Former Lady Vols Candace Parker and Diamond Deshields took home the WNBA Championship with the Chicago Sky marking the end of the WNBA season and the beginning of college basketball. Now, the Tennessee women’s basketball team has defeated Georgia College 108-44 in their exhibition matchup on Nov. 3 and is set to open their regular season against Southern Illinois on Nov. 10.
In 2020-21, the Lady Vols had a successful season knocking off No. 2 South Carolina, No. 12 Kentucky, No. 13 Arkansas and No. 15 Indiana while also playing a down to the wire game against No. 3 UConn. They climbed the AP Poll throughout the season where they finished at No. 15, and they secured a No. 3 seed in the NCAA Tournament. They made it to the SEC Tournament Semifinals and eventually had their season end with a Round of 32 loss to Michigan.
They were led by Rennia Davis, who went on to be drafted in the first round of the WNBA Draft. Davis was an all-around player who could score at will while playing lock-down defense and rebounding anything in her area. She ranks in the top 10 in Lady Vol history in points, points per game, rebounds, rebounds per game and double-doubles. She knocked down 15 buzzer-beater shots including two game-winners. She averaged 17.3 points, 8.8 rebounds and 2.3 assists per game in her senior season. Davis is, by all means, a Tennessee legend and is an impossible player to replace.
Other departures include Kasi Kushkituah to graduation and Destiny Salary and Jaiden McCoy to the transfer portal. However, the Lady Vols replenished their team by adding an elite transfer and a deep group of freshmen.
Head Coach – Kellie Harper
Many Lady Vol fans know Harper as Kellie Jolly, starting point guard and three-time NCAA champion with Tennessee as a player. Now, over 20 years later, she has taken on her husband’s surname and returned to her Alma Mater where she enters her third season as head coach.
Preceding Harper was Holly Warlick who began her tenure in 2012. She took over for Pat Summit and began her head coaching career well, reaching three Elite Eights in her first four seasons. However, as Summitt’s legacy distanced, her teams’ performances declined. This led to her firing and the eventual hiring of Harper.
In two seasons as head coach, Harper is already steering the program back to its winning origins. She finished third in the dominant SEC in both seasons and has already garnered some iconic wins. She previously coached at Western Carolina, NC State and Missouri State where she has a combined record of 323-226 (.588) as a head coach. She is one of only 11 coaches ever to reach the Women’s NCAA Tournament with three different programs. She has been credited with doing more with less so far at Tennessee and looks to take the next step with an improved roster.
Assistant Coach/Recruiting Coordinator – Samantha Williams
Williams has 21 years of experience as a college coach but this will be her first with the Lady Vols. From 2019-2021, she was the head coach of Eastern Kentucky where she took over an 0-18 in-conference team and won eight conference games in just two seasons. This was one of the most impressive turnarounds in such a short amount of time in recent women’s college basketball history. She is not only an elite coach and backcourt whisperer, but also a prolific recruiter. As an assistant coach with Louisville, she played a huge role in signing the No. 1, 6 and 4 recruiting classes in the country in consecutive seasons. She is 485-133 (.785) in 18 seasons as an assistant coach and has 17 NCAA Tournament appearances under her belt.
Assistant Coach – Jon Harper
Harper, Kellie Harper’s husband, has been with his wife every step of the way. They have worked together since they were both assistants at Chattanooga, and he has been on her staff during her head coaching stops at Western Carolina, NC State and Missouri State. Harper plays an important role in recruiting and player development. He originally started his coaching career as a practice player with Auburn. His responsibilities with the Tigers quickly increased and he eventually got the opportunity to work with his wife at Chattanooga.
Assistant Coach – Joy McCorvey
McCorvey has quickly progressed through the coaching ranks and is now in her first season at Tennessee and her eleventh as a college coach. She spent her past three seasons with Florida State including a year as associate head coach. She is known for her player development and even personally assisted Seminole guard Morgan Jones. Jones quickly developed under McCorvey and averaged 12.8 points and 6.3 rebounds while earning All-ACC First Team and ACC All-Defensive Team honors. She also has a history of coaching post players and successful recruiting. She had a hand in Florida State’s 2019 recruiting class that featured two five-star recruits and a top-20 post player.
