Opportunity. Academics. And a desire to compete at the next level. That all added up to a commitment from Schaquilla Nunn to become a Lady Vol as a graduate transfer from Winthrop.
The understated Nunn couldn’t take a call from InsideTennessee until late Thursday evening – she was in the library studying for final exams, and her phone doesn’t connect in the building in Rock Hill, South Carolina. She called Tennessee late Wednesday evening to quietly commit and didn’t make any public announcement.
But Nunn is ready to make a statement on the court. The 6-3 post player already has experience on “The Summitt.” Winthrop played Tennessee on Nov. 21, 2014, and Nunn tallied 12 points and 15 rebounds against the Lady Vols. She also didn’t hesitate to challenge Tennessee’s post players on both ends.
“That gave me the reassurance that as long as I keep working hard and I keep doing what I need to do, there is nothing that should be able to stop me,” Nunn said. “The only person that is ever going to be able to stop me is myself. I come in with the mindset that you have to prove yourself.”
Nunn, a scholar-athlete who will graduate with an undergraduate degree in finance, is seeking a master’s in accounting, and her research led her to consider three finalists in Tennessee, Virginia Tech and Memphis. She took three visits and then chose the Lady Vols with academics playing a significant factor.
“They have an extremely amazing program,” Nunn said. “They have an outstanding building. When I came on my visit, that was one of my longest meetings actually. It is very important to me to get a good education, as well as being able to play basketball.”
Nunn also will be highly motivated on the court. She has one season to prove herself on one of the biggest stages in the sport and wants to play in the WNBA. She will enroll this summer and be eligible to play this coming season.
Nunn averaged 11.2 points and 10.3 rebounds in three seasons at Winthrop and was an All-Big South preseason selection last fall before missing the 2015-16 season with a broken foot. That ultimately led to another year of eligibility and the chance to transfer to Tennessee.
“I am up to the challenge,” Nunn said. “I have always been the one that, ‘Until you’ve proven yourself, I can do just as much as you can do.’ I feel like this is a great opportunity to go out there and show that I might not have been around in this basketball world as long as a lot of other people, but I still can bring something and quality and strength.
“I am just excited. It’s going to be a challenge, and that is what I am looking for. I am looking for a challenge in the classroom, and I am looking for a challenge on the floor, and I feel like I will have the opportunity to have both at a high level.”
Nunn’s father, Charles Nunn, played basketball, and the two are very close.
“He talks to me all the time,” Nunn said. “He is like, ‘OK, there are people with all these accolades and awards, but what does that say when they go play? Congratulations on your accolades. But now you have to prove yourself day in and day out.’ Anything is possible.”
Charles Nunn likely is already out shopping for orange attire. Schaquilla Nunn said her father will attend games and be a very vocal presence. Nunn’s mother, June Nunn, also was an athlete.
“He is excited,” Nunn said. “You are going to see him, and I am pretty sure you are going to hear him. He has basically seen his baby girl grow up in a way I am pretty sure he could have never imagined. He is happy I am up for the challenge. He is happy I am like, ‘OK, let’s see what I have to do. Let’s see how far I can push.’
“My family is extremely competitive. Both my parents played sports, and I have three younger sisters, so when I was younger, it was definitely a competitive household to say the least.”
Nunn took a low-key approach to her commitment and placed the phone call to head coach Holly Warlick. She also had gotten to know Dean Lockwood and Jolette Law during the recruiting process and will meet new assistant coach Sharrona Reaves soon. Reaves was hired three days after Nunn’s visit to Knoxville.
“Coach Holly, Coach Dean, everyone, I love them,” Nunn said. “I love the vibe that they gave off. I know that this is going to be like a family thing. They are going to push me, and that’s what I want. Like my family pushes me, they want me to become great. And in order for me to be great, they have to push me to see how far as I am willing to go.”
With finals week upon her at Winthrop, Nunn opted to go ahead and make the decision, inform the other coaches who recruited her, call Tennessee and get back to her studies. Knowing she had just one season to play, Nunn also looked at rosters and the ideal situation to get better.
“I only have a year, so that is big,” Nunn said. “I also wanted to see what would be my best fit. When we played Tennessee, I told myself, ‘I could see myself playing at this level.’ It gave me the confidence, and it gave me: ‘I can do this. Why not me?’ ”
Nunn connected well to her future teammates, too, during the visit. Winthrop doesn’t have a football program, so Nunn is looking forward to the experience of tailgates before Vol football games at Neyland Stadium in the fall.
“I like mingling with so many people,” Nunn said. “I would love to do that. I think it will be fun.”
The Lady Vols have one true center on the roster in Mercedes Russell with high school Class of 2016 post Kamera Harris also on the way, so there are minutes to be earned in the paint. Ironically, both Harris and Nunn are from the state of Georgia – Hampton for Harris and Fayetteville for Nunn – but just met on the official visit two weeks ago.
Nunn was late to the sport and laughed during the phone interview while telling the story about how she used to run in gym class if anyone through any type of ball at her. Nunn was more interested in cheerleading and step dance.
“In gym class I was running if a ball was thrown my way,” she said. “That was me. I can’t even deny it.”
But then Nunn tried volleyball and started playing basketball at the age of 17. So that explains why a talented post player wasn’t on the national or even regional radar.
When high school friends see Nunn now, “the transformation I have made is mind-boggling for them,” she said.
Nunn wants to make another leap, so she intends to enroll for the first session of summer in June. That allows an early start to her academics – and some prerequisite courses she needs to complete for the arduous master’s in accounting program – and the chance for summer basketball drills and strength and conditioning workouts.
“I want to come in and start learning the system and the lingo,” Nunn said. “I want to start working with the coaches so that I am ready to go.”
Despite the academic commitment, Nunn intends to be a gym rat, too. That attitude will get Nunn on the court and make the coaches take notice.
“That is the type of culture they want to have, and I love it,” Nunn said. “They are very competitive people, which is perfect for me, because I am an extremely competitive person. But they are genuine. You can see the passion. They love what they do. That is what I want to be around.
“I want to be around coaches, and I am like, ‘Hey, can we got to the gym and work out?’ And they are like, ‘OK, give me the time.’ It’s a fire within them, because they still love the game. They love seeing people transform and become mature young women.”
Nunn already has heard about Lockwood’s reputation to work with post players in as many sessions as they want to have. Lockwood is the quintessential gym rat.
“So I hear,” Nunn said. “He is the golden card for me.”