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    Photo by Kenny Richmond/RTI

    Just before the college basketball season started, Connecticut found out that former Lady Vol Evina Westbrook would not be eligible to play for the Huskies after the point guard transferred from UT following the conclusion of last season.

    After that initial decision by the NCAA, UConn decided to appeal the denial. But that, too, was denied.

    Before the Huskies’ game with Vanderbilt in Nashville on Wednesday, the program found out that Westbrook’s appeal of the original decision had also been denied. After UConn’s 64-51 win over the Commodores, head coach Geno Auriemma put the Lady Vols program on blast following the decision.

    “The thing I keep coming back to, if you read (the NCAA’s) release, the original one, we think it’s kind of a normal situation,” Auriemma said after the game. “That’s what the (NCAA) said. ‘We kind of think it’s a normal situation, that it happens at a lot of campuses.’

    “You know what? A lot of campuses should shut down programs if that’s normal. That’s basically what this is. Say something else. Say anything. Don’t say that’s normal. That’s the word they used. That’s normal.”

    Auriemma event went on to call out Tennessee athletic director Phillip Fulmer, saying that even the former National Championship winning head coach knows just how bad the environment was under former Lady Vols head coach Holly Warlick.

    “A kid is in an environment that’s not necessarily healthy. An environment that, if you knew what the environment was — which I can’t say — you would not want your kid in that environment,” Aureimma stated. “And the athletic director there (Fulmer) knows it, but he’s not going to support her leaving, which would’ve helped us a little bit.”

    While Auriemma was going on a tirade in Nashville, new Lady Vols head coach Kellie Harper was back in Knoxville following Tennessee’s dominant win over No. 15 Notre Dame in South Bend on Monday, preparing her first-year squad for Thursday night’s game with Tennessee State.

    When the Vols win, YOU win! Take 20% off your ENTIRE order in the RTI merch store by using the promo code “UT20” at checkout! Click on the image above to browse our entire inventory!

    Led by a game-high 14 points from sophomore guard Rae Burrell, the Lady Vols defeated the Tigers 73-43 to improve to 4-0 on the young season. Tennessee held Tennessee State to 21 percent shooting from the field.

    Following the game, Harper was asked about Auriemma calling out the culture of the program.

    “From my view point, and obviously I’m only here now, but the 12 players I’m working with, they are bought in, they play hard, they practice hard, and they have good team chemistry.” Harper said. “So, from my viewpoint, Tennessee is a great place to be a student-athlete.”

    Westbrook put her name in the NCAA transfer portal after the firing of Holly Warlick as head coach. Once Harper was hired, Westbrook met with the new Lady Vols’ coach, but she decided to keep her name in the portal.

    Shortly after that, Westbrook announced she would be transferring to UConn.

    Senior Lou Brown is in her second season on Rocky Top. She made her way to Knoxville as a graduate transfer from Washington State last season but had to sit out during Warlick’s final year as head coach after tearing her ACL just before the season started. After being granted a medical redshirt, Brown’s playing her sixth-year of eligibility with Harper at the helm.

    Brown was on the roster for the final year of Holly Warlick’s tenure, so she knows what the culture was like then. But when she was asked to comment, she focused on the here and now instead.

    “Right now, all I can say is we have a great team, we love our coaches, it’s a good environment for us now,” Brown stated. “That’s where our focus is. We’re worried about now, what’s going on this year.

    “We’re all happy to be here. We all love being a part of this program, and I think that’s going to show in the way we play, our chemistry as a team, and the relationship we have with our coaches.”

    After picking up wins over Notre Dame and Tennessee State this week, the Lady Vols will be off this weekend before turning their attention to Stetson on Tuesday night. Tip-off is scheduled for 7 p.m. ET.



      On Wednesday, Tennessee signed their three commitments in their 2020 recruiting class, bringing in two five-stars and a four-star.

      As long as none of the three signees drop in the recruiting rankings between now and the final spring signing period, Tennessee’s 2020 class will be the highest-rated recruiting class in men’s basketball history at UT.

