Can Tennessee’s ‘Fab Four’ return the Lady Vols to the top?

From left to right -Anastasia Hayes, Rennia Davis, Head Coach Holly Warlick, Kasiyahna Kushkituah, Evina Westbrook. (photo courtesy of Tennessee Athletics)
From left to right -Anastasia Hayes, Rennia Davis, Head Coach Holly Warlick, Kasiyahna Kushkituah, Evina Westbrook. (photo courtesy of Tennessee Athletics) /
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Although the freshmen began receiving hype the moment they committed, their value to Tennessee became more urgent as the spring and summer progressed.

Guards Alexa Middleton and Te’a Cooper transferred and Diamond DeShields, after announcing she was staying for a final season of eligibility, did an about face and left to pursue a professional career.

It would have been great to have them here, but that just really opened a lot of doors for me,” Hayes said. “That means I have to prove that if coach is going to put me out there I have to prove I can be out there and ready to play.”

Russell and Nared, Tennessee’s senior leaders, have opened their arms to the freshmen and provided advice whenever needed. They realize the newcomers could determine if their final college season is successful.

I think the biggest thing is just focus on handling their business,” Nared said. “Obviously, they will hear people talking about having high expectations. Mercedes and I have both been there and have been through that in this program. They just need to focus on what they need to do to contribute to the team. They can’t focus on outside sources. It’s what the team needs from them.”

NEW YORK, NEW YORK – April 14: Evina Westbrook
NEW YORK, NEW YORK – April 14: Evina Westbrook /

The solidarity among the freshmen guards extends to their jersey numbers of 0, 1 and 2 – worn by Davis, Hayes and Westbrook, respectively. Kushkituah wears No. 11 because that’s the age she began playing basketball and K is the 11th letter in the alphabet.

Despite having yet to suit up for a regular-season game, Tennessee’s freshmen quartet already has a nickname that hedges closely to a certain black socks, baggy shorts-wearing 1991 crew from Michigan.

Everybody calls us the Fab Four,” Hayes said. “I was like, ‘OK. I guess we are like the Fab Four now.’”

In their first few months at UT, the freshmen have witnessed the emotional investment of the Tennessee fan base in full throttle. The football team is suffering through a stretch of disappointing performances, and the outcry on all forms of media has been fierce.

Westbrook, Hayes, Davis and Kushkituah understand the expectations on Rocky Top, and are not shying away from them.

The freshmen want the name Tennessee to strike fear in opposing teams even before they step on the court. They want the intimidation factor to be at Summitt-era levels again.

Everything the fans expect of us, we expect out of our own self,” Davis said. “The national championships, the Final Fours – we all have the same goals as the fans, so it’s not really pressure. It’s what makes playing at Tennessee great.”

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