Sr. G./F. – Rae Burrell #12
Burrell comes from a family of athletes with her mother being a former Nevada, Reno basketball star who holds the school record with 25 rebounds in a single game and her father being a track and field All-American at UNR. She was ranked the No. 43 recruit in her class by espnW and the No. 8 wing. She has progressed quickly under Harper and was named to the 2021-22 Coaches Preseason All-SEC First Team after having a successful junior season.
Burrell enters her senior year as a focal point of the Lady Vols offense. She is a consistent scorer who rarely has an off night. She reached double-digit points in 22 of 25 games last season. In her junior year she averaged 16.8 points per game as the second option behind Rennia Davis. She is an efficient three-point shooter, shooting 40.2% from deep last season. She is effective around the rim when slashing to the basket and running in transition, too. Her athleticism and body control helps her navigate through traffic with the ball and get to her spots. She also gets her hands on a fair share of rebounds and is pesky in passing lanes. She has made huge strides each season as a Lady Vol and hopes to improve going into her senior year, as well.
Jr. C. – Tamari Key #20
Key comes from a family of basketball players with her father formerly playing at Coastal Carolina and her sister, Teonni Key, beginning her freshman year at North Carolina. She was ranked the No. 45 overall player in her recruiting class by Dan Olsen College Girls’ Basketball Report. At 6-foot-6, she is the tallest player on the team and one of the tallest players in women’s college basketball. She is also taller than the shortest player on the team, Brooklynn Miles, by 14 inches.
Key is a dominant rim protector who defends or deflects anything in her radius. She totaled 158 blocks in her two seasons as a Lady Vol, including a 10 block performance against Florida in 2021. In Key’s sophomore year, her 2.9 blocks per game landed her second in the SEC in that category. Her spectacular defense was rewarded with an SEC All-Defensive Team nod her sophomore season. She does not only use her height for defense, though, as she has the ability to effectively score around the basket. Her jump shot could use work but she shot a team-high 62.8% from the field last season. She posts up smaller players and uses impressive touch to score at will. This was most on display during the 2021 Florida game where she scored a career-high 23 points. She is also a proficient rebounder reeling in 5.6 boards per game in 2020-21. Key will not only continue to anchor the Lady Vol defense, but also look to be a bigger piece offensively this season.
Jr. G. – Jordan Horston #25
Horston is in many ways the life of the team. Whether it is parading around after big wins with a wet floor sign or playing fiery defense, she is always there for a morale boost. Out of high school, she was ranked as the No. 2 overall player and No. 1 guard in her class by both espnW HoopGurlz and ProspectsNation.com. She was named the MVP of the McDonalds All-American Game in 2019 and played with the gold-winning USA U17 National Team and won MVP of the 2018 FIBA U17 World Cup.
For most of her sophomore year, Horston came off the bench to lead the second unit. She excels as both a point guard and shooting guard, but her offensive game revolves around her great vision. She has averaged 4.2 assists per game last season tying her for third in the SEC. She is also an effective scorer averaging 9.4 points per game in her two seasons. She is capable of hitting on threes, but her efficiency from behind the arch leaves room to be desired. She has shown the ability to improve her shot, though, considering she elevated her free throw percentage from 59.3% to 72.9% between her freshman and sophomore seasons. She also fights for rebounds bringing in 4.8 a game and a high of 14 against Colorado in 2019. She makes her biggest mark on the game with her defense, however. She is a fantastic perimeter defender who has the ability to lock up the league’s best guards. She does not shy away from contact and seeks out tough defensive assignments. With Rennia Davis’ departure, she will have a bigger defensive load on her shoulders this year but her previous defensive outputs show she is up for the task.
