Lady Vols hosting batch of recruits

Draya Carter

Within hours of Pat Summitt's announcement that she had dementia, the cell phone of a recruit's mother rang four times with out-of-state numbers that she didn't recognize. It was precisely that reaction that Draya Carter wanted to stop, which led to her announcement that same day that her commitment to the Lady Vols would not change.

Andraya Carter's mother, Jessica Lhamon, broke the news to her daughter on Aug. 23 when Pat Summitt's announcement broke across the Internet.

"I told her what it was and her question back was, ‘What's dementia?' " Lhamon said in a phone interview Wednesday with Inside Tennessee. "I told her what dementia was and she said, ‘Is she OK now?' And I said, ‘Yes, she is fine now.'

"And she said, ‘Who do I need to contact to say that I am still committed to the University of Tennessee?' It was that quick. It was three questions and then that was it."

Carter and her mother made contact with Brandon Clay of Peach State Basketball, a well-known figure in girl's basketball, and asked him to put out the word that she was still going to Tennessee. Clay noted such on his Twitter page.

Carter, who is from Flowery Branch, Ga., also made contact with Inside Tennessee and the News Sentinel in Knoxville to reiterate her commitment.

"We'll still get letters here and there from different coaches," said Lhamon, which occurred before the announcement by Summitt. "Those are from the ones that don't really know Andraya that well. Because if you know Andraya you know that once she gives her word, that's her word for life."

The good news for Lhamon and her daughter is that the phone calls stopped immediately after Carter's public statements. Lhamon can't be certain the callers were coaches – she didn't answer the phone – but she said she doesn't use the cell phone that often and any incoming calls are generally people she knows from Georgia.

"I didn't recognize them and they were clearly out of state," Lhamon said. "They were not Georgia area codes. I never had anymore phone calls after that day."

The good news for Tennessee is that the announcement by Summitt hasn't hurt recruiting efforts by any means.

The Lady Vols have six recruits scheduled to visit on the weekend of Oct. 8 – the Tennessee-Georgia football game is that evening – with four official visitors and two on unofficials.

The four official visitors are from the class of 2012 – Carter, Bashaara Graves, Jasmine Jones and Rachel Hollivay. All but Hollivay, a 6'4 post from Columbus, Miss., are already committed, and the trio publicly reiterated that commitment after Summitt's announcement in August.

"Bashaara, the first thing she tweeted afterwards was ‘bleed orange and white,' " Carter said. "We are all staying, and I don't think it has any effect. The tradition that Tennessee has nothing can make that go away. You can't stop the tradition."

The two unofficial visitors from the class of 2013 are Kaela Davis, who is already committed, and Diamond DeShields. Both are from the state of Georgia and have been regular visitors to campus.

Graves said when she first heard the news about Summitt she was at school in Clarksville, Tenn., and she wondered what it meant for Summitt's immediate future as a coach. When she got home, Graves was able to make contact with the staff.

"They assured me that she would be coaching," Graves said. "I had been wanting to go to Tennessee since I was in the eighth grade. When they assured me that she would still be there, I knew I would still go.

"I am going to get through my senior year, try to make my goals happen for senior year and this summer be at the University of Tennessee."

The following weekend on Oct. 15 brings Mercedes Russell, a 6'5 post from Springfield, Oregon, who is making her second cross-country unofficial visit. Russell will have company from at least one other member of the class of 2013 in Stephanie Mavunga, a 6'2 forward from Brownsburg, Ind.

Another member of the class of 2013, Taya Reimer, a 6'2 forward from Indianapolis, Ind., also could visit that weekend, but plans have not been finalized.

The weekend of Oct. 29th brings Jordan Adams to Knoxville from California. The class of 2012 guard will make an official visit and Carter, who is friends with Adams, will make the trip from Georgia to see her. Carter, like the other two Georgia recruits, has been a regular visitor to campus.

"Jordan and I are really close friends because of USA basketball, so we talk on a regular basis," Carter said. "We're really close, and she wanted me to go up there when she takes her visit."

When Summitt made the announcement about her diagnosis, the assistants knew establishing contact with recruits was paramount.

"We got on the phone," Assistant Coach Mickie DeMoss said in early September after the Lady Vols started individual workouts. "We had a lot of underclassmen that called us, and Pat was able to get on the phone with them and just solidify whether they're making unofficials to us in the fall. She was able to solidify those visits. She was very open and honest with her ongoing condition."

The staff knew Summitt needed to answer the recruits' questions and not let rival schools fill in the gaps.

"(That way) they don't make assumptions and come up with their own answers or other coaches are trying to come up with their own answers, some of our competitors," DeMoss said. "Pat is very open and honest to all of our committed players and their parents.

"Some of the 2013s that called, Pat explained her trip to the Mayo Clinic, what her diagnosis was and the fact that she's still motivated and our goal is to win a national championship. That has not changed."

The wooing of high school players is a cutthroat process, and Tennessee has encountered negative recruiting over the years.

"Always, no matter what your circumstances," Dean Lockwood said in early September. "I can't know what someone else is going to do (in terms of negative recruiting) but just knowing human nature and knowing the coaching profession I would believe that there would probably be some people that would use that, that would stoop to that. I think it's great what Pat has done because in that sense she has taken the offensive. It's not like somebody has the sneaky suspicions now, ‘They've seen her do this. They've seen her do that.'

