InsideTennessee is asking each of the Lady Vol basketball coaches five questions in preseason. Head Coach Holly Warlick handles the fourth and final one-on-one session.
Warlick is entering her fifth season with Tennessee as the head coach. She took the reins in 2012 after the retirement of Pat Summitt. The Lady Vols were the last SEC team standing last season with an Elite Eight berth, but Warlick and crew want a Final Four. The numbers are low this year, but overall team attitude has done a turn-around from a year ago – primarily because of the commitment of Jordan Reynolds in the off-season and the mind-set change of Diamond DeShields.
InsideTennessee: If the season started today, who would start?
Holly Warlick: Jordan, Jaime, Diamond, Mercedes. The fifth person is up the air. It’s going to be either Qui or Kortney.
(IT asked the question two weeks ago. The Lady Vols host Carson-Newman on Monday at 7 p.m. for an exhibition game. The listed probable starters are: Reynolds, DeShields, Jaime Nared, Mercedes Russell and Schaquilla Nunn, who is known as “Qui.”)
IT: A corollary to that question, with a roster of nine players, do you expect to spread minutes around as much as you can?
Warlick: It’s a great opportunity for all of our kids because they’re going to play. I love our energy. We are getting great leadership from Jordan. Diamond has totally stepped up her game as far as being a leader and reaching out to teammates. It’s just such a different feel. It’s awesome. They go to practice, and they are working hard. It’s a great group right now.
IT: Last year in preseason, you were concerned about where the leadership would come from after the graduation of three seniors. This preseason, you have talked about the leadership of the team and how you like how they have approached practice. Can you expand on that?
Warlick: Jordan, being a senior, has stepped her. She has totally transformed her body. She is in great shape, and she is being an awesome leader. Diamond is finally healthy, and she has stepped up. She is really involved with our team. Mercedes has done a good job So has Jaime. Jaime worked on her game the most this summer, and her game is legit.
We’re not only just leading, we’re listening. And it brings a lot of positive energy to our team. We’re hungry. We’ve got a little bit of a chip on our shoulder. I really, really, really like that. It’s what we’ve needed. We don’t have as many players, and that’s OK. They’re in tune, they’re listening, they’re engaged with each other. It’s a fun team to be around.
IT: You have made it to three Elite Eight games in four years, coming so close to the Final Four. How do you balance getting Tennessee across that barrier and also realizing it’s a long season, and you have to focus on the next game, not the Final Four?
Warlick: That’s our goal, and it always has been. We can’t start talking about it, but we’ve got to build the groundwork, and it doesn’t happen overnight. A lot of it is what your kids did in the summer, and we had a great summer. It’s what you’re going to do throughout the year and how you’re going to handle adversity and how hard you’re going to work.
It is a process, and I’ve been doing this for a long time, and I understand it. Keep our focus and take it one day at a time. You improve in practice, you get better and you learn to play with each other and then it happens on the court. You prepare your kids for anything that’s thrown at them. It’s a long way away. I am focused on our first game.
IT: Tennessee is about defense and rebounding, but with nine players, you can’t really deploy your aggressive, trapping schemes, at least not all game, because of extended minutes by players and possible foul trouble. But you’ve got some scorers. You might get in some shootouts this season. What are some offensive changes this season?
Warlick: We are going to more motion, giving them the freedom to make decisions and trying to put our scorers in spots where they are the most productive. We have always played inside-out, and we will continue to do that. But last year, we were not consistently scoring from the outside. We’ve been doing a lot more individual workouts and shooting. Hopefully, it will pay dividends when we start the games. We are trying to put them in position to score. Jaime Nared has really worked on her offensive consistency, and I have been really proud of her.
IT: Last season, everyone – fans, media, players, coaches – would look to Pat Summitt’s seat to see if she made it to the game. She only made it to a few games last season. This season, we walk in there knowing that Pat is not coming through that door. Pat is not going to be in that arena ever again. Have you even thought about that yet?
Warlick: She was so in and out of being in the arena. It was always great to see her. I kind of had to come to terms with her not coaching anymore for the last four years. I just continue to keep Pat’s spirit around me.
What do I miss? I miss picking up the phone and calling and seeing how she is doing and telling her a basketball game is on to make sure she watches. She loved to just watch basketball in general. It’s the little things, watching her walk her dog, seeing a smile on her face when she saw me, talking to her … that’s what I continue to miss.