KNOXVILLE – As it turns out, Tennessee didn’t just lose a point guard this week. The Lady Vols are down a starting backcourt.
Sophomore guard Zaay Green has joined Chattanooga product Jazmine Massengill in leaving the program. Green announced her intentions via Instagram on Wednesday, a days after classmate Massengill said that she was putting her name in the transfer portal.
“I’m grateful for my memories,” Green said in an interesting post, “but due to my actions and decisions and the coaches, it has been best for me to part my ways from the University of Tennessee and figure out what is best for Zaay Green.”
Between them, Green and Massengill started 57 combined women’s basketball games the past two seasons. The number would’ve been higher if Green hadn’t suffered a season-ending knee injury before UT’s fourth game this season, which was at Notre Dame on Nov. 11.
These transfers call attention to the altered state of Tennessee’s program. In the previous three years, five Lady Vols have transferred. A sixth, Diamond DeShields, passed on a final season of eligibility after saying she was returning.
Guard Evina Westbrook started for two seasons before leaving. Te’a Cooper, Anastasia Hayes and Alexa Middleton played key roles. Hayes was named the SEC’s 6th player of the year during her lone season at UT. Mimi Collins ended her only season last year as a starter.
While players have come and gone throughout Tennessee’s storied history, this sort of attrition has been unprecedented, especially considering the players involved. DeShields moved on to the WNBA while the other five settled at Division I programs. Cooper went to South Carolina and then Baylor. She started this season for the Lady Bears, who were on the short list of national championship favorites before the NCAA tournament was canceled because of the coronavirus pandemic.
The upheaval has adversely effected Tennessee’s play and factored greatly in the dismissal of former head coach Holly Warlick after last season. She was replaced by Kellie Harper.
Massengill and Green are among 10 players from ESPNw’s top 25 in the 2018 signing class who either have transferred or are on the move. UT is one of three schools that’s losing two players. The others are Baylor and Georgia Tech.
The sport has never been more transitory in nature. It’s created another layer of recruiting. The circumstances weigh on the Lady Vols’ quest to regain their footing.
Harper said earlier this month that she was interested in adding a graduate transfer. The search has added urgency with the loss of Massengill, who had 128 assists last season. The only other player on UT’s roster with point-guard capabilities is Jordan Horston.
Freshman signee Destiny Salary will approximate Green in terms of her 6-foot stature, her athleticism and her aggressiveness. She’s not likely to match Green’s 9.8 points-per-game scoring average, however.
While travel restrictions complicate UT’s vetting of players, Harper isn’t comprising in searching for such qualities as toughness and character. Her use of the word “culture” has been a not-so-subtle allusion to what she thinks is lacking within the ranks.
“I think for us to continue to move forward, we have to surround ourselves with the right people,” Harper said.
These sort of players, though, are more likely to ask tough questions about what’s happening. They’ll take some convincing that Tennessee is right for them.
Green is scheduled for a May 4 misdemeanor citation booking on a charge of simple possession/casual exchange of a controlled substance.
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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