Evina Westbrook: “Steps Need to be Taken” with Lady Vols’ Coaching Staff

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    (Photo via Tennessee Athletics)

    The Lady Vols’ season didn’t go as planned, and one of their players didn’t hold back after Tennessee’s first round exit in the NCAA Women’s Tournament.

    Sophomore guard Evina Westbrook spoke to reporters after the Lady Vols’ 89-77 loss to UCLA in the first round of the tournament, and she was candid with her responses. When asked if there are steps that need to be taken this offseason to help improve the team, she said there were and got specific.

    “Most definitely. I just think off the court stuff. Steps need to be taken with our staff,” Westbrook responded. “Just overall, it’s off the court with this team.”

    When pressed about what the off the court issues are, Westbrook declined to explain, stating instead, “I don’t want to say.”

    Westbrook joined the Lady Vols’ roster prior to the 2017-18 season, and she was considered one of the top recruits in the country. She was the consensus No. 1 guard in the 2017 class and was a top-five overall prospect. She won multiple Player of the Year awards as a senior in high school.

    It’s safe to say that when Westbrook signed on with Tennessee, she saw her career going in a very different direction than it has so far.

    The Lady Vols have gone 44-21 in her two years at UT, and they’ve failed to make it beyond the second round of the NCAA Tournament. And Westbrook’s head coach has drawn a lot of ire from Vol fans because of that.

    Lady Vols head coach Holly Warlick has been the focal point of a lot of contention this season, as many fans believe it’s time for Tennessee to move on from the seven-year head coach. Warlick took over the Lady Vols program after legendary head coach Pat Summitt stepped down amidst her battle with early onset dementia and has been the head coach ever since.

    At first, Warlick picked up right where Summitt left off. The Lady Vols got to the Elite Eight in Warlick’s first season, made it to the Sweet Sixteen the next, then the Elite Eight again the following year. Warlick was 86-20 as the head coach and had won either the SEC regular season or SEC Tournament title in all three of those seasons.

    Then, things took a downward turn.

    In Warlicks’ fourth season, the Lady Vols struggled uncharacteristically in SEC play and finished with an 8-8 conference record. That marked the first time since the 1984-85 season that the Lady Vols had finished with a .500 record in conference play. Luckily for Warlick and her team, they rallied in the NCAA Tournament and made it to the Elite Eight for the second-straight year.

    Warlick’s team again floundered in SEC play over the next two seasons, going 10-6 in the conference in the 2016-17 season and 11-5 in the 2017-18 season. What was even more discouraging, however, was the Lady Vols’ results in the postseason. Tennessee was eliminated in the second round of the NCAA Tournament both years, marking just the second and third time in program history they failed to make it to at least the Sweet Sixteen.

    Not only that, but there were some concerns off the court as well.

    Star guard Diamond DeShields announced prior to the 2017-18 season that should would be transferring off the Lady Vols’ roster. Not even an hour after DeShields made that announcement, Warlick sent out a tweet with a smiley face emoji.

    Warlick would eventually delete her Twitter account not long after the incident.

    The two had reportedly had issues behind the scenes, and that came to the forefront during the 2015-16 season when Diamond’s father, Delino DeShields, publicly bashed Warlick on Twitter.

    This most recent season, however, saw the Lady Vols sink to historic lows.

    While there weren’t any public off-court issues, the on-court results for this year’s Lady Vols team were enough to raise concerns across the entire fan base. Tennessee went 7-9 in SEC play this season, including a loss to a Vanderbilt squad that finished 2-14 in SEC play in the second-to-last game of the season. This season marked the first time in program history the Lady Vols finished with a record below .500 in conference play.

    The Lady Vols won a game in the SEC Tournament and barely snuck into the NCAA Tournament. They earned a bid as an 11-seed, the worst seeding in program history. But they were bounced by six-seed UCLA in the first round, and UT finished 19-13 on the year. This year marked the first time since Pat Summitt’s second year as head coach back in 1975-76 that the Lady Vols failed to win 20 games in a season, and their 13 losses were the second-most in a single season in program history.

    Plus, the Lady Vols’ exit in the first round of the NCAA Tournament was only the second time ever that UT failed to win at least one game in the tournament.

    When Westbrook was asked whether or not she believed Warlick would return next season as her head coach, her answer was simple.

    “I don’t know. I don’t know.”

    Nathanael Rutherford is the managing editor and social media manager for Rocky Top Insider. Nathanael graduated from the University of Tennessee and cultivated a passion for the Vols while growing up in Knoxville a mere 10 minutes from Neyland Stadium. He's been a part of the RTI team since November of 2015 and has been the editor of RTI since June of 2017. If he's not talking or writing about Tennessee athletics, he's probably talking about Star Wars.