Tennessee Lady Vols look closer to what Kellie Harper wants

The Tennessee Lady Vols now have personnel the women’s basketball Volunteers head coach desires.

When Jazmine Massengill and Zaay Green transferred out in the offseason, there was initial reason to panic among Tennessee Lady Vols fans. These are two of the most elite combo guards in the nation, and Harper losing both of them was a big deal.

However, following the way Harper builds her personnel, it actually makes sense now. She was able to deal with those transfers by bringing in a couple of graduate transfers of her own, and the team is now built much more in her identity.

Rather than a collection of elite guards who can score, Harper prefers more of an inside-out game with one true point guard, a guard who can shoot, a go-to wing player and then a dominant post presence. You see that with the Tennessee Lady Vols’ 2021 recruiting class, which has two true forwards, a 5’10” guard and a 5’6″ true point guard.

That was supposed to be the year Harper finally got the roster she wanted. She may be a bit early though. In addition to signing three new recruits, Harper added a graduate transfer forward and a graduate transfer point guard. Now her team even has more of a length advantage down low.

A recent article by Maria M. Cornelius of GoVols247 included numerous quotes from Harper about preparing for the season amidst the pandemic. That seemed to be the crux of the story. However, the underrated part was Harper touting these upgrades through the graduate transfers.

The first upgrade was Liberty Flames transfer Keyen Green. A 6’1″ forward/center, Green averaged 13.9 points and seven and a half rebounds for Liberty this past year, and that was coming off a season-ending injury.

Joining a towering inside game that includes rising stars in Tamari Key, Kasiyahna Kushkituah, Emily Saunders and Jaiden McCoy. She will help offset the losses of Lou Brown and Kamera Harris to makes sure UT is still deep down low.

More importantly, though, while losing Massengill and Green, Harper added graduate transfer Jordan Walker, who averaged 16 points, two and a half assists and over six rebounds last year with the Western Michigan Broncos. At 5’8″, Walker adds another outside shooting presence, as she shot 31.7 percent from three last year.

Harper has not hidden the upgrades these transfers bring despite what she lost. In the article, she immediately touted the fact that Walker is a true point guard, noting that Jordan Horston was the only player on the roster at the position for the 2020-2021 season before.

“We had a need at that position, and we were excited to bring Jordan Walker, who is very experienced, very mature, to our team and to that position,” Harper said. “She’s been great. She’s still learning from not being with us on summer. She is still picking up on some things, but she appears to be catching on very quickly.”

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While it’s true that Massengill also picked up the point guard spot, she was nowhere near the outside threat Walker is, as she only shot 24 percent from three last year. Again, Harper will sacrifice size if her guards can shoot, she’s shown that time and time again.

Assuming Jessie Rennie takes another major step forward, Harper will have multiple outside shooting threats this year and multiple people to be able to run point guard in her backcourt. That is exactly what she always needed.

Meanwhile, she matches the length advantage she had last year with Key expected to emerge into a superstar while McCoy and Saunders develop and Green and Kushkituah become the veterans. It’s the perfect combination.

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Then you have the wing players, and we already knew about them. Rennia Davis and Rae Burrell are the two best players on the team, and they’ll be the top scoring options. So Harper finally has the Tennessee Lady Vols’ personnel built the way she wants it, and that could mean a giant step forward this season.

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