Head coach Holly Warlick, now in her third year, opened Media Day on Wednesday afternoon with a press conference. She lauded team leadership and chemistry in her opening remarks.
“I am really excited about them,” Warlick said. “I’ve have talked the last couple of years about leadership and needing somebody to step up and having team unity, and we have it.”
Warlick’s opening remarks mentioned the “numbers” – meaning a deep roster of 14 – but not all of those players are available. Center Mercedes Russell is out for the season to recover from surgery on both feet – she is ambulatory now and moving well – and Diamond DeShields will sit out a year after transferring from North Carolina. DeShields also is recovering from a lingering leg injury that affected her throughout her freshman year.
Of the 12 remaining players, Jannah Tucker is not yet cleared for contact and will slowly be eased into the season. Nia Moore has been sidelined by an ankle injury – last week she was on a stationary bicycle during practice – but is expected to be back soon.
The good news on the health front is that Ariel Massengale is back. The senior point guard is fully recovered after missing the last two months of the season under the program’s concussion protocol and has been lauded in preseason for her leadership. During interviews Wednesday, several players mentioned Massengale’s renewed confidence and ability to hit shots.
One of the biggest questions for the Lady Vols is how to replace the scoring punch of Meighan Simmons. Warlick said Tennessee’s inside-out offensive strategy would remain, but she noted the team has scorers and shooters. All three freshmen, Kortney Dunbar, Alexa Middleton and Jaime Nared, can hit treys. Dunbar was signed by Tennessee to launch three-pointers, and early reports are that she can hit them from deep range.
“I am just trying to get her to rebound a little bit,” Warlick said. “Get past that three-point line to rebound a little bit.”
Warlick noted the versatility of the roster and said the staff deployed various combinations in a recent scrimmage, including one post player on the floor with four guards/wings.
“We’re athletic. We’re fast. We’re strong,” Warlick said. “And for the first time I can say we have a veteran group. I think it’s going to be a great group to watch, and you will see how hard we compete.”
InsideTennessee continued its tradition of non-basketball questions for the players – though each one did identify which teammate should take a last-second shot. Click on the videos below to hear from the players.
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