Jasmine Phillips chose her Tennessee women's basketball jersey number based on preference.
"I've always liked No. 1," she said. "So I finally had a chance to get it."
Unbeknownst to Phillips, she had earned the number in a symbolic way by being the first signee of first-year coach Holly Warlick. The 5-foot-10 guard was a May edition to the roster. After a year of junior college, she wanted to attend North Carolina. But an expanding Tar Heels roster apparently undermined her prospects. Pat Hewitt, Phillips' high school coach from Hartsville, S.C., surveyed the situation and called Warlick, a long-time acquaintance.
"I didn't realize I was Holly's first signee until the coaches mentioned it," said Phillips, one of five first-year Lady Vols. "Then it kind of went together. It means a lot. It's a whole new era, so being the first one to sign is kind of exciting."
Based on her background, the No. 4 also would've been a good fit for Phillips. She's the fourth junior college player to sign with the program since 1977. The Lady Vols' sophomore made the most of her one season at Louisburg (N.C.) College, earning NJCAA All-American honors by averaging 16.8 points, 6.4 rebounds and 2.7 steals per game.
Although junior college players don't have much history at UT, the last two — Shannon Bobbitt and Alberta Auguste — made their fair share, playing key roles on back-to-back national championship teams (2006-08). Auguste played pick-up ball with Phillips this summer on campus and advised her: "Go hard every chance you get. Make the best of it."
When Phillips considers her circuitous route to Tennessee, she's inclined to view her circumstances through the eyes of her grandmother, Rebecca Phillips, who's a Baptist minister.
"I think it was all just God, opening up doors for me, making another home
for me, where He saw that I needed to be," Phillips said. "So I'm just thankful that the door was opened for me, for that opportunity."
Q: Are you looking forward to the North Carolina game (on Dec. 2)?
A: Ah, yes. I really am.
Q: With Jasmine Jones on the roster, do you have a nickname to tell you two apart?
A: They call me J.P.
Q: You played high school basketball as a seventh grader, was that scary?
A: Not really scary because I didn't think I was going to make varsity my seventh-grade year. Me and my best friend, we just went to the tryouts and we thought we were going to make J.V., but then we ended up playing varsity. My sister (Shavonne) was a junior at that time. So I was with my sister, so I really wasn't scared as much. ... It helped a lot."
Q: Coach Hewitt, what was she like for you?
A: She was basically like everything, like a mentor, another mom. She really didn't just coach us. She really taught us things in life, like how to carry ourselves as ladies.
Q: What's the best advice she gave you?
A: Just to believe in yourself. This quote she had in the locker room was "She believed it before she ever dreamed it."
Q: Is your grandmother a wrath-of-God preacher or a love-of-God preacher?
A: She's a love-of-God preacher. One of her main quotes is "Love is not known until it's shown." If I get down, I always call her because she always brings my spirit up.
Q: What are her services like?
A: "It's more like listening to the message she was relating. She really wasn't like the rowdy type. She's just trying to get the message across.