Jannah Tucker commits to Lady Vols

Jannah Tucker, an athletic wing player ranked in the top 10, became the first recruit in the class of 2013 to say yes to first-year head coach Holly Warlick. Go inside with Inside Tennessee to read about what the latest Lady Vol and her father had to say about her decision.

When Jannah Tucker visited Tennessee last February, she was ready to commit to the Lady Vols. But her parents, Robert and Cynthia Tucker, advised their daughter to return home to ponder her decision and make sure she still felt the same way on a second visit.

So Tucker returned over the weekend to participate in elite camp with the Tennessee coaching staff and when the urge to commit again overwhelmed her, Tucker called her father, who had accompanied his daughter on the trip but was strolling around campus, and asked him to return to the arena.

"She called me and said, ‘Where are you? We have to talk,' " Robert Tucker said. "I came over and she said, ‘This is it. This is where I want to be.' I saw it in her eyes. She just lit up."

Tucker wisely instructed his daughter to call her mother, too. Tucker and his wife, Cynthia, have five children – Jannah is the third – and he knew a call needed to be placed home to Maryland.

"I said, ‘Are you sure,' and she said, ‘Yes,' so I said, ‘Call your mom,' " Robert Tucker said. "Mom said, ‘Go for it if that's what you want. Congratulations.' "

With the blessing of both parents, Jannah Tucker was ready to tell the Tennessee coaches Sunday. Camp was nearly over, and Jannah Tucker told Head Coach Holly Warlick and Assistant Coach Dean Lockwood that she had one last question.

"Camp hadn't ended yet," Jannah Tucker, "and we kind of tricked them a little bit. I said, ‘Hey, I've got just one more question.' They both turned to me simultaneously and Dean said, ‘What is the question,' and I said, ‘Well, I would very much like to be a Lady Vol.'

"Coach Holly put her hands up like Rocky at the top of the steps, and she started jumping up and down. The players watched her reaction and ran over and gave me hugs and then all the kids ran over and gave me hugs. It was a really great moment. They just embraced me.

"I actually started crying, just tears of joy. I had all these emotions, and it felt like a weight was lifted off my shoulders. I was so happy and excited to be a part of it."

The next question during a phone interview with Inside Tennessee made Jannah Tucker laugh out loud: Will she change her mind between now and the early signing period in November?

"No, no, no, no doubt, none at all," Tucker said. "With some schools you have that kind of ‘but' attached, and I never had any of those with Tennessee."

Tucker is a 6'0 wing from Randallstown, Md., who will graduate next spring from New Town High School. Hoopgurlz ranks her as the No. 8 player overall in the class of 2013, and she has been profiled as a scorer who can create off the dribble and nail jumpers and three balls. She also is a tenacious defender, a trend with the players Warlick and staff have targeted.

Tucker also looked at her in-state school of Maryland, along with Penn State, Villanova, West Virginia and Virginia. Tennessee had started recruiting her first – she said several other schools entered late in the process – and the Lady Vols' early interest stayed with her.

Her parents spelled out some important factors and then let their daughter decide.

"We raised our children to be independent," Robert Tucker said. "We had the criteria we were looking at – good academics, safe environment and quality people – and then the decision was going to be hers. Knoxville met all of our criteria.

"At that point it was just seeing how she felt about it, what was special. What Coach Summitt has done was phenomenal and we are totally confident that Holly will do that and I am totally confident turning over my daughter to Holly and the staff."

It wasn't the first time she felt comfortable with Tennessee. Jannah Tucker and her father made an unofficial visit to Knoxville on the weekend in early February that the Lady Vols played Auburn and the Vols played Georgia.

"We were in the parking lot and we had just finished watching the men play," Robert Tucker said. "We were going back to the hotel and Jannah stops in the parking lot and says, ‘Dad, I finally see now what my teammates mean when they said, ‘You will just know.' And I looked at her and said, ‘You have that feeling about Tennessee? This is where you want to go?'

"And she said, ‘This is it. This is it.' That was the first visit. I said, ‘OK, but take your time.' "

Her high school and AAU teammates had told Jannah that she would know when it was the right school.

"All my teammates told me you're going to get a feeling and I didn't believe it because I hadn't felt it," she said.

That changed during the February visit. She had watched the Lady Vols practice that Saturday and then stayed for the men's game with the Lady Vols playing on Sunday.

"I felt it and I knew," she said. "I could see the family environment and I could see that everyone was genuine. Everybody embraced me from the coaching staff to the players to the managers. I just felt at home. I think that's important when you're going to a school because that will be your home."

Still, her father reminded her not to make the decision on emotion. He wanted his daughter to return to Maryland and be certain before she committed.

"My role as a dad was to make sure she picked a great academic institution and that she was around quality people," Robert Tucker said. "The decision was hers and we talked about it plenty of times. She never wavered on it from the initial meeting to when she said she wants to be a Lady Vol.

"Tennessee has a great program and a great tradition and can teach these young ladies how to be prepared for life and also have a great time playing basketball along the way."

He also had seen plenty on that first visit to realize that Tennessee could indeed be the right choice, even with the likelihood that Pat Summitt would retire after the 2011-12 season.

