Holly Warlick's first signing class as the Lady Vols Head Coach has a very Pat Summitt-like feel to it.
Warlick's three players are rated the second best signing class in the nation for 2013, and the best in the SEC.
6-6 Mercedes Russell was a major acquisition for Warlick. Russell is the top ranked high school player in the country according to many recruiting services.
With Pat Summitt stepping away from the head coaching position last spring and her long-time assistant Holly Warlick taking the reins, the Lady Volunteer coaching staff has insisted that the standard and pursuit of excellence has not changed. Their reminder that the torch has carefully been passed can be seen repeatedly in the Twitter hash tag #StillTennessee.
Warlick and company have proven on the recruiting front that things are very much operating on the same level in Knoxville, as the Big Orange women pulled in their typically-impressive haul during the early signing period. The first-year skipper and her staff received National Letters of Intent from the No. 1, No. 8 and No. 42 players on the 2013 HoopGurlz Recruiting Rankings - ESPNU 100. Blue Star Basketball has the same players rated No. 2, No. 4 and No. 53, while Dan Olson Collegiate Girls Basketball Report tabs them No. 1, No. 5 and No. 16 for the highest cumulative scores yet.
Olson has Tennessee ranked with the No. 2 recruiting class in the land with that trio of signees, coming in behind only North Carolina with four top-20 signees. Kentucky, at No. 8, is the only other SEC school in Olson's top 10. Blue Star Basketball regards UT's class as the sixth-best for 2013.
Signing with the Lady Vols on Wednesday, as expected, was versatile 6-foot-6 post Mercedes Russell of Springfield, Ore. (Springfield H.S.). Russell is rated No. 1 by HoopGurlz/ESPNU and No. 2 by Blue Star Basketball, making her the highest-ranked signee by Tennessee since Candace Parker inked in 2004. She averaged 26 points, 15 rebounds and five blocks a game last season and is a two-time Oregon Class 5A Player of the Year.
"We had three signees," Warlick said. "Mercedes Russell, 6-6, a young lady from Springfield, Ore. Number one player in the country. She is just so versatile, plays inside, can handle the ball and is a huge sign for us."
The Lady Vols also picked up the No. 8 player by HoopGurlz/ESPNU, No. 4 by Blue Star and No. 5 by Olson in Jannah Tucker on Wednesday. A 6-0 guard from Randallstown, Md., and New Town High School, Tucker averaged 30 points per game as a junior and 26.2 as a sophomore. The class of 2013's fifth-ranked guard was the first player in this signing period to commit to UT in the Holly Warlick era.
"Jannah Tucker is out of Maryland," Warlick said. "Athletic combo guard, great knowledge, great skills and is a huge sign for us."
Tennessee's third signee is 5-11 guard Jordan Reynolds of Portland Ore./Central Catholic High School. Reynolds, whose paperwork was certified on Friday, is rated No. 42 by HoopGurlz/ESPNU, No. 53 by Blue Star and No. 16 by Olson. She was the Oregon Class 6A Player of the Year last season, averaging 18.3 points, 7.5 rebounds, five assists and 4.9 steals per contest. She is rated the No. 10 guard in the country by ESPNU and a four-star recruit by that organization.
"Jordan Reynolds - point guard out of Oregon," Warlick continued. "Quick, tall, fast. Sees the whole floor, knows the game. Another huge sign for us."
This class, which hasn't been assigned a final rank by HoopGurlz/ESPNU, comes on the heels of the No. 5 class in 2012 (No. 5 Bashaara Graves, No. 21 Andraya Carter, No. 39 Jasmine Jones, NR Jasmine Phillips, NR Nia Moore) and the No. 3 group in 2011 (No. 3 Cierra Burdick, No. 4 Ariel Massengale, No. 29 Isabelle Harrison).
"We had three big, big signees, and I'm excited about all of them," Warlick said. "They all bring so much to our program. We signed a post player, point guard and a 2-3 player. All three are athletic. All three can play the game, know the game and we're all thrilled about it."
