KNOXVILLE — The sound of basketball shoes squeaking on the hardwood rose from the Tennessee men's practice Tuesday as women's coach Holly Warlick stood in a lobby outside the practice facility on campus, her team's practice time quickly approaching.
"It's an exciting day," Warlick said. "It's coming, and our players are excited, coaches are excited and I'll tell you, we're ready to get started."
Tuesday afternoon's practice signified the formal beginning to Warlick's sixth season as head coach of the Lady Vols. Accordingly, the team's 10 players have shut down their social media accounts for the season as they begin full team workouts with a group of four highly touted freshmen on the roster.
"They're going to play," Warlick said of the freshmen. "They're going to play, obviously because of the availability, but because of their ability as well. All four are solid. They bring different things. They're going to play, just because they're talented and they work hard."
The Lady Vols play an exhibition game against Carson-Newman on Nov. 7 and open the regular season against East Tennessee State on Nov. 12.
Tennessee's season ended in the second round of the NCAA Tournament last season with a 20-12 record. Gone are leading scorer Diamond DeShields and point guards Jordan Reynolds and Alexa Middleton. Back are last year's second leading scorer, center Mercedes Russell, and third leading scorer, wing Jaime Nared.
Also returning are forward Kortney Dunbar, reserve center Kamera Harris, forward Cheridene Green, who did not play last season because of a knee injury, and wing Meme Jackson. Warlick specified Jackson as one of the team's most-improved players.
Then there are the freshmen. Anastasia Hayes, Kasi Kushkituah, Rennia Davis and Evina Westbrook comprise the nation's top recruiting class, according to ESPN's rankings.
Among the roles the freshmen are expected to fill for the 2017-18 Lady Vols is the starting point guard position.
"It's going to start with our freshmen," Warlick said. "I think Evina and Annie (Hayes) both have the capability of running a basketball team, and I really like them in at the same time. I'm not concerned about having a freshman there, because they're very dedicated, committed, intelligent basketball players that know the game. We're trying to make sure they understand it and understand our philosophy and what we want out of them.
"So far, I've not been disappointed one bit."
Contact David Cobb at email@example.com.