The November signing period begins today and Tennessee will be adding at least three women's basketball players with impressive offensive credentials for next season.
But Mercedes Russell, Jordan Reynolds and Jannah Tucker also are described by coaches familiar with their talents as suitable to UT's renewed emphasis on defense.
Russell, a 6-foot-5 center from Springfield, Ore., and Tucker, a 6-foot wing player from Randallstown, Md., will sign their letters of intent today. Reynolds, a 5-10 guard from Portland, will sign on Friday.
Tennessee remains in contention for guard Tyler Scaife from Little Rock, Ark. She's expected to announce her choice on Friday. Rutgers and UT are believed to be the frontrunners for the No. 9-ranked player in the Class of 2013 by ESPN HoopGurlz.
As it stands, Tennessee has gathered an impressive group. Russell is the No. 1-ranked player in the class. Tucker is ranked No. 8 and Reynolds is No. 42.
Russell averaged 26 points and 15 rebounds per game last season in leading Springfield High to a second consecutive state championship and was named the Class 5A state player of the year. Still, Springfield coach Bill Wagner thinks that Russell will introduce herself at Tennessee with defense.
"Coming in as a freshman, I think she could be more of a game-changer on that end," Wagner said. "She averages about six blocks per game and I can't tell you how many shots she's changed. Defensively, she's pretty good."
Wagner accompanied Russell on multiple visits to Tennessee and is familiar with coach Holly Warlick's desire to invigorate UT's defensive play.
Wagner also has coached against Reynolds' Central Catholic team. He described her as "ultra-athletic" and a difficult matchup. She averaged 18.3 points, 7.5 rebounds and five assists per game last season and was named Class 6A player of the year. She also averaged nearly five steals per game. Wagner thinks that Reynolds will be a good fit for Warlick's defense.
"On the defensive end, she's exactly what they're looking for," Wagner said. "She'll get up in you. She's good at anticipating passes and reading (plays)."
Tucker, who averaged nearly 30 points per game last season for New Town High, suffered a torn anterior cruciate ligament in her left knee in August while playing for USA Basketball. Fran Burbidge, who has coached Tucker in AAU basketball the past two summers, said that she is "significantly ahead of schedule" with her recovery.
Burbidge said that Tucker is experienced in defending elite players, and she responds to coaching. Furthermore, her size and athleticism allow Tucker to defend forwards as well as guards.
"She's pretty versatile in terms of matchups," Burbidge said.