      The Vols’ 2020 recruiting class is currently No. 4 in the country on 247Sports. The only teams ahead of Tennessee in the 2020 cycle right now are Duke, North Carolina, and Kentucky. Tennessee’s highest-rated class in the modern recruiting era (2003-present) ranked sixth. The Vols’ 2006 and 2008 classes both ranked No. 6 on 247Sports.

      Tennessee picked up signatures from five-star shooting guard Jaden Springer, five-star shooting guard and No. 1 in-state player Keon Johnson, and four-star small forward Corey Walker on Wednesday. On Thursday, Tennessee’s head basketball coach discussed that historic signing class.

      When the Vols win, YOU win! Take 20% off your ENTIRE order in the RTI merch store by using the promo code “UT20” at checkout! Click on the image above to browse our entire inventory!

      Rick Barnes met with the media on Thursday afternoon to talk about the Vols’ 2020 signing class, the impact winning on the court the last two years has had on recruiting, Tennessee’s upcoming game against No. 20 Washington, and more.

      Here’s everything Barnes had to say on Thursday:

        On Wednesday, Tennessee signed all three of their commitments in their 2020 recruiting class, bringing in two five-star prospects in the process.

        Five-star shooting guard Jaden Springer and five-star shooting guard Keon Johnson both signed their National Letters of Intent with the Vols on Wednesday, and those two — along with four-star small forward Corey Walker — are part of what is shaping up to be Tennessee’s highest-rated recruiting class in school history.

        Expectations are high for both Springer and Johnson before they’ve officially played a minute for Tennessee. Springer has been tabbed by his former AAU head coach as a potential superstar at Tennessee, and Johnson’s former AAU coach believes he’ll be the “Vols’ No. 1 defender” as soon as he sets foot on campus.

        Springer and Johnson aren’t the first five-stars Tennessee has signed in men’s hoops, but they’re two of only a handful of five-star prospects to sign with the Vols since recruiting services started using the star system in 2003. Before Rick Barnes became Tennessee’s head coach, the Vols had only signed three five-star prospects in men’s basketball according to the 247Sports rankings.

        When the Vols win, YOU win! Take 20% off your ENTIRE order in the RTI merch store by using the promo code “UT20” at checkout! Click on the image above to browse our entire inventory!

        Over the last two recruiting cycles, Tennessee has doubled that total, bringing in three five-stars combined in the 2019 and 2020 recruiting class.

        So, how have those other five-star players performed at Tennessee?

        Let’s take a look at how the Vols’ other five-star signees have fared during their UT careers now that Springer and Johnson have officially signed with Tennessee.

        All recruiting rankings are according to the 247Sports Composite unless otherwise noted 



          (Photo via Sports Illustrated)

          The NCAA denied the waiver of former Lady Vol Evina Westbrook to play immediately for the UConn women’s basketball team right before the 2019-20 season began. On Wednesday, the NCAA denied UConn’s appeal of that original denial, and now the Huskies have no other avenue to pursue to get Westbrook eligible for this season.

          On Wednesday night after UConn’s 64-51 victory over Vanderbilt, Huskies head coach Geno Auriemma sounded off about the denial, and he dragged Tennessee through the mud in the process, blasting the culture under former head coach Holly Warlick and saying Tennessee should “shut down their program” if what was going on under Warlick was “normal.”

          “The thing I keep coming back to, if you read (the NCAA’s) release, the original one, (they said) ‘we think it’s kind of a normal situation.’ That’s what the (NCAA) said, ‘We kind of think it’s a normal situation,’ that it happens at a lot of campuses,” Auriemma said per quotes from The Hartford Courant. “You know what? A lot of campuses should shut down their programs if that’s normal. That’s basically what this is. Say something else. Say anything. Don’t say that’s normal. That’s the word they used, ‘That’s normal.'”

