“Tennessee is still Tennessee.” Those are the words of Sharrona Reaves, the Lady Vols new recruiting coordinator and assistant coach. She took some time during a whirlwind week to talk to InsideTennessee about joining the staff of the Lady Vols.
Sharrona Reaves has a coast-to-coast basketball resume that reflects someone who loves the game. She started as a very undersized post player in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, whose wish was to grow a few inches and play for Pat Summitt.
That didn’t happen but after a career that has included time in the Big East, SEC and Big 12, along with two stints as a head coach, Reaves will walk the sidelines in the footsteps of Summitt and try to help Holly Warlick and staff get the Lady Vols to their first Final Four since Summitt trimmed the nets in 2008.
“I don’t really know if there are words for that,” Reaves said. “To be able to come and have the opportunity to work and give my effort to the university of a woman who pioneered so many things, not just basketball but women’s sports in general.
“She was a pioneer. She was beyond just being a basketball coach. To even be able to walk into the University of Tennessee’s women basketball office and have the opportunity to sell this program and to be in a place to help put us back to where we used to be, I can’t even tell you.
“I want to work day and night. I want to work right now. I am so focused on helping Holly and being everything that she needs and being a big support to her. Because I know her heart. That means everything to me.”
An opening at Tennessee generated a lot of interest among college coaches to say the least. A place on the Lady Vols’ sideline remains a coveted seat.
“Holly began to reach out to several people that she trusted in the industry, and my name came up,” Reaves said. “The fact I was from Tennessee I think that probably piqued her interest, and she began to look into me. Of course, we had seen each other out on the recruiting trails for years because I have been around for a while.”
Warlick’s media statement to announce the hire mentioned Reaves’ Volunteer State roots.
"I love Coach Reaves' energy and have always been impressed with her ability to recruit players at every level of basketball and at every stop along the way," Warlick said. "She's a native Tennessean and she played in our league at Alabama, so she is quite aware and understands the magnitude and history of this program.”
Prior to accepting the Tennessee job, Reaves was the recruiting coordinator for West Virginia. She played for Alabama – known then as Sharrona Alexander – and was a member of the Crimson Tide when Alabama made the Sweet 16 in 1992-93 and the Final Four in 1993-94. She also served as team captain as a senior.
Reaves logged two stints at West Virginia – once when the school was in the Big East and later as a member of the Big 12 – served at Long Island University C.W. Post and College of Central Florida as a head coach and held assistant coach positions at Troy University, Mississippi State and California-Berkeley. Common themes among all the stops were success and teams that got a lot better.
“I think she looked up and saw what I had done and she was impressed,” Reaves said. “She reached out and we talked. We just hit it off instantly. A lot of her vision and what she is trying to do is a lot of what I believe in.”
Reaves has the perspective of an outsider looking in, and the allure of Tennessee resonates. The struggles during the 2015-16 regular season were well-documented, but the program didn’t take any national dents.
“It’s still Tennessee,” Reaves said. “Tennessee women’s basketball name stands alone. I don’t think there’s ever been any doubt in any coach’s mind across the country that didn’t still think that Tennessee is still Tennessee.
“The fact they ended up in the Elite Eight shows you that. Things like that can happen in a season, but everybody in the country thinks that Tennessee is still Tennessee.”
Reaves will take on the responsibility of recruiting coordinator for Tennessee at a time when the Lady Vols missed on their primary targets last November in the high school class of 2016. That was alleviated with the April signing of Kamera Harris, a post from Georgia, who will enroll this summer.
Reaves noted a recruiting coordinator has to be organized first and foremost, retain a lot of information about players across multiple classes and maintain plenty of contacts. She also knows the entire staff is committed to recruiting.
“The recruiting coordinator may be the organizer, but we’re all grinding,” Reaves said. “We are all making phone calls. We are all reaching out and trying to find out where the best kids are. When you have that type of staff situation, you are going to be successful. The pressure isn’t on just one person.
