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Tennessee's head coach Holly Warlick talks to Diamond DeShields (11) during the second half of a first-round game against Dayton in the women's NCAA college basketball tournament, Saturday, Mar. 18, 2017, in Louisville, Ky. Tennessee won 66-57. (AP Photo/Timothy D. Easley)
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KNOXVILLE — The offseason hits keep coming for the Tennessee women's basketball program.

Coach Holly Warlick announced Friday that Diamond DeShields "has opted to forgo" her senior season with the Lady Volunteers — the latest blow in what has become an offseason of attrition.

DeShields, the team's leading scorer in 2016-17, had announced in an early-April Instagram post that she would return to Tennessee despite graduating. She expressed a desire to play with and mentor a talented class of four incoming freshmen.

At the time, it appeared the Lady Vols would have a full group of 13 scholarship players, including a veteran core and a promising group of young talent, for the season ahead.

Then rising senior guard Alexa Middleton left the team in late April, rising junior Te'a Cooper transferred to national champion South Carolina earlier this month and assistant coach Jolette Law joined the Gamecocks' staff last week.

"(DeShields) earned a degree from UT and now has a chance to play professionally," Warlick said in a news release Friday.

Barring more attrition, DeShields' absence will leave Tennessee with four players who had significant action last year: center Mercedes Russell and wing players Jaime Nared, Meme Jackson and Kortney Dubar.

Cheridene Green, a post player who sat out last year with an injury and has never played in a game for Tennessee, is expected back, as is reserve center Kamera Harris.

Freshmen Rennia Davis, Anastasia Hayes, Kasi Kushkituah and Evina Westbrook will give the Lady Vols 10 players after they started with only nine last year.

In a Thursday interview before DeShields' departure was announced, Warlick said having 11 scholarship players was "perfect."

"I think everybody has an opportunity to play," she said. "Of course, practice, their work ethic and what they retain is going to have a lot to do with if they're going to play or the amount of time. I think 11 gives us the opportunity to press more, run more, just do some things I like to do to make it more of an up-tempo game."

The team is in the midst of summer workouts, which includes two hours per week of practice time. All the freshmen except Westbrook, a guard from Oregon, have arrived on campus. She is expected to enroll next month for the second session of summer school.

Law's departure leaves Warlick with a key offseason hire to make. Law worked with Tennessee's guards and is regarded as a strong recruiter. She brought a head coach's perspective to the bench, having spent five years leading the Illinois program before coming to Knoxville in 2012 when Warlick was named head coach.

"I just want to make the right decision for us, but more so for our kids, someone who can relate to our kids and be high energy and positive and bring high school kids in that want to be Lady Vols," Warlick said.

In an announcement by South Carolina about Law's hiring, she said being closer to her mother, other family and friends in Florence, S.C., was her number one reason for making the move.

"It was a hard decision for Jolette," Warlick said. "It was difficult, because she's been a part of this program for five years, and I think she considers this program family. With that said, I think she felt a responsibility to her own personal family that she needed to be closer to home. I totally understood that."

Contact David Cobb at dcobb@timesfreepress.com

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