Lady Vols seniors Jaime Nared and Mercedes Russell are both coming off great seasons, as two of Tennessee’s three top scorers in the 2016 season. In fact, Russell and Nared were both added to the 2017 USA Women’s Basketball U23 National Team over the summer. Nared and Russell both were in the starting five, leading the USA to a 3-0 record, and an average point differential of 20 points in the tournament.
“I’ve never seen her more hungry and determined,” said head coach Holly Warlick of Russell at her Thursday afternoon press conference. “Jaime Nared had to step up and be a lot of things for this team, and she has stepped up to the challenge,” Warlick added.
After last season, Russell turned down an opportunity to play in the WNBA as a projected No. 3 overall pick, to have a chance to continue her legacy as a Lady Vol.
“Honestly, I came back just to spend another year as a Lady Vol,” Russell said. “Being in college and being a Lady Vol is an experience. I came back for me, but also for the team.”
Nared averaged 16 points-per-game to go along with seven rebounds, while shooting nearly 40-percent from beyond the arc. Russell was close to averaging a double-double last season, scoring 16 points-per-game and hauling in 9.7 rebounds-per-game. The All-SEC center shot nearly 56-percent from the floor. While no one is doubting the talent of Russell and Nared, only time will tell if the two will gel with the highly touted recruiting class that Warlick brought in this season.
Warlick brought in three of the top-15 recruits in the nation for the 2017 season. The highly touted recruiting class includes the No. 2 overall player in the country, Evina Westbrook, Murfreesboro native Anastasia Hayes who was the No. 7 overall player in the country, and Rennia Davis a guard out of Florida, who was ranked No. 12 overall.
“They’ve blended in really good,” Nared said of the freshman. “I think they’ve taken in what we’ve said and they ask a lot of questions.” For Nared and Russell, they were instantly viewed as leaders for the young players because of the experience the two have playing at such an elite level of basketball.
“We have to be leaders, we’re both seniors and we’ve been here for a while,” Russell said. “We help, in every possible way, the freshmen as much as we can.”
Last season, Tennessee beat three of the four teams that made it to the final four, but dropped six games to opponents that did not even make the NCAA Tournament. Consistency was a major problem for Warlick and the Lady Vols last year who were stumped in the second round by No. 4 seed Louisville. Nared chalked Tennessee’s inconsistency up to a lack of leadership, which her and Russell look to provide for the young Lady Vols this season.
“I think the consistency aspect that we were missing was because of our lack of leadership, and Mercedes (Russell) and I are working our hardest and trying to be great examples,” said Nared.
“I know my role this year will have to be huge. Also me and Jaime (Nared) will have to be playing big every game and probably lead in scoring and rebounding,” said Russell about embracing her role as a leader this season.
Being a leader is no easy role, especially in a historic and notable women’s basketball school such as Tennessee. However, Russell and Nared look to fill in those roles for the young and talented Lady Vols roster.
“Something I’ve learned as I’ve gotten older is that the best teams have the hardest working leaders, “said Nared.
Russell, Nared and the Tennessee Lady Vols will hit the court for the first time on Tuesday, Nov. 7 against Carson-Newman at 7 p.m. ET.
Featured image courtesy of UT Sports
Edited by Ben McKee