Summer update on the Lady Vols

InsideTennessee caught up with Holly Warlick on the recruiting trail for an update on the orange. Go inside for the latest on the Lady Vols.

Holly Warlick and her assistants are crisscrossing the United State – and soon in Jolette Law's case, the globe – to recruit the next crop of talent to Tennessee.

Warlick departed Knoxville right before her latest two signees, Mercedes Russell and Jordan Reynolds, arrived in Knoxville.

"I will see them Friday," Warlick said. "I am excited."

Reynolds, who will wear No. 0, and Russell, who will wear No. 21, enrolled for second term of summer session and can now start workouts with teammates and coaches.

Reynolds, a 5-11 wing from Portland, Oregon, and Russell, a 6-6 center from Springfield, Oregon, couldn't attend first session, because of their high school graduation dates in June but both arrived last weekend and officially became Lady Vols when classes started Monday.

A third member of the signing class, Jannah Tucker, a 6-0 wing from Maryland, has decided not to enroll at Tennessee. After some two months of indecisiveness, Tucker emailed Warlick last Friday to tell the head coach that she wasn't coming.

Warlick reiterated Tuesday that Tucker's reasons were personal and not basketball-related. The email ended Tennessee's waiting process, and Tucker won't be a Lady Vol.

"She is just having some personal issues," said Warlick, who added she hoped Tucker could resolve them and that the Lady Vols would proceed into the season with 10 scholarship players.

"We've won championships with 10 kids," Warlick said. "I am OK with that."

Warlick and her coaches can't discuss specific recruits, but they can talk position need and numbers. Tennessee was seeking wing players before Tucker backed out the second time – she briefly de-committed last October before signing in November – and it is imperative now that they ink a small forward with a similar skill set. That includes shooting range, scoring ability and stout defense with perimeter speed.

"We are in on some really good kids," Warlick said.

Tennessee is likely to sign up to four players in the class of 2014 – that would put the roster at 13 for the 2014-15 season – and key wing targets include A'ja Wilson, Jaime Nared and Gabby Green, among others. Wilson, a 6-5 wing from South Carolina, is playing with the USA U19 team and will be watched by Law at the championships in Lithuania.

Warlick was recently in Portland, presumably to see Nared, who is from Oregon, and she went to Colorado Springs to watch the USA practice sessions. Current Lady Vol Bashaara Graves is also on the U19 team. Warlick also was in Orlando to watch several players in the upcoming recruiting classes – the Lady Vols have targets in 2014, 2015 and 2016 – and she next heads to Middle Tennessee for the Battle of the 'Boro.

The Lady Vols already have one commit from the class of 2014 in Alexa Middleton, a combo guard from Murfreesboro, Tenn.

In the meantime, Warlick is thrilled to have Russell and Reynolds in orange and ready to play this season.

"Absolutely," Warlick said. "It's awesome. They are thrilled to be here."

Reynolds and Russell are true freshmen and have an added member of their class in Andraya Carter, a redshirt freshman who sat out most of the last season after shoulder surgery.

"Everybody is freaking out that we've got 10 kids, and I am OK with that," Warlick said. "And we've got Draya back."

The importance of getting Carter back on the court can't be overstated. Even as a freshman Carter was the team's best on-ball defender, and she was able to spell Ariel Massengale at point guard and play on the wing. Carter is key to an up-tempo style of play that Warlick wants.

Another key to the upcoming season is good health. The Lady Vols have been battered by injuries in recent years with critical players sidelined for long stretches.

"It would be nice," Warlick said. "I would like to go through a season where nobody gets hurt."

With that in mind, Warlick said she would make practice adjustments when needed.

"I've got to be mindful of it," Warlick said. "We won't practice as long."

The Lady Vols will have a new strength and conditioning coach this season after parting ways with longtime staff member Heather Mason. The men's basketball strength and conditioning coach, Nicodemus Christopher, has worked with the Lady Vols this summer, and Warlick saluted his efforts.

In fact, she was so impressed that she wants Christopher to be involved in the selection process for the Lady Vols. Warlick said interviews will be concluded by next week and a new hire should be announced in about 10 days.

She waited to make the new hire because she didn't want to interrupt the training program put in place by Christopher.

"I wanted him to finish out what he's been doing," Warlick said.

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