Gr. G. – Jordan Walker #4
Walker started her college basketball career with Western Michigan where she spent her first three seasons. In her final year with WMU, she ranked ninth in school history in points scored in a season and eleventh in three-pointers made. She missed her entire sophomore year due to medical reasons but in her two seasons of play at WMU, she averaged 11.8 points, 4.9 rebounds, 2.2 assists and 1.8 steals per game while starting in 54 of her 64 appearances. She is Tennessee’s fourth all-time graduate transfer but she instantly meshed with the team last season.
Walker worked her way into a starting role by the end of last season where she ran the point. She is a good passer, averaging 2.3 assists per game, but she truly shines as a rebounder. Atypical for a five-foot-eight guard, she consistently produces monster games on the boards including a 14-rebound game against Middle Tennessee State in the NCAA Tournament. She averaged 4.5 a game last year and had multiple occasions where she lead the team on the glass. As a scorer, though, she was inefficient last season averaging 5.4 points per game on .338/.259/.590 shooting splits. The scoring ability she showed at Western Michigan, however, proves she has the ability to raise her offensive output. She even lead Tennessee in scoring in the SEC Tournament Semifinals against South Carolina with 11 points in 29 minutes of play.
Gr. F./C. – Keyen Green #13
Green started her career at Liberty where she started 91-of-93 games between 2016-2020. She averaged 13.1 points and 7.2 rebounds per game in her time at Liberty finishing No. 9 in program history for points and No. 10 for rebounds. In her last year there, she was awarded All-ASUN First Team honors and led her team to a share of the 2020 ASUN Tournament Championship. She was a three-star recruit out of high school but instantly made an impact. She was ranked the No. 4 graduate transfer by ESPN.com and chose Tennessee over Kentucky, Maryland and Texas for her final collegiate decision. She also has donated stem cells to cancer patients in spring 2020 as a part of the organization Project Life Movement.
Green missed a majority of the 2020-21 season due to a leg injury suffered during practice. She appeared in only four games but started each of them while averaging 6.8 points and 3 rebounds per game on 52.6% shooting from the field. Tennessee lacks great front-court depth after Kushkituah’s departure, making Green extremely valuable this season. She will most likely have to play minutes at center for the Lady Vols when Key is resting, making her post defense critical. Her primary position, however, is power forward where she has the ability to remain in the post and score around the basket. She has a good frame that she uses to fight for rebounds and fend off defenders. She also uses great touch off the glass making her an effective scorer.
Jr. C. – Emily Saunders #31
Ever since Saunders was eight years old, she wanted to be a Lady Vol basketball player. Her maternal grandfather Gary Shrewsbury had respect and admiration for Pat Summitt and her Tennessee teams. Saunders achieved her goal after becoming a 4-star recruit and the No. 88 player in the country out of high school. She was named the Gatorade West Virginia Player of the Year in 2019 and was a state champion in 2016 and a runner-up in 2018 and 2019.
Saunders saw limited action in her first two seasons at Tennessee. She appeared in only 26 games receiving just 5.8 minutes on average each appearance. In only a small sample size, she has played well, though. She has shot the ball at a 57.9% clip from the field and rebounds well. She is a true center at 6-foot-5 and the second tallest player on the team. She has good touch on her shots close to the rim where she takes a majority of her attempts. She is not a great passer or perimeter defender but she hides this by sticking to what she knows and staying in the paint. With limited front-court depth, she will most likely see an increased role this season off the bench.
Jr. G. – Jessie Rennie #10
Hailing from Victoria, Australia, Rennie is only the third-ever international Lady Vol and the second from The Outback. Even though she was far younger than most other players in the league, she earned a spot on the Bendigo Lady Braves in the South East Australian Basketball League while in high school. At just the age of 15, she averaged 4.3 points per game on 38.2% shooting from deep in her 10 appearances. As she got older, her stats and playtime increased, leading to her being selected as a development player for the Bendigo Bank Spirit of the Women’s National Basketball League in 2018. However, she suffered from a torn ACL and missed the 2018 season.
