KNOXVILLE – A trip to Europe gave Kellie Harper her first view of Rennia Davis in action and Tennessee’s most accomplished women’s basketball player didn’t disappoint the Lady Vols’ first-year coach.
The 6-foot-2 junior forward reached double-figure scoring in two of the three games, including a trip-high 25. She also reached double figures in rebounding and even had eight assists in one game.
What Harper heard arguably was even better.
The usually reserved Davis spoke up for a change.
“In huddles, we were able to hear her voice,” said Harper, who recapped the trip on Friday. “We didn’t have a lot of adversity. There was one quarter in the whole trip where we faced a little adversity and didn’t play well while the other team did. I remember hearing her voice.”
While Harper didn’t have unrealistic hopes for the competition, she was disappointed there weren’t more challenges than evidenced by UT’s 48-point average margin of victory.
She had to exhort her players to play well in spite of themselves, recounting the prevailing team message as being: “Let’s not beat this team because we are bigger, faster, stronger and just more blessed. Let’s beat them because we are executing and doing the things we want to do. Let’s find a way to get better in those situations.”
Harper made the most of the aforementioned wayward quarter, making quick, wholesale lineup changes and yelling at the players. They needed to hear from her in that regard.
“Just because, again, it was not satisfactory,” Harper said.
Under the circumstances, the trip’s best basketball value came from accomplishments that weren’t a given in any situation. Davis being heard was a prime example.
“I think the players naturally look to her, because she’s the most experienced player on the team,” Harper said. “She’s in a position to make a difference in that area. We just need to continue to work with her on what that looks like.
“She wants to do what we ask her to do. I enjoy being around her. She’s been in the office (Friday) and she’s been very coachable for me.”
Here’s some other noteworthy achievements:
Rae Burrell’s productivity: The 6-foot-1 sophomore wing scored in double figures in all three games. She also reached double figures in rebounds and had five steals in one game.
She produced largely by playing hard. It was apparent last season that Burrell is hard-wired for effort. It’s up Harper and her staff to coach the recklessness out of her.
“The pace we’re wanting to play at is very conducive to her and I think she plays well in our system,” Harper said.
Jazmine Massengill’s restraint: Tennessee’s pace will necessitate a firm grip on the reins. Massengill, the 6-0 sophomore point guard from Chattanooga, recorded six assists in two of the three games.
“I think playing under control is very important for her,” Harper said. “We have a lot of players that are going to just go and go at a high speed. But we need somebody who can handle the basketball and dial it down when we need to, and I think she can be that person for us.”
Lou Brown’s floor burns: Against better competition, Tennessee will need the 6-foot-3 senior forward to hit some 3-pointers. Still, anyone willing to play hard at any time is valuable. Despite being less than a year removed from an ACL knee injury, Brown was blue collar in Europe.
“She gave us some hustle plays,” Harper said, “and was on the floor in that first game.”
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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 may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.