KNOXVILLE – Given the way Tennessee football has been surging, it’s hard for any other UT sport to get a recruiting headline in edgeways.
The Lady Vols got one on Saturday.
Women’s basketball added a third commitment to its Class of 2021 when Sara Puckett, a 6-foot-2 forward from Muscle Shoals, Ala., announced her decision on social media. She reportedly held scholarship offers from at least 30 schools, mostly from the SEC, ACC or Big Ten.
Regarding rankings, there’s a wide range of opinion on where Puckett stands with her peers.
Prospectsnation.com ranks her 21st in the class while ESPN has her No. 62. The websites are closer in terms of their star rating for Puckett. Prospects Nation has her at four-plus while ESPN gives her four stars.
Puckett, who projects to play either forward position, is a friend and AAU Southern Starz teammate of fellow Lady Vols 2021 commitment Karoline Striplin, who announced last February.
The third member of the class is guard Kaiya Wynn from Ensworth School in Nashville. She committed on April 30.
Lady Vols coach Kellie Harper can’t comment on any of these players until they sign national letters of intent, presumably in November. But she can speak about recruiting in general during the coronavirus pandemic and she did so on Friday – from her home office, before a virtual conference via zoom.
“We haven’t been able to get players on campus but we’ve been able to keep building relationships with players we know,” she said. “We’ve been creative with how we’ve reached these folks. I think our communication has been good with our recruits during this time.”
Harper believes that her staff got some momentum from signing graduate transfer post Keyen Green from Liberty and adding four-star prospect Marta Suarez, a freshman guard/forward from Oviedo, Spain. The two additions for next season offset the losses of guard Jazmine Massengill, who transferred to Kentucky, and guard Zaay Green, who was forced to leave the program. She’s ended up at Texas A&M.
The Suarez signing, in particular, was big because of her lack of familiarity with the Lady Vols. Furthermore, they needed to replenish their backcourt and be quick about it.
“I think we really had to work hard,” Harper said of signing Suarez. “I think we had to get that recruiting process right to get her.”
Topping off the 2021 class might require a comparable effort. Striplin, a forward from Hartford, Ala., committed before the pandemic. Wynn and Puckett had made unofficial campus visits before the shutdown – they attended the Dec. 8 game against Texas with Striplin - and were far enough along in the process to make decisions. Tennessee likely isn’t in the same place, though, with others on their list.
In the meantime, Harper said that she and her staff want to sit down with football coach Jeremy Pruitt and his coaches and discuss recruiting strategy. The Vols have maintained their momentum with more commitments for their 2021 class. The latest additions have been athletes Trinity Bell and Kaemen Marley as well as tight end Miles Campbell. UT now has 24 commitments in its class
“I don’t think we’re going to land a recruit because they’re getting players,” Harper said. “But it helps. Anything positive about our university helps everybody. It’s cool.”
Dan Fleser is a 1980 graduate of the University of Missouri, who covered University of Tennessee athletics from 1988-2019. He can be reached at email@example.com.