KNOXVILLE – A trip to Chile last month gave Lacey Goldwire and Jennifer Sullivan plenty of time to get to know each other – more than the Tennessee women’s basketball assistants expected when a cancelled flight resulted in an extra night in Miami.
“We knew a couple people, mutual friends in the women’s coaching world, but never worked together,” Sullivan said. “I think it was good for us to spend that time together and get to know each other.”
Since the trip centered around the USA Basketball U-16 team’s participation in the FIBA Americas Championship, the subject of recruiting was an important part of getting acquainted. It popped up in their social media chronicling the journey as well.
“RECRUITS: this should show our dedication to you,” Goldwire wrote in an Instragram post, “rain, snow, hiking through Chilean jungle, rough terrain, off-roading, struggling through my broken Spanish to come see you KICK BUTT!”
Goldwire and Sullivan will play key roles in Tennessee’s recruiting under first-year coach Kellie Harper. Goldwire, the final assistant coach added to the staff, was named recruiting coordinator. She came to UT from Arkansas, where she had the same coaching role in helping rebuild the program under coach Mike Neighbors. The Razorbacks beat Tennessee in Knoxville last season and later advanced to the championship game of the SEC tournament.
“It’s different doing it here because of the expectations, I think, to get it turned around and get it turned around quickly,” Goldwire said.
Goldwire and Sullivan sat in a conference room at the women’s basketball offices last week and talked some more about recruiting:
2020 class: Both coaches echoed Harper’s view that the Lady Vols are playing catch-up regarding the next signing class.
“It’s a little bit of a challenge,” said Sullivan, who was on Harper’s Missouri State staff for five years. “We’re a little bit behind the eight ball in terms of relationships with this staff at this program at this time.”
On the plus side, wing Angel Kelly, one of the top prospects in the class, has UT among her five finalists. Furthermore, the staff offered a scholarship in early May to Madison Hayes, the East Hamilton High standout. Hayes tagged Harper and Sullivan in her tweet about the offer.
Perception of Tennessee: UT’s recent history has suffered. The Lady Vols have finished no better than tied for fourth in the SEC for four consecutive years and barely made the 64-team NCAA field last season.
But, based on Sullivan’s experiences, the program’s tradition still resonates with younger players.
“They’re aware of who Pat Summitt was and what she did,” Sullivan said, referencing the former Lady Vols coaching legend. “We’re getting a little removed from that. Maybe kind of worried they didn’t understand but they do and that’s exciting.”
Transfers: The Lady Vols dipped their toes in the churning waters this spring, bringing in guards Stephanie Watts (North Carolina) and Akira Levy (Missouri) for visits.
Watts, a graduate transfer, chose Southern California. UT is not believed to have continued its recruitment of Levy after her visit. The sophomore-to-be, who played at Upperman High in Middle Tennessee, is bound for Vanderbilt.
“You have to keep doing what you’re doing and the right kids will be here,” Sullivan said. “All you can do is stay true to who you are.”
Qualities in a recruit: Tennessee signed recruiting classes in 2017 and ’18 that were ranked in the top 5 nationally. The ’17 class was ranked No. 1. Yet three of the eight players from those classes (Anastasia Hayes, Evina Westbrook and Mimi Collins) already have left and the team has underachieved.
Along with talent, Goldwire said that the staff is looking for players who want to “be Tennessee and not the name on the back of your jersey.”
The search involves scrutinizing everything from a recruit’s social media posts to how they comport themselves in competition and their interaction with others. The staff even will consider how recruits carry themselves and how they walk from one court to another during summer tournaments.
Said Goldwire: “We watch everything.”
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Dan Fleser is a 1980 graduate of the University of Missouri who covered University of Tennessee athletics for the Knoxville News Sentinel from 1988-2019. He can be reached at email@example.com