With a commitment from Spain to the Lady Volunteers, Tennessee basketball continues to be a hotbed for international talent.
Rick Barnes started it when Tennessee basketball secured a commitment from four-star Yves Pons back in 2017. However, since then, the Vols have become a very attractive place for international talent, and Kellie Harper has now built on that on the women’s side.
After losing two of her top guards to transfer over the past week, UT picked up a commitment from Marta Suarez Rodriguez, who announced on her Instagram post she would be headed to Rocky Top. Rodriguez is another 6’2″ wing player in the mold of Rennia Davis and Rae Burrell, proving that Harper continues to value length.
However, she is also Harper’s second commitment in two years from overseas. Last year, Jessie Rennie, a three-point specialist from Australia, was the first commitment Harper ever recruited and signed herself as head coach of the Lady Vols.
So going into next year, with the two departures, there’s a very good chance that one of the two starters on the Lady Vols is from overseas. Then we go to the men’s Tennessee basketball program, and the overseas influence is even more evident.
We already named Pons. Assuming he returns, the Vols are expected to bring back four players who grew up overseas. The other three are Santiago Vescovi, Uros Plavsic (Serbia) and Olivier Nkamhoua (Finland). Pons is expected to start next year, and Vescovi has a very good chance of maintaining his starting job.
As a result, Tennessee basketball could become internationally known. It’s not crazy to think that the success of players in both programs would help the school reach elite talent in areas of the world that other programs have not been able to develop a pipeline into.
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Of course, Barnes may have already done that. His success on Rocky Top with overseas talent will likely have a long-term effect that makes UT a global brand. If Plavsic develops, then that could become an even bigger deal next year.
Harper still has work to do with her two players. Rodriguez just committed, and Rennie was inconsistent last year coming off the bench. However, shooters usually just need a year in a new system to get into a rhythm, so don’t be surprised if Rennie explodes next year.
Meanwhile, Rodriguez’s versatility combined with Rennia Davis being a senior means she could work her way into the starting lineup in a year. There’s a great chance, when she’s a sophomore, that she starts with Rennie, and if Harper does have success with what she is going for, which is length, then the Lady Vols could work their way into lots of international markets as well.
You wonder if this was all a domino effect. Barnes secured Pons, and then Pons developed into a rotational player when UT reached No. 1. Maybe that exposure got them to secure Plavsic’s transfer and the commitments from Vescovi and Nkamhoua.
Harper could have had the advantage then when targeting Rennie. Then, maybe the combination of all this, including Pons becoming a breakout star, led to Rodriguez deciding to join the Lady Vols this year.
Now, the Lady Vols should have already been an international brand, and we all know why. But tapping into the international market is another thing altogether, and Harper and Barnes are both doing it. That could work wonders for Tennessee basketball’s future as a whole.