Rennie is small in stature at five-foot-eight but is a quality three-point threat. She appeared in 30 contests as a freshman, but with a deeper roster the following year, she only played in 14 games. As a freshman, she knocked down 25 of 54 three-point attempts and all five of her free throws. Her production slowed down in 2020-21, though, as she was only able to connect on 1-of-14 deep balls. As one of the better shooters on the team, she will be valuable in attempts to stretch the floor and unclog the paint. She is almost strictly a catch-and-shoot shooter as she struggles to create shots for herself and others. She struggles to rebound with her short height and is often overmatched on defense. If she can improve these other parts of her game and find her stroke from deep again, she could turn into a key piece for this Lady Vols team.
So. G./F. – Tess Darby #21
Darby is a Jackson, Tenn. product who chose to stay home and play for the Lady Vols over offers from Georgia Tech and Texas Tech. She was rated as a three-star prospect by espnW.com and the No. 86 overall player by Blue Star Media out of high school. Her signing marked the first high school signee for Kellie Harper at Tennessee. She dominated all throughout high school, going 34-0 as a senior and scoring as much as 34 points in a single game. She was a state title champion in 2018 and was a favorite to win it again in 2020 before COVID-19 ended the season.
Darby is a three-and-D guard who saw little playtime her freshman year due to a preseason injury. After not participating for much of the preseason, she worked her way back and played in 10 games, averaging eight minutes per appearance. A majority of her shot attempts came from behind the arch where she connected on 7-of-21 (33.3%) shots. Many of her minutes came in the form of garbage time, but she played 20 minutes of Tennessee’s battle against UNCG. In that game, she knocked down two three-pointers for six points along with two rebounds. She has not had a great chance to show her positive defense that she showcased in high school, but in the time she has had, she has proved to be mostly effective. In her freshman year, she struggled with the ball in her hands, only creating two assists compared to five turnovers on the season.
So. G./F. – Marta Suarez #33
Unfortunately, Suarez has been ruled out for the season with a foot injury. She also missed the majority of last year due to injuries. She showed off her potential at the beginning of her freshman campaign, though, averaging 6.4 points and 5.6 rebounds through 13 games. Her injury ultimately slowed her down, however, ending her season with an average of 4.1 points and 3.6 rebounds on 41% shooting. This lingering injury resulted in an early end to her season, but she was still able to grab SEC Freshman of the Week honors after averaging 8 points and 5 rebounds on 63.6% shooting against UConn and Kentucky.
Suarez is a towering 6-foot-2, but she still has remarkable body control, making her effective in transition. She has impressive ball-handling skills that she utilizes to create open shots for teammates. She can also shoot well from distance and around the basket. Her game is still raw and has room to be developed but she has the tools to be a valuable point forward that many programs crave. Although she has battled injuries in her first two years, she is still an important piece for the Lady Vols going forward.
Gr. F. – Alexus Dye #2
As a graduate transfer, Tennessee will be Dye’s third collegiate team she has played for. She began her career at Gulf Coast State, a small school in Panama City, Fla. In her second year, she earned MVP of the 2019 NJCAA National Tournament after recording a double-double in the title game en route to a National Championship. She then transferred to Troy where she would spend her next two seasons. While at Troy, she became the school’s first-ever Sun Belt Player of the Year along with earning an All-Sun Belt Conference First Team nod and the Sun Belt Tournament MVP award. Last season, she led the entire NCAA in double-doubles and total rebounds and even averaged a double-double with 16.6 points and 12.6 rebounds per game. Now, in her fifth season, she joins Tennessee as the fifth graduate transfer in Lady Vols history.
Dye is a double-double machine that scores and reels in rebounds with ease. She slashes to the basket and finishes strong around the rim. She does not have much of a jump shot and only attempted one three in her two years at Troy. However, she makes up for her lack of perimeter shooting with her great efficiency in the paint. This has proved effective as she earned a career-high of an astonishing 37 points against Texas State, last season. She is also possibly the best rebounder in the country at the wing position, once bringing in 20 rebounds in a single game against Appalachian State. She also plays adequate defense and has improved her ability to jump into passing lanes between her junior and senior seasons. To Lady Vol fans this may all sound familiar, as her game has many parallels to Rennia Davis. It is impossible to replace what Davis did for the Lady Vols, but Dye may be able to carry some of the load as a wing scorer and rebounder. An area she could improve in, however, is playmaking. She had an assist-to-turnover ratio of 0.27 averaging just under an assist per game.