"She's talked about it and said, ‘Here's what it is and here's what I'm doing.' If someone wants to take that and run with it a little further the door has been opened for them to do that, and that's a very real possibility. We realize that.

"But the overwhelming majority of the people we talked to – players, coaches, parents – have been very positive and receptive and I think a lot of them want to come (on a visit) to see and get a feel."

Nearly a month later the players that Tennessee is targeting haven't changed, and Associate Head Coach Holly Warlick said Summitt's illness has been a non-factor on the recruiting trail.

"That has not been an issue," Warlick said this week after the final court workout of September before the campus' fall break. "Actually, they've been openly wanting to make sure Pat is OK. Nothing negative has come up about Pat or the program. They have commented that they are interested not only in Tennessee but in the tradition that Pat has built.

"It has not been a problem with anybody so far. It's been positive and a rally around Pat. It's actually been pretty good."

The coaches have made in-home visits with 2012 recruits this month with Summitt and Warlick traveling to Georgia to meet with Carter and her family.

Lhamon said the family had dinner with the coaches and when they found out that both Summitt and Warlick had labs, they allowed their dog Hero, who is also a lab, to join the gathering.

Carter is a regular visit to the Tennessee campus to attend Lady Vol games – she would make the trip with best friend Davis and her father, Antonio Davis – but Lhamon was meeting the coaches for the first time.

"It was wonderful," Lhamon said. "We sat around our living room chatting and talking. We got my lab out. He fell in love with Coach Holly and after they left he sat at the door for 15 minutes looking out the window.

"Regarding Coach Summitt she was sharp as a tack to me. Either they've diagnosed her super, super early or they're mistaken, because there was no hint of anything."

Carter has met Summitt on several occasions during her unofficial trips to Knoxville for basketball games, so she had something to compare September's visit to in terms of how Summitt acted.

"She seemed fine to me," Carter said. "She cracked jokes just the same. We talked. We laughed. We talked about serious stuff."

Lhamon said the presentation by the coaches covered all aspects of college life, and she had no questions afterwards.

"It was just such a comfortable family feeling," Lhamon said. "I wouldn't want Andraya going anywhere else."

"I trust Coach Summitt," Lhamon added. "When she says she is OK then she is OK. Andraya can't go anywhere else. This child told me at 6 years old that she was going to get a scholarship to the University of Tennessee. She has been a Lady Vol ever since.

"She's had all of Pat Summitt's books since day one. She's had the Definite Dozen memorized since I can't even remember. That is what she lives by. That is where she wanted to be. It's her dream. There wasn't a second's hesitation at all.

"Her heart is to be a Lady Vol. Her words were if Coach Summitt can't coach for my four years then I want to be on the team to let her go out with a national championship."

DeMoss noted in September that the appeal of being a Lady Vol wasn't just playing for Summitt, but representing the legacy she has built at Tennessee over nearly four decades.

"We're in uncharted waters, but just because of Pat and what she stands for, the tradition that she's built at Tennessee, those kids have so much respect for her and their parents that I think the fact that's she's being open and honest (helps)," DeMoss said. "I tell them our core values are the same here in this program. Those are unshakable.

"I think with parents that's what they look for. You've still got the discipline. The core values that Pat has established in this program those are unwavering. Those are the pillars that this program was built on so when those players look at coming to Tennessee they know that Tennessee is still going to stand for discipline and excellence and winning. Those things are not going to change.

"They see the quotes from Candace Parker and Kara Lawson. We've sent this stuff and told them, ‘Read this quote from Kara Lawson; read these quotes from Candace Parker.' These kids still look up to those players and they're like, ‘Wow, if that's what they feel about Pat, if that's how they feel about her, then those bonds are really strong at Tennessee.' "

The assistant coaches, who are on the frontlines of recruiting, haven't changed their pitch to targets.

"I still think we have an unbelievable thing here to sell at Tennessee," Lockwood said. "We're focusing on this. No question. Because it has been addressed the way it has and there's a plan in place I feel very good about what's here and what we have to sell.

"Is it a little different than two years ago? Yes, it is. But has it really turned? No. I just think things are different, and we're going to be very open about that. We're going to be very honest."

If there is one change that could benefit Summitt it is that the diagnosis meant she had to make some daily changes. She had a tendency to fill her calendar, especially in the off-season, and now she has to be more focused on her overall health. That means not scheduling every hour of her day and evening with some event, speech, meeting or interview. Her focus and energy narrowed back primarily to basketball with the extracurricular activities curtailed.

"Absolutely," Lockwood said. "I know some springs she's had where she did the speaker's bureau. I remember one May, 22 or 23 days of May something was going on. There is a point where it's just, ‘Holy cow.' From that standpoint that's a good thing."

The first month of the preseason has made it clear that it's business as usual for the Lady Vols program.

Summitt has made home visits with recruits – in addition to Carter's family with Warlick, Summitt and DeMoss traveled to Mississippi to see Hollivay – and has been on the court with current players for the individual workouts in her regular capacity.

"A prospect wants to know, ‘Hey, am I still going to be coached by her? Am I going to be privy to her knowledge every single day? Am I going to have contact and meetings with her?' " Lockwood said. "Yes, all of that is the same. She is still going to be your coach."

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