Jasmine Phillips, a 5-foot-11 guard from Hartsville, S.C., played last season at Louisburg College in Louisburg, N.C., and helped to lead the Lady Hurricanes to a 31-2 record before they fell in the semifinals of the NJCAA Division II national tournament.
She was the Class 3A Player of the Year in South Carolina and a qualifier out of high school who intended to play one year in junior college and then transfer to a Division I school. The destination originally was to be North Carolina, but Phillips has opted instead to suit up in orange and white. She will be eligible to compete this fall and will give the Lady Vols a much-needed roster boost to 10 players.
Phillips visited Tennessee this weekend and made her decision to sign Monday before returning to her home state of South Carolina.
Louisburg College coach Brett Vana said in a phone interview with InsideTennessee that the Lady Vols will get a dynamic athlete who can defend inside and out and score via penetration and midrange jumpers.
Vana, whose coaching resume includes professional stints overseas, has a philosophy that should have Phillips well prepared for the rigors of Tennessee.
“At Louisburg we teach you how to be a complete player,” Vana said. “Because if you are one-dimensional or you are limited, you are of no use to me. I need players that can play multiple positions. I need players that can fill different roles.
“Jasmine accepted that, and she flourished and developed really well.”
A weakness for Tennessee has been perimeter defense, and Phillips should help to fill an immediate need in that regard.
“Just about everything,” Vana said when asked how Phillips could help defensively. “She is that talented. She is very good in whatever phase — on the ball, post defense, rebounding, blocking shots.
“She is just a tremendous player. She is a complete all-around player. She doesn’t have a lot of weaknesses.”
Offensively, Phillips is a slasher who can get to the rim. She also has developed a pull-up shot and midrange jumper with 18 feet and in being her preferable range.
“She can beat you in many different ways,” Vana said. “She has gotten a lot better with everything. She can beat you from the perimeter. She can beat you on the drive. She can beat you on the glass. She can beat you getting to the rim. She can beat you from the free throw line. She’s tremendous 18 feet and in.
“We don’t teach limitations. If anything we try to cover up their weaknesses and strengthen their strengths. So, by doing that we create more dynamic players.”
Vana also expects Phillips to be ready for intense practices and challenging conditioning sessions after a year spent at Louisburg. He coached men in Division I at Western Kentucky and also handled pros overseas in Switzerland, Germany and Denmark.
“I put my women through what I call a men’s workout,” Vana said. “I put her through hell, and she knows she’s been put through hell. I train them like I am training a professional team.
“I don’t back off. I don’t care that they’re women. That is why our players develop as fast as they do. They are going to work hard. Every school that saw us play said, ‘Your girls play hard.’ ”
Vana also is a taskmaster off the court. He eschews the perception that junior college is a stopping point for athletics first and academics second. He will stop practice or keep a player out of games if her academics slip to emphasize the reason that she is in school.
“I used to teach so I put a high priority on academics,” Vana said. “If they don’t make it academically, they’re not playing. If they’re not doing it in the classroom, I’ll shut the gym, and we won’t practice. I’ll lock them out of the gym.
“We’re going to do what we need to do in the classroom and off the floor. We are trying to teach them.”
The appeal of Phillips for Vana was the fact that she was a dynamic athlete who moved well on the court.
“Can the girls move like guys? Can they play like guys?” Vana said. “When they play like guys, that is somebody I am interested in, meaning they are dynamic. They move well laterally. They move well up and down the floor. They jump well.
“I can teach them the other skills. I can discipline them and teach them to have a basketball IQ or how to put them into an offense or a defense. That is what I have to do as a coach.”
In a 2011 article online at scnow.com, Hartsville High School Coach Pat Hewitt had this to say about Phillips after she played varsity as a seventh-grader and then was named a state player of the year as a senior: “I had a few seventh-graders come and try out and when I saw (Phillips), I was like, ‘Wow, what a player she is going to be. She had a lot of God-given talent and could rebound and jump with the best of them.
“I knew with the talent we had that if we worked real hard, the sky was the limit and Jasmine would lead the way.”
Phillips averaged 21.5 points, 13.2 rebounds and 5.3 steals a game in high school. Her numbers at Louisburg were also stout at 16.3 points, 6.4 rebounds and 2.7 steals per game.
“She is going to be a tremendous player,” Vana said. “I knew she was going to be a tremendous player for whoever got her. There were a lot of schools that were interested in her.
“Whatever school got her was blessed. She is a tremendous kid in the classroom, off the floor and on the floor.”
Phillips will have three years of eligibility since she qualified out of high school. She also has been solid in junior college with a GPA of 3.0 and above each semester so she will transfer in good academic standing. A third year in the Tennessee program is beneficial on both sides.
“It’s a win-win situation,” Vana said. “Because of their situation, she is going to have a good opportunity coming in and she’s got three years. It works out nicely.”
Vana is at ease with one of his players going to Tennessee in the first season with Pat Summitt in a role as head coach emeritus and Holly Warlick taking over at the helm. He is very familiar with both Warlick and Assistant Coach Dean Lockwood, and he noted that the Lady Vols remain one of the premier programs in the country.
“I think it’s a blessing,” Vana said. “I know the coaching staff over there tremendously well. They will help Jasmine where she needs it on the floor and off the floor. It’s a good fit.”