“I know at the University of Tennessee, we all have to work. We all have to be out grinding and working on kids and families. That is what it’s going to take for us to be the program that we want to be.”
The staff will be on the road starting Friday as several showcase events will be held this weekend, including Boo Williams in Hampton, Virginia, which is typically loaded with top prospects. Reaves will be on the road for Tennessee, as will Warlick, Jolette Law and Dean Lockwood.
Warlick knows that Tennessee needs players at all positions in the classes of 2017 and 2018. The hiring of Reaves brings the Lady Vols someone who has been in the trenches of recruiting, is familiar with the landscape, especially in the targeted states of Tennessee and Georgia, and who has teenagers, including a daughter.
Reaves will be able to relate to the players she recruits – and their parents – and assist any current team members who might need some additional guidance from her perspective as a mother. Reaves has a daughter, Kimora, who is 15 and participates in track/shot put, and a son, Kenden, a 6-8 high school sophomore who plays basketball and attends a boarding school in Massachusetts.
“I definitely think it will play a key role,” Reaves said. “Players have to trust you before they are willing to really listen to you. And that doesn’t happen overnight. My approach to any new program is, first of all, I want the girls to really get to know me, who I am and what I am about. And I will do the same with them.
“I care, and I want to get to know them, and there’s an effort there. I think once you build that, I think you can challenge players. When they see your heart and they know that you genuinely care about them, I think they receive it. Having a teenage daughter will definitely help that.
“There are days when I know she just wants to be left alone, and I’ve got to be willing to give her that space. But at the same time there are times when I need to say to her what I know she needs to hear. The love is there, so she can receive it. The relationship is there. That is what I am looking forward to doing with these girls – building the relationships.”
Reaves already is familiar with Lockwood and Law from the recruiting trails. Law was an assistant at Rutgers when West Virginia was in the Big East, and the two teams held pitched battles. Law also was a Harlem Globetrotter. So in a game of H-O-R-S-E, who wins?
“I am killing Jolette all day long,” said a laughing Reaves, who added “on that note, you’re right,” when told Law picked up a basketball one day in practice last season and drilled a 60-foot shot so she had better get to work.
“I am looking very forward to working with them,” Reaves said. “I know both of them, probably Jolette a little bit more than Dean because Jolette and I go back to the Big East days. We used to have epic battles back in the day. Dean and I would end up at the same events (during recruiting). We would have great conversations in between the games. I always liked his personality.”
Reaves already is looking forward to telling recruits about why they should become Lady Vols – and she used a familiar refrain.
“Tennessee is still Tennessee,” she said. “My approach to selling Tennessee is going to be about Holly, reputation of women’s basketball at Tennessee.”
Reaves noted that Warlick has led Tennessee to three Elite Eight berths in four seasons in an age of unparalleled parity – three programs made their Final Four debuts in 2016 – and she also knows the shift required to move from assistant to head coach.
“I understand the expectations are Final Fours and national championships,” Reaves said. “From being a former head coach, there is a difference in that seat, and it doesn’t necessarily happen overnight. But most coaches who have been head coaches for four years aren’t going to have three Elite Eights under their belt. That is the first thing I am going to sell.”
Warlick’s reputation has emerged as a player’s coach – and one who will keep team matters within the program and not criticize players via media channels.
“As far as Holly is concerned, who she is and what a genuine person she is and having your daughter play for someone who is genuinely going to care for you but who is going to push you and who has been a part of the major accomplishments of this program,” Reaves said.
“And Tennessee still sells itself. I think you’ve got to do the work, continue to build the relationships with the recruits, getting them on campus and working all of the people that surround that process to the point that they had no doubt in their mind that the University of Tennessee is where they want to be.”
Such is the history and expectations at Tennessee that three Elite Eight berths in four years have created a restless fan base. Reaves embraces that attitude from the fans of Lady Vol Nation.
“I think that they are used to success, and I respect that,” Reaves said. “We are going to do our best to give them what they want to be. I welcome that. And that is Holly’s heart’s desire, too. That is our goal. I welcome it, and I respect it.”