Jasmine Phillips embraces defense

When Jasmine Phillips answered the phone Tuesday, she had just walked out of her high school gym after a workout and was finalizing some paperwork to send to Tennessee, because she intends to be on campus next week. Go inside to read about the latest signee and the fact Holly Warlick may not be done yet with the class of 2012.

Jasmine Phillips, a 5-foot-11 athletic slasher from Hartsville, S.C., who likes to play defense, was headed to North Carolina after one year at Louisburg College – which is less than 60 miles from Chapel Hill — but a flurry of Tar Heel commitments last month led the guard to consider her options.

"That caused me to reopen mine, and Tennessee is one of the schools that started recruiting me," Phillips said in a phone interview.

Tennessee head coach Holly Warlick was familiar with Phillips, who was in the high school class of 2011, but the staff didn't pursue her because Phillips' commitment to North Carolina had long been in place.

Then, Warlick got a call last month from Hartsville High School coach Pat Hewitt — Warlick has known Hewitt for years – to advise her that Phillips wanted to look around after North Carolina, which has five signees from the Class of 2012, also added four commitments in one weekend from the Class of 2013.

"Pat (Hewitt) gave me a call and said she was very interested in us," Warlick said. "That was how we got the ball rolling. We are excited about her.

"I think we signed a great athlete and a great kid. To have those two qualities was huge for us. I think she is going to fit in with the players.

"Her strengths are defense and rebounding and that was our goal, too, to get that. We are very fortunate. She likes playing defense. Not many kids have that in their thought process."

Phillips, who qualified out of high school and was the Class 3A Player of the Year in South Carolina, took visits to East Carolina, South Carolina and Tennessee, before making her decision Monday and signing with the Lady Vols. She will have three years of eligibility in college and Tennessee has no player logjam — Phillips boosted the roster to just 10 for the 2012-13 season.

Warlick also indicated that she might not be done with the class of 2012. She can't discuss specifics by NCAA rules, but she can talk numbers, and the head coach said Tennessee remains open to another addition.

The Lady Vols could use help in the paint, so securing a post player is possible.

"We're still looking," Warlick said. "We may bring in another person."

The opportunity to make an immediate contribution was part of the reason why Phillips selected Tennessee. She also toured the campus with her mother on Monday and liked the academic center and overall support off the court.

"After meeting the coaches I felt right at home," Phillips said. "It felt like a family, and I knew it was the place for me. It was a dream to play for one of the best programs in the United States.

"They said they would take care of me."

The coaches also told Phillips that they needed her on the defensive side of the ball, and the guard welcomes the challenge.

"I feel like I am a strong defensive player, team player, and I am going to work hard," Phillips said. "I think I am prepared."

The signing class of 2012 — it also includes guard Andraya Carter and forwards Jasmine Jones and Bashaara Graves — is unusual in that all four players embrace defense.

"It is, and they are athletic as can be," Warlick said. "We're going to get back to the style that we like to play, running and pressing and making people turn the ball over.

"That was by design. That is what I love about this group."

Phillips thought about wearing No. 2 but then chatted with her mother and opted for No. 1 since she was the first signee for Warlick.

"I thought it would be a great number," Phillips said.

Phillips also had no qualms about coming to Tennessee for the first season without Pat Summitt on the bench. Summitt has moved to a role of head coach emeritus.

"I am ready to play basketball for Holly Warlick," said Phillips, who hadn't yet considered the fact that she was the first commitment to Tennessee since Summitt retired. "I was OK with it. It's time for Holly Warlick. I think it's her time now."

"Well, there you go," Warlick said with a laugh.

Warlick didn't say it, but it had to come as somewhat of a relief to the coaching staff to get that first commitment and signee after Summitt announced in April that she would leave the bench after being diagnosed a year ago with early onset dementia. It may have just been one add, but a roster of 10 sounds safer than one of nine.

"It does," Warlick said with a laugh. "It allows you to scrimmage each other. It just sort of gives us some leeway."

Phillips, whose conversation included a yes ma'am in every sentence, should fit in at Tennessee. She is a native of Hartsville, S.C., and has long been familiar with the Lady Vols. She wasn't able to meet her teammates on her visit — the players return next week for the first session of summer school — but she did hear from some of them via text message after she signed her scholarship papers "to welcome me to the family," Phillips said.

Phillips will arrive next week and enroll in summer school in June.

"Yes ma'am, I want to start school and get some classes behind me," Phillips said. "I want to get stronger in the weight room and get familiar with the campus. I am really ready to get up there."

Phillips will have a signing ceremony at Hartville High School on Wednesday afternoon.

Hewitt told scnow.com, the website for The Morning News in the Grand Strand area of South Carolina: "I have no doubt she is prepared. Playing at Louisburg and now going to play at Tennessee, they stress team work and commitment and that is a perfect fit for her.

"She is such an unselfish player and hard worker."

Phillips, a junior college All-American, is especially glad that she has three years to play for Tennessee, rather than the usual two for a junior college transfer, because she qualified out of high school and thus didn't have to complete a junior college degree before jumping to Division I.

"That will really help," Phillips said. "I can really contribute to the team. It's a dream come true, and I am not going to take this opportunity for granted."

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