KNOXVILLE – A conversation about recruiting with new Tennessee women’s basketball assistant Jennifer Sullivan last week involved a certain type of player.
I wasn’t thinking about a star rating system or a particular skill set. Instead, it was more about attitude.
You know, I said, a glue-type player, someone who’s a blue-collar worker, willing to do the dirty work.
Sullivan did know, my awkward, rambling description notwithstanding. The challenge only begins apparently with describing them.
“Sometimes those players are harder to identify,” she said. “And the higher the level, it’s harder to get them.”
The Lady Vols staff needs to try, however. The program could use an infusion of the selfless qualities that these type players typically embody.
Harper and Sullivan, based on their shared experience at Missouri State, at least have a profile in hand. They should be looking for another Aubrey Buckley.
Buckley was a 6-foot-2 forward from hometown Springfield, Mo. She averaged just 4.4 points per game as a freshman in 2014-15 but started 30 of 33 games. She progressed to where, as a senior, she had upped her per-game averages to 10.2 points and 6.2 rebounds. She gathered 44 steals during her final season and drew 28 charges in 33 games.
Let me repeat: she drew 28 charges in 33 games.
Wonder when the last time a Lady Vol had 28 charges for her career?
“Statistically, a lot of the fans really didn’t get it (at first),” Sullivan said. “We got it the first day we had her on the court. An extremely intelligent, selfless kid. Kellie was the biggest advocate for that kid. Toward the end of her career, people started to see.”
Two former Lady Vols come to mind regarding this sort of recruiting search.
Several competing schools were quizzical about UT signing guard LaToya Davis, who arrived in 2000. She played a supporting role most of her career but was a model teammate who worked diligently at her game. Davis was so diligent that she’d brush her teeth with her left hand to improve her off-hand dexterity.
During Davis’ senior season, starting point guard Loree Moore suffered a season-ending knee injury. Davis replaced her and was named to the all-Midwest Regional team. She wept during the postgame celebration.
Sidney Spencer was Davis’ freshman teammate that season. The 6-3 forward had arrived as a low-profile prospect whose best attribute was her 3-point shooting.
Spencer became a solid contributor who expanded her role as a senior. In her final season, she hosted cookouts to enhance team camaraderie. During the NCAA tournament, she was deployed as a post defender. Despite being outsized, she studied more video and was effective in guarding such star players as Pitt’s Marcedes Walker and North Carolina’s Erlana Larkins.
On the men’s side, Dane Bradshaw comes to mind in this respect. For that matter, NBA draftees Grant Williams Admiral Schofield and Jordan Bone qualify, considering they arrived at UT as unheralded recruits.
These players are more difficult to find because character and desire are harder to evaluate than skill.
Harder doesn’t mean impossible. Not at all. If there’s another Aubrey Buckley out there, it behooves Tennessee to find her.
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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 firstname.lastname@example.org