Mike Siroky's SEC Report: Recruiting Season Never Ends
The Atlanta Tipoff Club is down to the 10 best high school players to be considered The Naismith Girls’ Player of the Year.
The conspicuous element in the finalists: Three of them will play together on campus, at Tennessee.
They are all McDonald’s All-Americans.
Another from that list will join them as new Lady Vols.
The thunderclap heard across the nation is not due to good luck.
It is due to Holly Warlick hiring Sharrona Reaves as an assistant coach, to coordinate recruiting.
Last year, we pointed out Warlick needed a change. She needed someone to compliment her as she complimented the late Pat Head Summitt as her recruiting general.
You could chart a simple map for Reaves from her native Mufreesboro across the state to Knoxville, 189 miles.
Of course, it is never that easy.
Reaves added a few thousand miles in detours to get to her destination.
She played, for instance, at Alabama, still the SEC but not her beloved UT, even if it did allow for visits in the course of seasons.
And she captained them to the 1994 Final Four.
She started coaching as a junior high school leader in Nashville.
In 1995, she kicked off three seasons at Troy University as assistant coach and recruiting coordinator.
Their talent got better and they made the NCAAs for the first time in program history.
It was off to California-Berkeley in 1998, as an assistant coach and recruiter.
She took an assistant’s job at West Virginia, then was offered to run the program at Long Island University, C.W. Post.
But Mississippi State offered her to be recruiting coordinator back in the SEC and she jumped.
The College of Central Florida asked her for one transition season.
Alabama State had her as their Compliance Coordinator before West Virginia won her back as the top assistant and, of course, recruiting coordinator.
This time at West Virginia, they had a 30-win season, a conference title and a heady No. 2 seed in the NCAA eliminations.
While that sounds like a lot, it is really the typical trek of an assistant with ever-improving aspirations.
She has won the national recruiting wars in her first Knoxville season.
UT will also return a point guard from a year’s rehab of a blown knee and two superlative JC transfers, in essence enough for a new team added to the returnees which will include the top scorers and rebounder this season.
Talk about a season on the brink.
Still, the undeniable biggest addition is Reaves. And she has the well-earned skills.
“It used to be you looked two seasons out,” she said. “Now, it is the next season because everybody gets ready quickly.”
She knew under Pat Head Summitt, that Tennessee had the program everyone wanted to be.
“I always admired Pat and the program,” she said. “And Holly. Growing up in Tennessee, how could you not. And, as I played and then coached, it just got reinforced.”
In some respects, at the top programs, the introduction is easier because all players now want to go to the top programs.
Sometimes, recruiting can be a linkage of, say, getting a player from Oregon and then other great Oregon players perk their ears up and want to get on the same ride.
Or by playing a nationally competitive schedule, you are seen in states further from campus.
Summitt once said she initially visited Notre Dame before the Irish had a national footprint to entice a player from nearby Michigan. She got her and that player was in Final Fours.
Even when Reaves was playing, there was not the intense national documentation.
Tennessee’s national following and alumna always have their eyes open wherever they end up.
It builds upon itself.
As information streams have grown, so have recruitment battles gotten tougher.
There are no sleepers out there, no unknowns across the country.
As the women players have developed physically, there is also little separation in skill sets.
“So, now you look for a measure of leadership,” she said.
Not that pure rookies are recruited to run the locker room but that they have that skill when their time comes or that JV players are ready now.
“We all get down,” she said. “Do they have the ability to come back.”
Players will have over-arching skills. At the university level, everyone is good. At the elite programs every player is very good.
“They will accept a role, be coachable,” she said.
So one over riding factor is that undefined coachability.
“I definitely see myself as a coach,” she said.
Reaves has developed the sense of picking those players out, of seeing beyond height and speed, to the true value of teamwork.
“We’re a team,” she says of where it starts, with the coaching assistants.
Heather Ervin is director of recruiting operations and player personnel. Jolette Law and Dean Lockwood are the other assistant coaches. Reaves joins them on the bench, in the locker room, in game huddles.
In the end, Reaves said, the mission remains focused.
It is what she tells the moms and dads in those multiple visits to small towns and big cities: Keep the tradition but establish their own as well, within the story of the Lady Vols.