Tennessee arrived late to recruit Rennia Davis. But Holly Warlick arrived at the airport right on time with her entire staff and shuttled the elite 2017 recruit to the hotel. It was a small gesture with a big impact.
“What impressed me is the head coach and her staff came to pick us up at the airport, and the head coach had to check me and Rennia into the hotel,” said Davis’ mother, Sheretta Davis. “That was really impressive because head coaches are so busy. Coach Holly was just around a lot for a head coach. She didn’t put Rennia and I off on anyone else.
“Holly showed me as a mother – and I believe in her – that she needed and wanted Rennia and that she was going to take care of Rennia and make sure that she stayed on the right track.”
Tennessee definitely had ground to make up with Rennia Davis. The Lady Vols had initially showed interest and then backed off the 6-2 wing from Jacksonville, Florida. Tennessee reengaged with the dynamic forward last spring and pursued her over the summer.
“They were recruiting my daughter pretty hard at first and then they kind of stopped,” Sheretta Davis said. “They came back on the scene.”
At first, Rennia, a standout at Ribault High School, resisted the late courtship. She was focused on the schools that had wanted on their court for several years.
“I was close-minded to any school that really started recruiting me this summer because if you didn’t think I was good enough the summer before, then why are you recruiting me now?” Rennia wondered. “My AAU coach explained that if you don’t get a certain position in the class before you, then you have to start recruiting other people. I understood that, but it was late.”
Sheretta Davis maintained contact with Tennessee this summer and fall and told the coaches: “I want to feel a relationship as a mother to the coach because I will be giving my daughter to the coach. She will be her mother. I knew Rennia wasn’t going to stay in Florida.”
According to Sheretta Davis, Tennessee’s response was: “Just give us a chance. And we apologize for dropping off.”
Rennia decided she wanted to take an official visit, and mother and daughter arrived in Knoxville on the weekend of Nov. 4.
“It was in my mind to give them an equal chance,” Sheretta Davis said. “They asked me, and I did. I liked that the staff were together, and they laughed, but they were serious when it was time to be serious.”
Tennessee knows it has an advantage if it can get a recruit on campus, especially on a football game day when the city turns orange. The Big Orange welcome left a lasting impression on Rennia.
“Tennessee, just the atmosphere, not just the school but the overall city,” Rennia said. “They love women’s basketball there. I wanted to be at school like that because there are not many in the country. There are not many fan bases that are really dedicated to women’s basketball.”
Rennia also was recognized while in town. When she went out to eat with the team, fans realized who she was and started taking photos.
“That is just crazy,” Rennia said. “It shows how much people love women’s basketball there.”
Sheretta Davis, meanwhile, was getting to know the coaches and asking a lot of questions – and not just of the people set up for conversations during the visit.
“People can put up a facade with you are there – be on their best behavior,” Sheretta Davis said. “I asked a lot of questions. Rennia is an awesome kid. She can be standoffish, but she is going to study you. I don’t want anybody to take that away from her or hold that against her. My other daughter doesn’t know a stranger. Rennia has to study you first.”
The family returned home to Jacksonville. A few days later, Rennia sent her mother a text message from school.
“She said, ‘Mama, write down your favorite three schools in order,” Sheretta Davis said. “So, I did and Tennessee was my No. 1, and it was her No. 1.
“I felt great with them. People said, ‘Last visit, last impression.’ I said, ‘No, no.’ I asked questions. I didn’t even discuss it with Rennia. I talked to people they didn’t even know I talked to. I built a relationship with everybody.”
Rennia made her decision on the last day of the early signing period, Nov. 16, signed her LOI and mailed it to Tennessee. She waited until the following Sunday, Nov. 20, to make the decision public, but the coaching staffs at Tennessee and the other schools already knew in advance of her public announcement.
Rennia placed the calls that Wednesday, Nov. 16, to thank the coaches at the other schools and tell them that she had decided to go elsewhere. Meanwhile, Sheretta Davis got the Lady Vols staff on the phone.
“My mom called Coach Holly, Coach Law, Coach Reaves and Coach Dean," Rennia said. "They were all on the phone. My mom had them on speaker, and I came in the room. They were telling me how excited they were, and they were yelling.”
