Holly Warlick chats with InsideTennessee

The Lady Vols are returning to campus this week to enroll for summer school and get back to court workouts. InsideTennessee sat down one-on-one with Holly Warlick. Go inside for the latest on the Lady Vols in part one of a two-part interview.

Two things won’t change for Tennessee and Holly Warlick – a commitment to defense and rebounding.

Two things will change next season – offensive game-changers with the addition of redshirt sophomores Mercedes Russell and Diamond DeShields.

“Diamond is going to get her shots and Mercedes, as well,” Warlick said. Mercedes is a game-changer, and so is Diamond.”

Russell is a 6-6 agile center who has fully recovered from surgery to correct the alignment of her feet. DeShields was the national freshman of the year at North Carolina and has completed her sit-out season.

Tennessee also returns one of its best defenders in redshirt junior Jasmine Jones, who missed most of last season under the concussion protocol.

“She is fine now,” Warlick said. “It got so deep into the season that it was best to redshirt Jasmine. Her whole being is being a defensive stopper. It steps your team up to another level. It gives everybody else confidence.”

The Lady Vols also would love a favorable nod from the gods of basketball when it comes to injuries. Tennessee was undefeated in the SEC but lost Isabelle Harrison to an ACL injury in mid-February. The Lady Vols made it to the Elite Eight being falling to Maryland.

“Izzy is equivalent to Breanna Stewart, Tiffany Mitchell and Jewel Loyd (to their teams),” Warlick said. “That is what Izzy meant to us. Our opportunities would have been higher had she been on our team. But then again maybe Cierra wouldn’t have performed the way she did. Cierra realized she had to step up.”

Cierra Burdick is now in camp for the Los Angeles Sparks. Harrison was drafted by the Phoenix Mercury but will miss this WNBA season to rehab her knee. Ariel Massengale was drafted by Atlanta and will also miss the season to rehab her knee, which was scoped in April for a cleanup procedure.

The seniors will leave a void in leadership, as they emerged as three of the best Tennessee had ever had in that role.

“They did an unbelievable job,” Warlick said.

Post players Bashaara Graves and Nia Moore will be seniors this upcoming season, while Andraya Carter will be a redshirt junior and has been a regular starter. Junior Jordan Reynolds also returns as one of the team’s most-experienced players.

Harrison notwithstanding, post players don’t tend to be primary leaders – though Graves has plenty of starting experience – so Warlick will be looking for voices on the perimeter.

“Somebody has to step up. B can’t be the only leader,” Warlick said. “Diamond will step up. I would hope Andraya and Jordan will fill that void, too. They have it in them. They have to be consistent and as they go through it, they will understand why. Diamond has great leadership skills, too.

“We’ve got to be committed to it.”

Early leadership can emerge this summer as the team is scheduled to play exhibition games in Italy in August. Since summer school starts next week, skill work on the court with the coaching staff can begin with up to four players per session.

Full team practices are allowed in July because of the overseas trip. Programs can assemble for up to 10 full team sessions that month, and the Lady Vols will take advantage of the rule.

Not every player will be back on campus all summer. Russell and DeShields are involved with USA Basketball for the World University Games Championships, with Warlick on the staff as an assistant coach.

The players and coaches return to Colorado Springs, Colo., for training camp from June 18 to July 2. The basketball competition will be held July 4-13 in Gwangju, South Korea.

The entire Lady Vols team will be able to make the Italy trip.

“I think it’s going to be great because we are adding so many people,” Warlick said. “I think it will be huge for us.”

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