          Westbrook announced back in May that she would be transferring to UConn after spending two seasons at Tennessee. The decision came after the firing of head coach Holly Warlick and the hiring of Kellie Harper as the new head coach. Westbrook put her name in the NCAA transfer portal before Harper was hired and decided to continue her transfer process after meeting with Harper.

          UConn said they provided more than 100 pages of supporting documentation in their waiver and appeal, and Tennessee didn’t oppose the waiver application. Auriemma said UConn asked Tennessee to support Westbrook’s appeal, but he insists that Tennessee neither supported nor opposed the decision.

          When asked for comment following the initial denial of Westbrook’s waiver, a spokesman from Tennessee’s athletics department responded: “Tennessee wishes Evina Westbrook well. We’ve since moved on, and our program is moving forward.”

          When the Vols win, YOU win! Take 20% off your ENTIRE order in the RTI merch store by using the promo code “UT20” at checkout! Click on the image above to browse our entire inventory!

          Auriemma failed to specify what he meant by the culture at Tennessee not being “normal,” simply saying “I can’t get into that” when pressed for follow-up information.

          “Think about this: A kid’s in an environment that’s not necessarily healthy, an environment that, if you knew what the environment was — which I can’t say — you would not want your kid in that environment,” Auriemma explained. “And the athletic director there (Phillip Fulmer) knows it, but he’s not going to support her leaving, which would have helped us a little bit.

          “And now, her reward is she has to sit at home even when we travel and can’t play.”

          Though she won’t be on the floor when the two teams play, Westbrook’s new team will take on her old team later this season. And all this drama and controversy will likely make what was already going to be a heated game even more electrifying.

          The Lady Vols and Huskies will tip-off at 7:00 PM Eastern on January 23, 2020 later this season. It marks the first time since 2007 the two women’s basketball powers — and bitter rivals — have played each other.

          As for Auriemma and Westbrook, the UConn head coach would like an explanation as to why the NCAA makes the decisions they do.

          “I would like to know why some people do get cleared or get waivers and others don’t,” Auriemma said. “I have no idea anymore. I really don’t. And you know what, who does it punish? Who does it punish? Does it punish Tennessee? That kid’s not going to be there anyway. The only person that it punishes when this happens is the kid who’s trying to get themselves in a better environment.”

          Westbrook joined the Lady Vols as one of the highest-rated players in her respective recruiting class. Westbrook was considered the No. 1 guard and was ranked as high as the No. 2 overall prospect in the 2017 recruiting cycle, and she was a McDonald’s All-American. She was named the National Player of the Year by several outlets, and she helped win gold for the USA at the FIBA Americas U18 Tournament.

          The 6-foot guard played in 31 games for the Lady Vols last season and started every game she played. She averaged 14.9 points, 5.3 assists, and 3.6 rebounds while shooting 41.9 percent overall and 38.0 percent from three.

          Westbrook played in 64 games for the Lady Vols in her two years with the program, and she started all 64 of them.



            In this episode of the RTI & VR2 Recruiting Podcast, managing editor Nathanael Rutherford hosted along with Brandon Martin of Vol Recruiting Reports to discuss the latest in Tennessee recruiting. Four-star linebacker/running back Len’Neth Whitehead is pushing back his decision date. Is that good news for the Vols? How many linebackers will Tennessee take in the 2020 class? Also, now that he’s decommitted, will the Vols push for in-state wide receiver Darin Turner? Is UT a darkhorse for Darnell Washington? Plus, Tennessee’s men’s basketball program just signed a historic fall signing class, and they may not be done.

            Make sure you don’t miss an episode of the RTI Recruiting Podcast! Subscribe to the podcast on Apple Podcasts here! And make sure to subscribe to our YouTube channel for another way to experience the podcast!

              Tennessee took the practice field on Wednesday afternoon for their only open portion of practice this week. The Vols focused on fundamentals on Wednesday during one of their bye week practices.

              You can get our notes on a couple coaches being absent from practice, a few Vols being limited, and much more in our notes from Wednesday’s practice.

              Now, take a look at our video highlights from Tennessee’s practice: