Two years ago, it was hard to imagine the Tennessee Lady Vols ever having more length than what Kellie Harper had put together. Her focus on an inside-out game, building the program in the mold of Pat Summitt, was the way to make UT great again.
Well, now they have surpassed even that. With Alexus Dye, Rae Burrell and Keyen Green all graduating and Emily Saunders transferring, Harper has used the offseason to bolster her frontcourt. She added a former player of hers with the Missouri State Lady Bears in transfer forward Jasmine Franklin.
Mississippi State Bulldogs transfer forward Rickea Jackson and five-star wing Justine Pissott also joined the Tennessee Lady Vols. On Saturday, they completed their depth by adding Georgia Bulldogs transfer center Jillian Hollingshead, according to Maria M. Cornelius of GoVols247.
Hollingshead bolsters the depth in the frontcourt behind Tamari Key. That was the one missing piece for UT. Last year, she averaged over five points and two and a half rebounds in just under 13 minutes a game and won back to back SEC Freshman of the Week awards.
A McDonald’s All-American, Hollingshead stands at 6’5″ and transferred after Joni Taylor took the job as head coach of the Texas A&M Aggies. With her on board, it’s official. Rocky Top should easily be the favorites to win the national title next year. They can now go three-deep everywhere.
This past year, UT got up to No. 4 before Green and Jordan Horston went down with injuries. Horston will be back fully healthy, and Green and Dye have been offset at the four by the additions of Jackson, who averaged over 20 points a game last year, and Franklin, who won Missouri Valley Conference Defensive Player of the Year.
They got to the top five despite Burrell missing the first half of the season due to injury. Well, Pissott is coming in, and 2021 All-SEC Freshman Marta Suarez is back after missing all of last year due to injury, so they should actually increase production on the wing.
All Big Ten point guard Jasmine Powell transferred from the Minnesota Golden Gophers to join the Tennessee Lady Vols, adding depth at point guard to Jordan Walker and Brooklynn Miles, who are both back. Then there are returning sharpshooters Tess Darby and Sara Puckett. Jesse Rennie is still there too.
Simply put, Rocky Top is loaded. Depth killed them last year, especially in the post after Green got hurt. Now, they can go three-deep at either position there. Hollingshead and Striplin can compete for the No. 2 spot behind Key, and Key herself will have lots of pressure removed.
Playing an inside-out game with length, elite shooters and elite scorers on the wing has been the focus for Harper and the Tennessee Lady Vols. It’s pretty clear they have that now, and as a result, they should be the No. 1 team in the nation entering next year. Even another season surrounded by injuries shouldn’t set them back. That’s how deep they are now.