Fr. G./F. – Sara Puckett #1
Puckett is the highest-ranked recruit in Tennessee’s 2021 class. She was ranked as high as the No. 28 overall recruit and the No. 8 forward in the country out of high school by ProspectsNation.com. She had a dominant high school career, earning Alabama Gatorade Player of the Year in 2021 and winning Times Daily 4A-7A Girls Player of the Year in three consecutive seasons. Puckett began her varsity career as a seventh-grader. She also teamed up with fellow Lady Vol recruit Karoline Striplin for her AAU basketball with the Alabama Southern Starz Program.
Puckett is a six-foot-two forward who scores and rebounds with ease. She primarily plays power forward where she has the ability to stretch the floor with three-pointers as well as dominate in the paint. Not only does she have the physical build to be successful rebounding the ball, but she goes out of her way to fight for boards. This resulted in averages of 20.6 points and 10.1 rebounds per game as a senior in high school. Puckett is quick for her size and is able to run in transition as well as play in the half court. She is not a strong ball-handler or playmaker but still rarely turns the ball over. She will be an important piece off the bench to provide depth for Tennessee this season.
Fr. F. – Karoline Striplin #11
Striplin comes in just behind Puckett as the second-highest-rated recruit to join the Lady Vols. She is the No. 39 overall player and No. 12 forward in her class according to ProspectsNation.com. Similar to Puckett, she had an impressive high school career in the state of Alabama. She was rewarded with being named the 2021 Alabama Sports Writer Association Miss Basketball and 2021 Al.com Girls State Athlete of the Year. Striplin admires and models her game after Lady Vol legend Candace Parker along with Larry Bird and Kevin McHale. She also has a family of athletic excellence with her father playing football and her mother playing softball at Auburn. She played alongside Sara Puckett on the Alabama Southern Starz AAU team.
Striplin filled the stat sheet as a senior in high school excelling in most aspects of the game. Her offensive game revolves around shots close to the basket. She is physical in the paint and backs her way down into open shots. When using her strength fails, her excellent footwork and touch off the glass suffices. She is agile and quick enough to move in transition when called for. She is extraordinarily effective at the line knocking down 44-straight free throws to set the Alabama high school single-season record in 2020-21. This led to an average of 26.8 points per game on 59% shooting as a senior. She also fights aggressively for boards and uses her six-foot-two frame to reel in 16.8 rebounds a game. Defensively, she guards the post well, contesting and blocking shots. She has decent hands that get in passing lanes but can struggle guarding quicker guards. She averaged 6.2 blocks and 4.2 steals a game. She is another freshman that can provide depth at the forward position.
Fr. G. – Kaiya Wynn #5
Wynn, born in Memphis, returns home to the state of Tennessee after playing her high school basketball in Richmond, Texas. She is rated as high as the No. 39 recruit in the country by Blue Star. She collected many accolades for her high school play including becoming her high school’s first basketball player to win state player of the year, District 24 5A MVP, All-Region in all four years and more than 2,000 combined points. She played AAU basketball for the Kentucky Premier Club alongside teammate Brooklynn Miles. She also excelled in the classroom boasting a 4.0 GPA at graduation.
Wynn is a fast and athletic guard who utilizes this speed. She won track state titles in the 4×400 relay in 2018 and 2019 as well as the 400 meters and 4×200 relay in 2019. This speed and her athleticism are a big piece of her game as she thrives running in transition. She has great handles and vision that she uses to find open teammates in transition and in the half court. Her perimeter shooting is not perfect but has gotten better, however, she can be a knock-down midrange shooter. When at the rim, she uses her quick hops to explode towards the basket and finish through contact. This expansive set of tools led to an average of 29 points per game on 54% shooting her senior season. Defensively, she is athletic enough to stay with the quickest guards and aggressive enough to force steals. She crashes the glass off of missed shots and even at five-foot-ten, she finds success rebounding. She averaged 10.8 rebounds and 5.4 steals as a senior.
