CHICAGO — During Sunday’s practices for the girls’ McDonald’s All-American Game, Riverdale’s (Murfreesboro, Tenn.) Anastasia Hayes and St. Francis’ (Alpharetta, Ga) Kasi Kushkituah teamed up in drills. They couldn’t help but smile as they worked together because their passes were a glimpse into the future.
Kushkituah, Hayes, and two more McDonald’s All-Americans, Ribault’s (Jacksonville, Fla.) Rennia Davis and South Salem’s (Ore.) Evina Westbrook, are all headed to play for Holly Warlick at Tennessee in the fall.
“Whenever we do get time to hang out, we talk to each other, get the Lady Vols sign out there, so you definitely feel the love,” Westbrook said.
The Lady Volunteers are one of the most successful basketball programs of all time, but they haven’t been to the Final Four since 2008. This year, they were bounced from the tournament in the second round.
This incoming class has plans to return Tennessee to the elite of women’s basketball.
“We’re coming in with the mindset we’re going to change the program. We chose Tennessee because know we can help bring them back to where they were,” Hayes said.
“We need to go in and reload our program,” Westbrook said. “Not rebuild, they have so much talent, but do the little things we need to work on.”
They want to bring more energy and consistency to Tennessee, and have plans to make an immediate impact.
“When I see them play, they have their ups and downs. There’s a lot of times they’ll be up, but when I play, I like to stay up. And I like to get the first punch,” Kashkituah said. “I want to bring that energy to the team. When we’re down, I want to give that extra kick that will push us back up.”
Every one of the future Lady Vols used the same word when talking about why they chose Knoxville: home.
“At first, I never wanted to go to Tennessee. There are three Oregon girls there, and that turned me off a lot. But on my visit, it changed my perspective,” Westbrook said. “It was a home away from home for me. For me, being so far away, I knew I wanted to go far but that was the most home to me. I felt confident when I chose Tennessee.”
For Davis, Tennessee was the right choice not because of what coach Holly Warlick and her staff did, but because of what they didn’t do.
“I don’t really like the recruiting part where coaches can call you, call you, call you. It’s like, y’all aren’t going to do this when I get there,” Davis said. “I don’t want anything fake. Tennessee coaches were chill. They were genuine. They were how they were going to be when I get there.”