Jimmy’s blog: Harper says you never stop recruiting

By Jimmy Hyams

It came as no surprise that Lady Vols point guard Evina Westbrook transferred.

Her mother had tweeted as much a month before the regular season ended and Westbrook would up at UConn.

But freshman center Mimi Collins leaving for Maryland wasn’t forseen.

Collins, who averaged 5.5 points and 3.4 rebounds and made four starts, had played well down the stretch for Tennessee and there was no indication she wasn’t happy.

New coach Kellie Harper was caught off guard and doesn’t know why Collins departed.

“I’ll be honest with you, I’m a little unclear as to the full reason,’’ Harper said in a recent interview. “So, Mimi left and then let us know she was going to be transferring. So unfortunately, we didn’t get to that discussion.

“But you know players have to do at this point what’s best for them and she felt like that’s what she needed.’’

While Collins provided a solid inside presence, the Lady Vols might still be productive inside with the return of 6-4 Kassie Kushkituah and 6-5 signees Emily Saunders and Tamari Key.

“These two kids, they’re large, very tall, very long,’’ Harper said of Saunders and Key.

That kind of size won’t change Harper’s philosophy, but it might amend it.

“We do modify our scheme to fit our personnel … without changing our overall system,’’ Harper said.

Tennessee welcomes five new players with the star being Jordan Horston, rated the No. 2 player in the country in some circles.

“Jordan has a great skill set, handling the ball, distributing the ball,’’ Harper said.

Harper said junior college transfer Jaiden McCoy brings “toughness and interior toughness.’’

The five newcomers will complement Davis, who averaged 14.9 points and 7.7 rebounds and Shay Green, who averaged 9.6 points and 4 rebounds.

One major concern for UT is outside shooting. The Lady Vols hit only 32.5 percent from beyond the arc last year and no returner shot as high as 38 percent from long range. Davis shot 37 percent from outside, Green 21.8 percent. The best was Collins, who was 8 of 15.

Jessie Rennie, the sharp shooter from Australia, is expected to help with 3-point accuracy.

Harper didn’t close the door on adding to the roster.

“The landscape of women’s basketball,’’ Harper said, “you always have your eyes open. You never shut off any possibilities at this point. But we’ve got 12 going into the summer and that’s what we feel comfortable about.’’

Harper said she will recruit nationally and internationally.

“I think we can get in homes and get the right people,’’ she said.

Harper said she will look first in-state, then in the surrounding area before branching out.

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