Fr. G. – Brooklynn Miles #0
Miles rounds out a deep 2021 recruiting class for the Lady Vols. She is rated as high as No. 62 in the country by World Exposure Report. Her impressive play was rewarded with being named Miss Kentucky Basketball, Lexington Herald-Leader Player of the Year, three-time 41st District MVP and three-time State Journal All-County MVP. She also played AAU basketball with Lady Vol teammate Kaiya Wynn. At just five-foot-four, she is listed as the smallest player on the roster.
Miles is considered one of the fastest guards in her entire recruiting class and she utilizes this speed to impact the game. She thrives in uptempo situations where she is able to dish out assists and slice to the basket. She is a pass-first guard who looks to get others open shots. She threads passes through clogged up areas while still limiting turnovers. In her senior season, her scoring averages took a fall as a result of her passing more and raising her assist numbers. She also possesses tight handles that not only work in transition but also help her thrive in the one-on-one game. She has the ability to finish at the rim and is developing a jump shot to stretch the floor. Miles is a pest on defense who will play tightly and force mistakes. She has room to grow before she works her way into big minutes for the Lady Vols but she has the tools to make an impact.
Editor’s Projected Starters
G – Jordan Walker
G – Jordan Horston
F – Rae Burrell
F – Alexus Dye
C – Tamari Key
The Lady Vols wrapped up their preseason with a 108-44 win in their exhibition match against Georgia College on Nov. 3. Coaching the opposition was Ross Jolly, brother to Lady Vol head coach Kellie Harper. The bench was cleared as everyone got playtime in the dominant victory, which should prepare Tennessee for the long season in front of them.
The stats from the game are as follows:
Rae Burrell* – 18 points, 7-for-9 shooting, four rebounds
Jordan Horston* – 14 points, 6-for-14 shooting, eight rebounds, four assists, three steals
Alexus Dye* – 12 points, 6-for-10 shooting, six rebounds
Keyen Green – 11 points, 3-for-4 shooting, six rebounds
Jordan Walker* – 11 points, 5-for-7 shooting, four rebounds, three assists, three steals
Tess Darby – 8 points, 3-for-5 shooting, 2-for-3 from three, two blocks
Kaiya Wynn – 7 points, 3-for-10 shooting, six rebounds, three assists, two steals
Tamari Key* – 6 points, 3-for-6 shooting, five rebounds, three blocks
Brooklynn Miles – 6 points, 3-for-5 shooting, five assists, four rebounds, five steals
Karoline Striplin – 6 points, 3-for-6 shooting, five rebounds, two steals
Sara Puckett – 5 points, 2-for-7 shooting, nine rebounds, three assists
Jessie Rennie – 4 points, 2-for-5 shooting
*indicates the player started the game
The regular season for the Lady Vols is filled with tough matchups. They face three of the four teams to make it to the Final Four last season in Connecticut, South Carolina and Stanford. Other notable non-conference opponents include UCF, USF, Texas, Kansas, Oklahoma State and Virginia Tech. They play a normal SEC schedule including two matchups with Alabama, Arkansas and Vanderbilt. Tennessee boasts one of the hardest schedules in the country, which may prove valuable come tournament time.
Edited by Christian Knox
Ryan Sylvia is the Sports Editor at TNJN. He is a senior at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville majoring in journalism and electronic media. Although he spent most of his life being raised outside of Philadelphia, he was born in Knoxville, and he is happy to be back home. Ryan has had a love for sports from an early age, and he found his love for writing in high school while taking journalism classes. He hopes to find a job involving both his passions as a sports journalist after graduation. To reach Ryan, email him at firstname.lastname@example.org