Six months ago Jasmine Phillips was at Louisburg College in North Carolina and intended to make the short trip to Chapel Hill to become a Tar Heel.
Phillips, who is from Hartsville, S.C., and joined her high school varsity team as a seventh-grader, was a qualifier out of high school and planned to play one year for the junior college before transferring to a Division I school.
But a logjam at North Carolina, which received a flurry of commitments last May from the class of 2013, caused Phillips to reconsider her options.
The Class 3A player of the year in South Carolina in high school and an All-American at Louisburg College last season visited Tennessee the weekend of May 19 and made her decision to become a Lady Vol before leaving Knoxville. She arrived a little more than a week later to enroll in summer school last June.
Phillips has another South Carolina native to bond with who is also a newcomer to Knoxville – assistant Coach Jolette Law, who is originally from Florence, S.C.
“We always talk about drinking that South Carolina water,” Phillips said. “It is really fun to have somebody close to home and being on the staff. I am thankful for that.”
Phillips also is thankful for the opportunity that opened at Tennessee. New head coach Holly Warlick needed to fill out her roster – just nine players returned from last season – and Phillips fit into the system that Tennessee wants to implement, one of up-tempo and defense.
Phillips also has plenty of company on the roster in terms of newcomers. There are four true freshmen with late signee Nia Moore, a post from Illinois, filling out Warlick’s off-season additions and boosting the roster to 11 players.
“Just to have other people in the same position I am they are learning the system, too,” Phillips said. “We are getting it down, and they are helping me as well, the newcomers and the returners. I am thankful to have them as teammates.”
The upperclassmen have noted that the five new players are a humble group and have been willing to work.
“It’s a new era, and we have to make a statement, so we are just going to go hard every time,” Phillips said. “We’re two feet in. We can’t do a half job, so we just go 100 percent every time.”
Phillips got acclimated to the campus during her summer enrollment in terms of learning the layout of the university and getting prepared for academic demands. She acknowledged with a laugh that there is no way to really prepare for Heather Mason, the team’s exuberant, exacting and demanding strength and conditioning coach, and she had never encountered anyone like her.
“No, I haven’t,” Phillips said. “She pushes us to go harder, because she knows that we can do it. Whenever they say Heather Mason, all I can think of is ‘Love your life,’ her little quote that we have on the back of our workout shirts.
“I am thankful to have her because she is making us get better.”
Phillips survived Gate 10, a steep ramp alongside Neyland Stadium in which Mason has the players complete a timed series of sprints. If one player fails to finish on time, the entire team has to repeat the workout.
“You’ve just got to have your mind ready, really be focused and just go up the hill,” Phillips said.
That is an apropos image because Phillips and her teammates are Warlick’s first team as a head coach, and they feel a responsibility to continue the legacy started by Pat Summitt.
“We’ve got to really make a statement this year,” Phillips said. “Come out, go hard, do everything right. We can make a statement this year.”
INSIDE TENNESSEE VIDEO COVERAGE