Meighan Simmons picked first in RTL draft

Meighan Simmons

Rising Lady Vol sophomore Meighan Simmons was the first pick Tuesday of the Women's Pilot Rocky Top League draft, which begins play in a week, and is one of 12 players with ties to Tennessee who is expected to participate in the summer games.

The two coaches for Pilot, a major sponsor of the league and also a sponsor of a team, got the folded piece of paper for the first pick in a blind draw – bringing good-natured catcalls from the other coaches that the fix was in – and after a brief consultation between Rob Wampler, a local AAU coach, and Atlee Hammaker, the former San Francisco Giants pitcher and now a Knoxville business owner and resident, they opted to take Meighan Simmons as the top pick.

Simmons, a rising sophomore guard, was later joined on the Pilot team by incoming Lady Vol freshman post Isabelle Harrison, who is from Nashville and has enrolled in summer school at Tennessee, and former Lady Vol sharpshooter Brittany Jackson, who is from Cleveland, Tenn., and now runs a basketball academy.

The other five teams are sponsored by DeRoyal, Duncan Automotive, Fellowship of Christian Athletes, Smith & Hammaker and the News Sentinel.

Play begins Monday, June 27, at the Christian Academy of Knoxville with games scheduled for 6, 7:30 and 9 p.m. at the campus gymnasium, which is air-conditioned. Admission and parking are free, and concession sales are donated to the school. There also will be three games played at the same times on June 28 and June 30 next week and again on July 5, 6 and 7, and a champion will be crowned.

Devin Driscoll, the coach of Duncan Automotive, made a surprise pick in the first round by eschewing a player with ties to the Lady Vols and instead taking point guard Taylor Mills, a Gibbs High School product who played part of this past season at Kennesaw State before being sidelined by a foot injury and then transferred to Carson-Newman. She performed well last year in the summer league for Driscoll's team.

The pick might not be as risky as it appeared, even though Glory Johnson and Shekinna Stricklen were on the draft board, because the two have USA basketball commitments and their availability for the summer league games hasn't been cemented yet.

Driscoll used his second pick to acquire former Lady Vol Faith Dupree, who will play next season for Tennessee-Chattanooga.

The other coaches scooped up the available Lady Vol players, but no team could have more than two current players – incoming players don't count – on the roster by league rules.

DeRoyal, coached by Connie Guinn, drafted Johnson, current Lady Vol Alicia Manning and former Lady Vol Dominique Redding. Guinn couldn't be at the draft so Andre Whitehead, the commissioner of the men's Rocky Top League who has assisted on the women's side, too, filled in and made the picks. He will also coach one game next week in her stead.

"I wish I could be here all the time because I would guarantee victory," Whitehead said, injecting some playfulness into a league that is intended to be just that for the participants and fans.

FCA, coached by Rick Dunn and Greg McMurray, took Stricklen and current Lady Vol Taber Spani.

The News Sentinel, coached by Steve Denny, took former Lady Vol Courtney McDaniel and also got rising Webb senior Marjorie Butler, who is Georgia-bound and was an impressive player in the league last summer.

Smith & Hammaker, coached by Mike Capps and former Lady Vol Shelley Sexton Collier, drafted current Lady Vols Kamiko Williams and Alyssia Brewer.

The first 30 players were drafted Tuesday – giving each team five players – and the rosters will be filled out later this week by others who have signed up to participate in the league. Of the 30 drafted, 20 are current, former or future Division I players.

Women's Pilot RTL Commissioner Habibi Andre, who brought the women's league to fruition, now works out of town and could not attend the draft, so Whitehead, who helped Andre with the launch a year ago, Wampler and Hammaker coordinated the event.

"It is basically run the same," Whitehead said. "The rules are basically the same."

The primary logistics involve getting NCAA certification for all sideline coaches and organizers, getting completed forms from the players – current Division I players must get a signature from their athletic director or they won't be allowed to play – ensuring the $25 shorts fee is paid, which is an NCAA requirement, securing a venue, arranging for concessions and lining up officials.

"Behind the scenes is very, very detailed," Whitehead said. "Once you get it to where the games start everything goes easy."

Whitehead was an early supporter of Andre's work to launch a league for women.

"I think it's a wonderful thing," Whitehead said. "The community supports ladies' basketball, and I told them anything I can do to help them I would."

Joining Simmons, Harrison and Jackson on the Pilot team are: Shannon Depew, a standout at Cocke County High School who now plays for Carson-Newman; and Emily Paffrath, who played at Wingate University in North Carolina.

Joining Mills and Dupree on the Duncan team are: Caitlin Hollifield, a Powell High School standout now playing at Western Carolina; Casie Cowan, a product of Seymour High School now playing at Cumberland University; and Hayley Newby, a Farragut High School product who will play at Freed-Hardeman (Tenn.) University this season.

Joining Johnson, Manning and Redding on the DeRoyal team are: Jill Herman, another Powell standout now at Roane State; and Lundyn Howard, a Chattanooga product of Tyner Academy now at Carson-Newman.

Joining Stricklen and Spani on the FCA team are: Mandy Mendenhall, a Kingston Springs product of Harpeth now at Carson-Newman; Lacy Miller, a Jefferson County standout who will play at Carson-Newman in the fall; and Bailey Roberts, who played for Maryville.

Joining Butler and McDaniel on the News-Sentinel's team are: Erin Ogan, another Powell product now at Tennessee-Chattanooga; Cody Houck, a Clinton standout now at Tennessee Wesleyan College; and Karly Stache, a product of Heritage High School in Louisville, Tenn., now at North Greenville (S.C.) University.

Joining Williams and Brewer on the Smith & Hammaker team are: Alaina Jordan, a Coalfield product who will play this season at Coastal Carolina University; Stephanie Torrence, another Farragut High School product now playing at Auburn-Montgomery University; and Jessica Walter, a Webb product now playing at Nova Southeastern (Fla.) University.

VIDEO COVERAGE

First round draft picks video

Rob Wampler, Atlee Hammaker talk about taking Meighan Simmons with first pick and the league, which is entering its second year.

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