Lady Vols to open season at No. 20

Holly Warlick went from having her high school jersey retired to getting back to work with her Tennessee team as the Lady Vols open the exhibition season in a few days. Go inside with Inside Tennessee for the latest on the team.

Holly Warlick was honored in a surprise ceremony Friday night at Bearden High School when her No. 22 jersey was retired at halftime of the football game.

Warlick, a Knoxville native, was lured to Bearden on the pretense of attending senior night for all fall sports and making an appearance at her old high school. But Justin Underwood, the current girls' high school coach, had called the Tennessee basketball office and arranged for Warlick's family, friends, former high school coach Buddy Fisher and the current Lady Vol team to be present as a surprise.

When the seniors were honored at halftime, Warlick's jersey was unveiled and retired in a ceremony on the field.

The Lady Vols website had a video of the presentation.

The Lady Vol players wore shirts with Bearden on the front and Warlick's name and No. 22 on the back, in what Warlick called a "retro throwback T-shirt."

The Tennessee players heard stories about Warlick's exploits in high school – she was a two-sport star at Bearden in basketball and track – and told her, "Coach, you had game back in the day," said Underwood, who was a Lady Vols practice player from 2001-04.

Underwood had wanted to honor Warlick for two years and finally was able to arrange it so she would be there and be surprised.

"She gave me a hard time," he said. "She is just so humble."

Warlick's family, including her mother, attended the ceremony, as did former teammates.

"It was special," Warlick said. "It was a big surprise."

A banner representing the jersey will hang in the rafters of Bearden's gymnasium. She is the first athlete from a girl's sport to have her jersey retired.

"I didn't know that," Warlick said. "That's awesome."

Warlick enjoyed a gathering afterwards with friends and family, but she didn't have much time to celebrate. The first-year head coach of the Lady Vols had practice Saturday morning and a team scrimmage. Her thoughts had to quickly turn back to getting her team ready. The Lady Vols play Carson-Newman is the exhibition opener at 7 p.m. Eastern this Thursday.

"Exactly right," Warlick said.

The AP preseason poll was released Saturday, and the Lady Vols checked in at No. 20. It is the first time they will start the season out of the Top 10 since 1984-85. It is Tennessee's lowest ranking since it was left out of the inaugural poll in 1976-77.

Four other SEC schools were ranked – Kentucky at No. 6, Georgia at No. 10, Texas A&M at No. 15 and Vanderbilt at No. 16. LSU and South Carolina received votes but didn't break the top 25.

"I see them practice every day," Warlick said. "I think we're better than the 20th ranking I really do. It's a motivation. But it's a ranking. I can't get caught up in that."

RECRUITING UPDATES: Jannah Tucker, a top 10 2013 wing from Maryland, recommitted to Tennessee on Saturday. On Tuesday, it was announced that she had de-committed. On Wednesday, her father, Robert Tucker, citing false and misleading information from outsiders, announced that he had overreacted and would fix his mistake.

On Saturday, Robert Tucker let Inside Tennessee know that his daughter was back in the orange fold.

"Jannah is staying at Tennessee," he said. "All is good, and she knows it's the best place for her."

Top recruit Mercedes Russell, a 6-5 center from Oregon, will announce her decision at a school pep rally on Tuesday at 2:30 p.m. Pacific time. Russell will choose between Tennessee and Louisville. The announcement day about her college decision had been set earlier this week. S

WARLICK INTACT: A year ago, Warlick broke her hand and needed surgery after her shoe stuck and the strap of her bag caught on the railing as she exited the team plane following SEC Media Day. She tumbled to the tarmac and severely injured her hand.

This time upon arriving in Knoxville, Warlick reminded her fellow travelers – Vols coach Cuonzo Martins and members of the media relations staff – that she needed to be careful.

"I said, ‘Y'all make sure I get off this plane carefully,' " Warlick said. "I got off carefully and this time I didn't break anything."

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