee Te’a Cooper’s game-high 21 points in the McDonald’s All-Star game on Wednesday was her shooting 3 for 6 on 3-pointers.

The other “200” applies to Tennessee’s blocks. UT hasn’t surpassed that total since its last two national championship teams (2006-’08). The statistic, like 3-pointers, had been in decline until a meager upgrade this season. The Lady Vols’ 140 blocks were five more than last season.

The return of 6-foot-6 center Mercedes Russell, who sat out this season after undergoing offseason foot surgeries, ought to mean more blocks.  The Lady Vols are only losing 26 blocks with the departure of Isabelle Harrison.



Lady Vols visit Cox

Tennessee had a home visit Wednesday with Lauren Cox, a 6-foot-4 forward from Flower Mound, Texas. Cox is ranked No. 1 in the Class of 2016 by ESPN HoopGurlz.

Connecticut had a home visit on Tuesday with Cox.

To date, Cox has made unofficial recruiting visits to Baylor, Louisville, Notre Dame, Oklahoma, Texas and Texas A&M.