"There were a lot of quality schools that we looked at and there were a lot of quality people that we talked to," he said. "We came down and met Coach Summitt, which was great, but we also were very, very impressed with the time that Holly gave me and Dean gave me on my first visit. I wanted to see the supporting staff behind Pat and who would be taking over. They won me over with how genuine they were, how professional they were, how caring they were and how skilled they were as coaches.

"I watched them all year whether it was on the sidelines at the game we attended or on television. I just watched them, and I was impressed. Jannah was really impressed with Holly and felt a vibe with her and Dean. I have trust and confidence that they are great coaches and more importantly they are great people who can help her grow and develop as a player and also as a young lady.

"I am impressed with everybody on the staff but initially it was the time spent with Holly and Dean. Coach Summitt did a great job teaching and shaping her staff. I am 100 percent confident that will continue.

Robert Tucker has been involved in sports with his five children beginning with Robbie, who is now 22, Anirah, who is about to turn 20, Jannah, 17, Mayah, 7, and Khori, 5

Robert Tucker, who played basketball for Richmond and Loyola, steered the children's physical activity while Cynthia Tucker made sure academics also were a top priority. Anirah played one season of basketball for Maryland-Baltimore County before transferring to the University of Maryland to focus on her studies. Robbie was a standout high school player but sustained two concussions and had to sit out a year to recover. He opted to focus on academics. The two youngest children have already shown an interest in the game. Jannah, the middle child, became interested in basketball because of her older siblings.

"Jannah had the benefit of being the third in line – my son and older daughter played – and she was constantly with us in the yard and followed us to the gym tagging along with her older brother and sister," Robert Tucker said. "She would take her knocks early on and kind of developed her interest and her ability because they didn't take it easy on her. A lot of times had to intervene and say ‘OK, she's just a little baby. Don't be too rough.'

"But she was a gamer. She wouldn't back down at all and that's when I kind of knew. You can just tell with certain kids when they have something inside. She always had a love for the game. She learned her lessons the hard way and she spent a lot of time with us tagging along to AAU games. I was working with my older two so I didn't get to coach her until she was 11."

When Jannah was 13, she joined a 16U AAU team.

"She learned how to play against older kids, faster kids," Robert Tucker said. "It was a gradual maturation process for her."

Jannah remembers going against her older siblings.

"It not only makes you physically and mentally tough but also just to learn," she said. "You don't realize how much you absorb when you have older ones. You learn so much."

Jannah Tucker is an honor roll student and has an interest in law, sports management and business. She is considering a career in sports management or becoming a sports and entertainment lawyer.

Robert Tucker said it was important to the family that his daughter select a school that finds the balance between student and athlete and makes sure that academics are as important as outcomes. Summitt's graduation rate is 100 percent for players who complete their eligibility at Tennessee.

Jannah Tucker's basketball acumen is extensive, as is her resume. She will represent the United States on the U18 team this summer in Puerto Rico.

She set a single-game school record in high school with 39 points in 2010-11 and averaged 30 points per game last season. She won a Class 3A state title as a freshman.

"They are going to see a very dedicated, local, fun-loving and committed person," Robert Tucker said of his third child. "Jannah puts her heart and soul into everything. She has always been like that. She loves people. She loves feeling connected and once she feels connected she does everything she can to make sure everything she does enhances that connection and relationship with people.

"She really connected with Tennessee, with the people, the athletic staff, the people she would run into in the hotel or in the stores, just that feeling of having a great connection."

Both Tuckers were able to speak to Summitt on their second visit to Knoxville. The head coach emeritus was signing autographs Sunday for campers.

"It was great to see her again," he said. "Tremendous respect for her and what she has accomplished, and we will always have that."

Jannah Tucker watched Warlick during the season and realized that she had assumed more of the coaching duties.

"To me that was a little hint that Pat was going to be retiring," she said. "And I have a great relationship with all of them. That was another check for me."

The exit of Summitt didn't affect her because she already had connected with Warlick.

"I knew the program of Tennessee wouldn't change and what they stood for," Jannah Tucker said. "I already was familiar with Coach Holly and Coach Dean. They had coached with Pat and Coach Holly played for Pat. That wasn't a concern of mine. They kept the same qualities and kept the same values.

"Coach Holly is a going to be a great head coach. She is an extension of Pat. I knew it wouldn't change. Some coaches come in and it's a new program, but I knew Tennessee would remain the same. Pat announced her retirement in April and that could hurt recruiting because you don't know anything about the coach, but if you have Coach Holly there and Coach Dean there who have already worked under Pat and know the players and know the program, that makes a big difference.

"And Pat is still going to be there. She just can't sit on the bench. She's going to be behind the bench. I think it holds the tradition of Tennessee basketball together."

She also was able to meet some of new teammates on the second visit because freshmen Andraya Carter and Jasmine Jones have enrolled for summer school, as has sophomore Jasmine Phillips.

"Everybody embraced me and it really felt like a family," Jannah Tucker said. "It wasn't cliquish where you connect with some people and not others. Everybody came as one. Usually when I go on visits I am shy and just watching but I was lot more interactive and vocal with Tennessee. That is how I kind of knew, too. I just felt very comfortable. It felt like home."

Jannah also met new assistants Kyra Elzy and Jolette Law.

"They fit in so well so quickly," she said. "That shows you the family environment. I want that kind of people around me. I want people to work hard and push me.

"The players have a great work ethic. We are going to start the legacy under Coach Warlick and make Pat proud."

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