6-6 * Post
Springfield, Ore./Springfield H.S.
• Ranked No. 1 on 2013 HoopGurlz Recruiting Rankings - ESPNU 100
• Rated as a five-star recruit on that list
• Rated No. 1 by Dan Olson Collegiate Girls Basketball Report
• Rated No. 2 by Blue Star Basketball
• Oregon Class 5A Player of the Year (2011, 2012)
• Averaged 26 points, 15 rebounds, six blocks and five assists per game as a junior
• Produced 24.5 points, 15.0 rebounds and five blocks per contest as a sophomore
• Led Springfield H.S. to back-to-back 5A state titles (2011, 2012)
• Won gold medal with USA Basketball in August at the 2012 FIBA Women's U17 World Championships, with former Lady Vol Jill Rankin Schneider as her head coach
• Also helped U16 squad to 2011 FIBA Americas U16 Championship, teaming with fellow Tennessee signee Jannah Tucker under the tutelage of coach Rankin Schneider
• Played AAU basketball with Jordan Reynolds on Team Concept
• Russell's heroine is former Lady Vol and current Los Angeles Sparks WNBA player Candace Parker
• Russell's size, skill and ball-handling ability have been compared to that of Parker
• She is the top-rated player to sign with Tennessee since Parker in 2004
• Committed to Tennessee on Oct. 30
6-0 * Guard
Randallstown, Md./New Town H.S.
• Ranked No. 8 on 2013 HoopGurlz Recruiting Rankings - ESPNU 100
• Rated as a five-star recruit on that list
• Fifth ranked guard in the nation's 2013 class
• Rated No. 4 by Blue Star Basketball
• Rated No. 5 by Dan Olson Collegiate Girls Basketball Report
• Baltimore Sun All-State First Team (2011) and All-Metro (2011).
• Averaged 30 points per game as a junior at New Town High School
• Set school single-game record with 39 points vs. Southside Academy (2010-11)
• Sophomore year numbers included 26.2 ppg., 12.0 rpg., 8.0 spg. and 6.1 apg.
• Played freshman season at Western High School, where she averaged 11.3 ppg., 4.7 rpg., and 2.5 apg. in helping her team to the 3A state title game
• Was first high school player to commit to UT during the Holly Warlick era
• Noted as a pure scorer and consistent shooter from three-point range
• Played up a year on 2012 U18 FIBA Americas U18 Championship Team, teaming with current Lady Vol Bashaara Graves to win a gold medal
• Also won a gold medal with Team USA at the FIBA Americas U16 Championships, teaming with fellow Lady Vol signee Mercedes Russell under USA head coach and former Lady Vol Jill Rankin Schneider
• Comes from a basketball family, including father Robert, who played collegiately at Richmond and Loyola College and sister Amirah, who played at Maryland-Baltimore County.
• Committed to Tennessee on June 18, 2012
5-11 * Guard
Portland, Ore./Central Catholic H.S.
• Ranked No. 42 on 2013 HoopGurlz Recruiting Rankings - ESPNU 100
• Rated as a four-star recruit on that list
• 10th-ranked guard in the nation's 2013 class
• Rated No. 16 by Dan Olson Collegiate Girls Basketball Report
• Rated No. 53 by Blue Star Basketball
• Oregon Class 6A Player of the Year as a junior (2012)
• Averaged 18.3 points, 7.5 rebounds, five assists and 4.9 steals per contest as a junior at Portland Central Catholic
• Reynolds averaged 21.5 points in the last 13 games for the Rams, leading them to the Class 6A semifinals last season
• Transferred to CCHS after playing previously at Jefferson High School
• Reynolds was an Oregon Class 5A All-State Second Team selection as a sophomore (2010)
• Played AAU basketball with Mercedes Russell on Team Concept
• Committed to Tennessee on Nov. 2, 2012