Warlick and her staff, Jolette Law – the lead recruiter for Rennia – Sharrona Reaves and Dean Lockwood follow Pat Summitt’s rules of recruiting: Tell teenagers why they should come to Tennessee. Don’t mention the other schools and especially don’t disparage another program.
“That’s the way it should be,” Sheretta Davis said. “Tennessee didn’t talk about other schools. The other schools knew Tennessee was their competition. They weren’t worried about anybody but Tennessee."
When Rennia Davis' first basketball coach, Bobby Norman, saw her list of finalists, he told his wife, Lucretia Norman, that Rennia would end up at Tennessee.
"When they saw Tennessee on her list, they knew - let's start getting our gear together," Sheretta Davis said.
That speaks to the name strength and legacy of the Lady Vols, which remain formidable despite the Final Four drought. Tennessee last landed on the sport’s biggest stage in 2008 when Candace Parker helped lead the Lady Vols to back-to-back national titles.
Rennia Davis joins Evina Westbrook, a 6-0 guard from Salem, Oregon; Anastasia Hayes, 5-7 guard from Murfreesboro, Tennessee; and Kasiyahna Kushkituah, a 6-4 post from Alpharetta, Georgia. Their common thread is earning their place in Lady Vol lore.
“These four girls, they know their place, they are ready to win, they’re young, and they’re hungry,” Sheretta Davis said. “They are winners, and they want to win. They need to get ready for these girls coming in.”
Rennia Davis has a silky-smooth jumper and nonchalant stride that is reminiscent of Lady Vol legend Chamique Holdsclaw.
“I ask her, ‘Why are you so nonchalant?’ ” Sheretta Davis said. “She says, ‘Mom, I’m not.’ ”
What Rennia Davis has is swagger.
“That’s true,” Rennia said with a quiet laugh. “That is pretty accurate.”
She also will arrive at Tennessee with up to 60 college credits via an associate degree earned in an accelerated high school program. Rennia will major in business management with the career goal of owning a restaurant. She will be in position to graduate from college with bachelor’s and master’s degrees in four years, if so desired.
Rennia possesses two very different skills – basketball and cooking – and they became the things she loved the most.
“Basketball was something I was always pretty good at, but I didn’t get on a team until seventh grade,” Rennia said. “Cooking is something I always liked to do. No one actually taught me how to cook. I just watched my mom, and I kind of learned how. I throw my own special stuff in every meal.”
Sheretta Davis also has a 16-year-old daughter, Shavonna. They will make trips together to Knoxville to see Rennia play for the Lady Vols.
“They are very close. They are 13 months apart,” Sheretta Davis said of her two daughters. “We are coming to see her play. I don’t even like to drive, but we are coming. We are ready.”
Sheretta Davis is protective of her daughters, and she prayed for Rennia “to make the right decision and put her where she needed to be.”
“Wherever you go, you stay prayed up, and you can’t come back for four years,” Sheretta Davis said of her daughter's college decision. “Unless it’s something drastic, I will ask, ‘Have you prayed on it? You are there for four years. That is what you are supposed to do. She doesn’t mind doing what it takes to win. There is a lot to do, but she knows what to do. She already knows coming in what the deal is.”
Lady Vol fans are craving Final Four appearances and trimmed nets. That’s a lot of pressure on an incoming freshmen class.
“I love it. I love the pressure,” Rennia said. “And I wouldn’t really call it pressure. I call it expectation. Because this is the No. 1 recruiting class in the country. We have to do something. I’ve watched all of Tennessee’s games, and I’ve been keeping up. We are needed there apparently. If we can’t come in and get the job done, then it’s a major problem.
“I am not saying we are going to win a national championship off the bat, but we have to be able to come in and have a good season and get those 2018s and 2019s in and help us win a championship.”
Rennia also has heard about being mentioned in the same sentence as Holdsclaw. While the expectation for another Holdsclaw isn’t reasonable – there is but one Holdsclaw and but one Parker – Rennia won’t shy away from it.
“I know about her to a certain extent, because I’ve been getting compared to her,” Rennia said. “I embrace that. I don’t really get nervous, especially when it comes to basketball.”