KNOXVILLE, Tenn. -- Lady Vol head coach Holly Warlick met with the media on Thursday afternoon, discussing the decision of Diamond DeShields and Mercedes Russell to remain at UT and sharing her thoughts on the anticipated impact of the No. 1-ranked 2017 signing class.
DeShields and Russell are fourth-year juniors and had the option of declaring for the WNBA Draft. They both opted not to do so, instead committing to returning and helping lead what looks to be a very promising 2017-18 Tennessee squad back to national prominence.
In addition to returning four starters, including the third member of UT's gifted Big Three in Jaime Nared, the Lady Vols have four other reserves back and welcome a highly-regarded freshman class. That group, which includes four McDonald's All-Americans, consists of guards Anastasia Hayes and Evina Westbrook, wing Rennia Davis and post Kasiyahna Kushkituah.
Head Coach Holly Warlick Quotes
"Let's first of all address the Diamond DeShields and Mercedes Russell situation. We are excited they are coming back for their senior year. They're going to get their degrees in May and will continue to take classes and help us on the basketball courts. We're looking forward to that. They both want keep continuing to get their game better, and they think the benefits are to stay here.
"I didn't tell them they needed to stay. Obviously, I said that we would like for them to stay, but I wanted it to be their decision. I gave them pros and cons, gave them some information for them to do what they needed to do and the opportunity to go back and talk with their families. It's a great thing when these young ladies make decisions on their own. They got facts and were knowledgeable about what they were looking for and both decided to stay.
"I got a chance to see our four freshmen play in the McDonald's All-American game. I'm really proud of them; they already started a good bond with each other, and we will be excited when they come on board. With that said, our kids are focusing on school. We're doing spring workouts. We can go two hours a week and then there's six hours with our strength trainer. We started pretty much a couple of days after we got back (from Louisville for the NCAA 1st and 2nd Rounds). We've moved forward, and I like what I see in their efforts on the basketball court. We're maintaining going to class and making sure we take care of business outside the basketball court."
(On whether she was surprised that Mercedes and Diamond returned and how significant it is for the team)
"I thought Mercedes was leaning a little bit towards staying, and Diamond was maybe weighing her options more than Mercedes. I really honestly thought both would return, because they want to get better and want the opportunity to work with our four new freshmen coming in. I think there were a lot of factors that went into it, but I wasn't surprised. I'm just glad they did their homework and didn't react after the end of our season. They did their due diligence and made an educated decision for them. Nobody said, `you need to go; you need to stay.' I was really proud of them stepping back, taking information and trying to understand what was best for them."
(On the players leading the freshmen when they come in)
"When you put yourself out there, you have to do what you are asking the freshmen to do. I think all of our players feel the need to bring them along. I think it started when we were recruiting the freshmen, and they got to know our players. They fit in well. I think it's about relationships and wanting to see the kids be successful. We need them because our numbers were down. It's important for our players to understand that and bring them along."
(On whether DeShields and Russell returning takes pressure off the freshmen)
"I don't think these freshmen are coming in with any pressure, no matter if Diamond and Mercedes left or stayed. I think they see a great opportunity for themselves. They're four of the best players in the country, but what I love about them is that they are great character kids. They come from great families. They love the game, but they also have parents who have held them accountable. Their love for this basketball program really shows. They want to come in and contribute in any way possible. That is what I love. Their goal is to come in and contribute to make this basketball team better. It's four young ladies who want to come in and bring their ability to play the game and help this basketball team."