The three-week league corresponds with a time when college players are either in the area for summer school or home for the summer, and it offers a chance for competitive games at a time when they can't have structured sessions with their own coaches by NCAA rules.
The Women's Pilot Rocky Top League will field six teams sponsored by adidas, Knoxville News Sentinel, DeRoyal, Smith and Hammaker, and Duncan Automotive, all local companies, with one more probable sponsor still to come. Adidas is providing all uniforms for the league, and local firm Strata-G is sponsoring a nightly MVP award, which will be selected by the Women's Basketball Hall of the Fame and the league board.
The event emerged after a local nonprofit AAU organization, Adidas Team Hustle, formed a board last year to determine the feasibility of such a summer league and discovered substantial interest and support.
The group got a boost last November when Tennessee Coach Pat Summitt granted permission for her players to participate as long as they did so voluntarily and were cleared by the Lady Vols' medical staff. Tennessee has several players at various points of rehab/return this summer such as Vicki Baugh (knee) and Taber Spani (foot), and Kelley Cain has a history of knee issues and concussions, so those are three players who won't play in the league.
The seven who will participate are: senior Sydney Smallbone, juniors Alyssia Brewer, Glory Johnson, Shekinna Stricklen and Alicia Manning, sophomore Kamiko Williams and redshirt freshman Faith Dupree. The others either were not medically cleared and/or opted to stick with their regular off-season workouts.
Incoming freshmen are eligible for the league but Tennessee's Lauren Avant is still rehabbing a shoulder injury, and Meighan Simmons is trying out for the USA U18 team in June and won't be in Knoxville.
The inclusion of some Lady Vols ensured local interest and support, but the league also will give basketball fans a chance to cheer for area players that they may not get to see otherwise.
"Absolutely," said Habibi Andre, a member of the league board. "I think people are going to be really surprised to see some of these athletes that stand out. I think they'll really be pleasantly surprised."
The Lady Vols will also provide some local star power in forwards Johnson and Dupree, who both played for Webb School of Knoxville. Summitt and her assistants can't watch the games by NCAA rules – Bruce Pearl is allowed only to watch the ones in which his son, Steven Pearl, plays – but one of her former players, Shelley Sexton Collier will be a coach in the league, along with former MLB pitcher Atlee Hammaker, Rocky Goode, Steve Denny, Mike Capps, Devin Driscoll and David Ball.
Andre said the go-ahead from Summitt to let her players participate was "very critical" to the league's start.
"That was really the driving force," Andre said. "And because she supported it and embraced it, it made everything just fall into place."
Sponsors have been secured – adidas Team Hustle will represent one team until the last sponsor is signed, which is expected to happen in days – and the local support made the league feasible.
Pilot, which sponsors the men's Rocky Top League, also stepped up for the women, along with the other local companies.
"It was so easy because they approached us, they were very supportive and they are companies that always support the community, so it was great," Andre said. "They have just been extremely supportive."
Andre, one of the leading advocates for the league, said she is excited the board's idea is coming to fruition with the first games scheduled in two weeks.
"Extremely excited," Andre said. "It has gone very well. Everyone has been so supportive and the response has been incredible. At first we were kind of concerned as to which players would be registering, but we had no issues. It's been very good, very excited."
The teams and assigned players are:
News Sentinel team: Kamiko Williams (Tennessee); Dominique Redding (former Lady Vol); Krystal Stirrup (Tennessee Tech); Tori Vaught (Maryville High School); Casie Cowan (Cumberland University); Morgan Burnette (Bryan College); Lundyn Howard (Carson-Newman); Bridget Winstead (Centre College); Jaisa Moritz (Bryan College); and Kiera Payne (Maryville College).
Adidas: Alyssia Brewer (Tennessee); Taylor Mills (Kennesaw State); Kylie Cook (Tennessee Tech); Keisha Moore (Tennessee Tech); Callie Mergen (Bryan College); Tayler Smith (Maryville College); Cody Houck (Tennessee Wesleyan); Jessica Moore (Campbell); Laiken Gilliam (Pikeville College); and Caitlin Hollifield (Western Carolina).
Smith and Hammaker team: Shekinna Stricklen (Tennessee); Courtney McDaniel (former Lady Vol); Diamond Henderson (Tennessee Tech); Emily Paffrath (Carson-Newman); Briana Jordan (Tennessee Tech); Eariel Gholson (Marshall); Alesa Hammaker (Berry); Jama Hammontree (Walters State); and Kelly Hastings (Berry).
Duncan Automotive team: Faith Dupree (Tennessee); Jessica Walter (Nova University); Mandy Mendenhall (Carson-Newman); Rachelle Dye (Carson-Newman); Lauren Burnett (Maryville College); Ashlee Acuff (Grainger County High School, not committed); Alicia Robinson (Cleveland State); Samantha Hale (not committed); and Alexis Rouvelas (Maryville College).
Team Hustle team: Glory Johnson (Tennessee); Sydney Smallbone (Tennessee); Kayla Christopher (Tennessee-Chattanooga); Rachel Glidden (Tennessee Tech); Jill Herman (Youngtown, Ohio); Alison West Mason (Tennessee Tech); Katrina Thaxton (Bethune-Cookman); Alaina Jordan (Coalfield High School); and Hayley Newby (Farragut High School).
DeRoyal team: Alicia Manning (Tennessee); Tiara Hopper (Tennessee Tech); Tacarra Hayes (Tennessee Tech); Stephanie Torrence (Auburn-Montgomery); Lailah Farmer (Maryville College); Jenna Ray (Bryan College); Bethany McArthur (Lee University); Janall Menard (Maryville College); Ashleigh Elliot (Maryville College); and Jenna Mire (Centre College).