Proven recruiter added in Kyra Elzy

Holly Warlick's first official act at the helm of the Lady Vols basketball program was to hire Kyra Elzy as an assistant coach and recruiting coordinator. Go inside for Inside Tennessee's Take on the staff's addition.

As first acts go, Holly Warlick couldn't have done any better than that. She got a proven recruiter with a resume of success as both a collegiate player and coach.

"She was my number one choice," Warlick said Thursday in an interview with Inside Tennessee. "She is a former Lady Vol, she has proven herself in the recruiting world, she works hard, she is knowledgeable, she is experienced and she is a great mentor."

That makes it easy to see why Kyra Elzy topped Warlick's list.

"She is an all-around great choice for us, and she is a product of the Lady Vols. It was really a no-brainer," Warlick added. "I am thrilled and excited she is here."

Kyra Elzy won two national titles with Tennessee in 1997 and 1998 and graduated in 2001 with a master's degree in cultural studies and education with an emphasis in sports psychology.

She then moved into the coaching ranks, steadily working her way from administrative assistant at Virginia Tech to assistant positions at Western Kentucky, Kansas and Kentucky. Elzy also served as associate head coach at Kentucky before accepting the job at her alma mater this week.

"First, it was incredible as a student-athlete to be part of the history, tradition and legacy of the Lady Vols during my playing days," Elzy said. "Now, I am thankful for the privilege and the gift to return to the Tennessee program."

Warlick recruited Elzy out of LaGrange, Ky., when she was at Oldham County High School and reached out again when Mickie DeMoss announced earlier this month that she was leaving the college ranks for the Indiana Fever of the WNBA.

"I recruited her twice," Warlick said with a laugh. "I think it's a great opportunity for her and even better for us."

One week ago, Tennessee held a press conference to announce that Pat Summitt was moving to the role of head coach emeritus and Warlick, her assistant for 27 years, was taking over the program.

Warlick's next moves will be scrutinized, and her first one, the hiring of Elzy, sent a clear signal that the position of head coach is one that Warlick can handle.

Warlick needed to hire a proven recruiter who can also be an effective teacher at practice because the 2012-13 team will be relatively inexperienced with six freshman and sophomores among the nine players.

Elzy handled the guards at Kentucky, and the Wildcats played a tenacious form of defense reminiscent of Elzy's style while a player at Tennessee.

Elzy, who is 34, also brings an infusion of youth to the staff, while Warlick and Dean Lockwood bring a boatload of experience and continuity, as Tennessee makes the segue to the post-Summitt era, one that wasn't expected to end for several years, but Summitt was diagnosed last May with early onset dementia, Alzheimer's type.

"I can't begin to tell you how excited I am to have Kyra on our staff," Warlick said. "From the time she was a player on our NCAA title teams in 1997 and 1998, she possessed a coach's mentality on the floor. As I have watched her collegiate coaching career progress, I have become more impressed with her each stop along the way.

"Kyra is a phenomenal recruiter possessing a great coaching mind and will complement Dean and I perfectly. As a Lady Vol, she knows firsthand what our expectations are at Tennessee."

Elzy also understands, as does Warlick, that the lifeblood of a program depends on recruiting.

"Regardless of who we are in on in recruiting, she is going to help us in recruiting and all facets of coaching," Warlick said. "Great recruiter, but I think she's an even better person and role model for our kids."

The announcement that Elzy, an energetic recruiter, was headed to Knoxville likely reverberated across the country from the East Coast, where Tennessee is actively pursuing Jannah Tucker, a gifted wing player from Maryland, to the West Coast, where the Lady Vols are courting No. 1 recruit Mercedes Russell, a center from Oregon.

Both players are in the class of 2013, along with Kentucky native Rebecca Greenwell, a shooting guard and recent MVP at the prestigious Boo Williams showcase event for high school players earlier this month.

Elzy's presence on the staff gives the Lady Vols an immediate boost with its efforts to secure players from the talent-rich 2013 class, and Tennessee, which has just the aforementioned nine Lady Vols on the roster this season – and two are seniors – has plenty of room.

When Dean Smith retired right before the season started at North Carolina in 1997, his longtime assistant, Bill Guthridge, took over a team that included on its roster two All-Americans in Vince Carter and Antawn Jamison and future NBA first round draft pick Brendan Haywood. Guthridge went to the Final Four in his first season – and again in his third – before retiring with an 80-28 record.

Warlick inherits a team that lost five seniors – both All-Americans and first round WNBA draft picks in Glory Johnson and Shekinna Stricklen; and Vicki Baugh, who also was drafted, included among them.

After the press conference last week to announce Summitt's new role and Warlick's elevation, Lockwood, a living encyclopedia of basketball, was reminded of the two scenarios, and smiled. He noted that they – at the time it was just Warlick and Lockwood – needed to hit the recruiting trail.

"We've been so busy," Lockwood said. "She's got an oar, and I've got an oar, and we've been rowing."

Elzy is now in the boat, too.

"I am humbled, honored and excited for the opportunity to come back to the University of Tennessee as a coach for the Lady Vols," Elzy said.

"She is ready to go," said Warlick, who anticipated that Elzy would be relocated to the Volunteer State by next week.

When Summitt announced last week that she was sliding into an emeritus role, Elzy posted on Twitter: "My heart is very heavy today. Hard to believe that our coach won't be on the sidelines. You're a true inspiration. Thank you for being you."

Warlick consulted with Summitt about the hiring of Elzy, and it's a primary reason why Warlick was the perfect candidate to succeed a legend – she's not intimidated by it and will seek Summitt for advice, much as Guthridge did with Smith.

"Pat had a lot of influence," Warlick said. "Pat knows Kyra, and obviously I asked Pat's opinion. She loves Kyra and would love to have her here.

"We just got it done. I was screaming and yelling and hollering. I was thrilled. I know her passion and her loyalty to this program. It's just in your blood, and I know it was in her blood."


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