The seismic shift in the Tennessee women's basketball coaching staff apparently hasn't shaken the Lady Vols' chances of landing one of the nation's top recruits.
Springfield (Ore.) High School center Mercedes Russell wasn't blindsided by Pat Summitt stepping down as head coach after 38 years to become a head coach emeritus, Springfield coach Bill Wagner said Friday. Furthermore, ESPN HoopGurlz's top-ranked prospect in the Class of 2013 wasn't disappointed by associate head coach Holly Warlick being named Summitt's successor.
"She mentioned that she was hoping that if Pat stepped aside, Holly would get the job,'' Wagner said.
Warlick went to Oregon during the season to watch Russell play. Assistant coach Dean Lockwood, the other remaining coach on UT's staff, has been the lead recruiter for the 6-foot-5 junior, who's made two unofficial visits to UT.
Russell was the Class 5A player of the year this season after leading Springfield to a second consecutive state championship. She averaged 26 points, 15 rebounds, six blocks and five assists per game.
Wagner said that he and Russell talked about Tennessee's coaching transition the day it happened.
"When she talked with the coaching staff, they kind of let on that something like this was going to happen,'' Wagner said.
"The program is what drew her in early. Knowing that Pat is going to be part of the program, it makes her feel good. Tennessee is still going to be Tennessee."
Russell has narrowed her list of schools to 10. Along with UT, Louisville, Kentucky, Notre Dame, Georgia, USC, Duke, North Carolina, LSU and Baylor made the initial cut. Wagner anticipates Russell paring her list to five before fall.
"Tennessee has been in there from the beginning and I think they'll be there to the end,'' Wagner said. "I don't know if she's going to go there, but I think they'll be in there to the end."
As long as the Lady Vols are in the hunt for Russell, they'll likely have a shot at another top 2013 prospect: Stephanie Mavunga, The 6-3 forward from Indianapolis, who's ranked 15th in the class by HoopGurlz, is a good friend of Russell's. They came together to UT for an unofficial visit last October. Wagner indicated that Russell's aforementioned list of 10 schools was formulated with Mavunga in mind.