Nia Moore, a 6’3 forward from Bolingbrook, Ill., was a high school teammate of current Lady Vol Ariel Massengale. She had signed an NLI to play at Illinois when Jolette Law was the head coach, but Law is now an assistant at Tennessee.
That connection wasn’t one that Moore wanted to break, and she received a release from Illinois about two weeks ago. Since Moore is a graduating high school senior in the class of 2012, had not yet enrolled at Illinois and received a release from her national letter of intent, that allowed her to sign with another school and be eligible to play this fall.
Moore’s school list had one name on it after that – Tennessee – and she made her commitment to the Lady Vols without taking a visit. That will come on June 8, and Moore will explore enrolling for the second summer session in July.
“I wanted to be a part of a winning program and coming from Bolingbrook I thought Tennessee would be an excellent choice,” Moore said.
She has submitted her scholarship papers, and the confirmation that Moore was a Lady Vol came late Thursday night via the Twitter accounts of Head Coach Holly Warlick and Tennessee women’s basketball.
Inside Tennessee reached Moore and her mother, Ayanna Moore, by phone in Illinois, and both were delighted about the decision.
“She has always wanted to be coached by Jolette Law,” Ayanna Moore said. “So when Jolette made that decision we were hoping and praying. Who doesn’t want to be better and great? Who doesn’t want to play for Tennessee? They are the best as far as we’re concerned.”
Pat Summitt has moved into a role of head coach emeritus, and Warlick, who served as her assistant for 27 years, is now at the helm.
“We have total respect for Pat Summitt,” Ayanna Moore said.
Ayanna Moore said she was also thrilled to have her daughter play for Warlick. It is unusual for a player to sign with a school she has not yet visited – though knowing Law and Massengale eased the process – but Ayanna Moore first had to talk to the head coach.
“My comfort level was scary at first, but when I got on that phone with Coach Holly, I was in awe,” Ayanna Moore. “She is just a beautiful spirit. You could feel the love over the phone when I talked to her.
“I thought, ‘Oh my God, this lady is a beautiful person, just a beautiful spirit.’ That helped me as a parent because, OK, they are going to take care of my baby. Even though Jolette is an assistant coach, I have to have a bond with the head coach, and I was very content. Holly has a beautiful personality.”
Nia Moore talked by phone with Warlick and Law, and she said that made her comfortable enough to commit and sign with Tennessee. She already knew Law very well from when Law recruited her at Illinois but she needed to talk to Warlick, too.
“We had a long conversation and they explained what Tennessee offers, and I just wanted to be a part of that program,” Nia Moore said.
Tennessee also might have read aloud the heights of the players on the roster.
“They told me about the size,” Nia Moore said with a laugh.
Assistant Coach Dean Lockwood, who works a lot with the post players, welcomed a third true post to the team. Moore joins fellow incoming freshman Bashaara Graves and sophomore Isabelle Harrison as paint players. Incoming freshman Jasmine Jones and sophomore Cierra Burdick are hybrid forwards who play inside and out. Moore’s position is in the paint, and it’s one of tremendous need at Tennessee.
“She’s an athletic kid, real long, shot-blocking kid,” Lockwood said. “She has a defensive presence. She was very well coached in high school that way.
“She has a nice touch. She needs some polishing in the post offensively, but she is very good in transition and a very good rebounder. She fills a need. She is a frontline kid.”
Moore said her strength is her desire and ability to play defense and an area to work on is her ball handling.
Moore’s coach at Bolingbrook is Tony Smith, who also coached Massengale, who provided a ringing endorsement of the program.
“Ariel loves Tennessee,” Ayanna Moore said.
Massengale was as happy as the Moore family with Nia Moore’s decision. Massengale missed her hometown in her first year and is apparently thrilled to have a former high school teammate join her in Knoxville.
“We have a strong bond,” Nia Moore said. “I can help out with that. She was excited.”
Moore also made contact with other future teammates, including the incoming freshmen.
“They welcomed me, too,” Moore said. “I got a good vibe with all my teammates.”
The Moore family had to get online after the announcement was official to find orange clothing in Tennessee’s shade.
“I’ve got to get my Tennessee Big Orange stuff,” Ayanna Moore said. “I don’t have anything. I was online looking.”
Moore’s oldest child – by just a few minutes; Nia has a twin sister Annaya – twice earned a Division I scholarship in this case, first to Illinois and then to Tennessee, and mama is proud of her.
“I am truly blessed,” the mother said. “I am truly happy, and I am excited because I feel like she is understanding her worth. She said, ‘I want to go to Tennessee. I think I can do this.’
“My main concern was, ‘Are you ready for that?’ And she said, ‘Yes, I am ready. I can do this.’ I am really proud of her.”
Nia Moore will be well received by Lady Vol fans as she is now the second recruit to say yes to Warlick, and it will boost the roster to 11 for the 2012-13 season.
Jasmine Phillips, a 5’11 guard who will be a sophomore in eligibility, also signed with Tennessee this week. Phillips played one season at Louisburg College and had intended to enroll at North Carolina, but its crowded roster caused her to reconsider her destination.
Phillips chose jersey No. 1 to represent the first Warlick recruit. Moore chose No. 2, but in this case it’s because she’s a twin. Phillips will enroll next week. Moore hopes to join her soon.
“I know it’s hard work and I am looking forward to it,” Moore said.