By Steve Williams
The past two seasons of Tennessee women’s basketball felt much like a rollercoaster ride for its fans. And for Coach Holly Warlick, there probably were nights when she felt like screaming … and pulling her hair out.
Based on her comments to the Rotary Club of Knoxville last Tuesday, Warlick is feeling much better about the makeup of her team and the task at hand as the 2017-18 season draws near.
“Our team last year, what happened?” asked Warlick before those in attendance at the Foundry in World’s Fair Park brought up the question.
How could last season’s Lady Vols defeat three teams which made it to the Final Four – two of them on the road – and then turn around and lose to the likes of Ole Miss and Alabama?
Without singling out any particular players, Holly also provided answers.
“You heard there were a lot of things going on,” started Warlick. “You’ve got to have leadership. We didn’t have any leadership. We didn’t have anybody step up consistently.
“Our team chemistry was zero. The bottom line, we didn’t like each other.”
Since the loss of the great Pat Summitt, Warlick has coached longer than anyone inside the doors of the UT Athletics Department, having started as an assistant for Pat in 1985.
There have been a lot of changes over the past 32 years, and a big one Warlick has noticed is how some players treat the sport today.
“We’re in the age of ‘I want to be rich and I want to be famous, but I really don’t want to do anything to get there. I just want it’,” said Warlick.
“It’s opened my eyes to where we want to go in the future. And for me, it started with recruiting.”
It’s easy to pick out the most talented players on the court, says Warlick. But which of those have the necessary grades?
Warlick has now gone a step even further in the recruiting process. How does the prospect treat her high school coaches, her high school teammates and her parents? Those could be indicators of future behavior.
“That to me separates where we need to go in our recruiting,” she pointed out.
Warlick said her incoming freshmen, who make up the No. 1 class in the nation, are not perfect, but “they’re good kids.”
The new class includes a point guard from Oregon who is “a natural born leader,” said Warlick, “and we needed that.”
Tennessee also has veteran leaders in Mercedes Russell and Jaime Nared.
“Mercedes is a fifth-year senior who has the maturity we need and Jaime can lead by the hard work she’s done,” said Warlick.
“We’re probably going to start two, maybe three freshmen.”
To make a point, Warlick held up both of her hands in front of the crowd as if she were weighing the value of “team” in one hand compared to “talent” in the other.
“Team and talent,” she said. “Talent doesn’t always win. It’s about heart. It’s about passion.”
It’s about team.
Warlick said she expects to put a “great product on the floor” this season, but there will be “some growing pains.”
One major difference will be the number of players Warlick will have at her disposal. Unlike last year, the UT coach will have more players to sub in when needed, particularly if someone is not producing.
“Sitting cures a lot of illness, I’ll promise you that,” summed up Warlick.