Tennessee (The Netherlands, Belgium, and France)
“Last night, my five-year-old asked me if we were going to get to see the pyramids,” Kellie Harper recounted with a chuckle. “I said, ‘No, we’re not going to Egypt.’ And then he wanted to know if we were going to get to see the Eiffel Tower. Yes, we’re going to get to see the Eiffel Tower, so he’s pretty excited about Paris.”
Junior Rennia Davis is also looking forward to Paris the most “because of it being one of the most recognized places in the world and all the hype that comes with it.” Harper herself has circled a spot further west as her must-see: France’s Normandy Beach. But before the Lady Vols get to those spots, they will stop in the Netherlands and Belgium as part of a trip that was originally planned under former head coach Holly Warlick. When Harper was hired, her inclination was to postpone the trip, “But our players were so excited about the trip this particular year [that] I felt like that’s the way we needed to go.” (And at least a few Dutch superfans are similarly excited to see the Lady Vols.)
The Lady Vols practiced together for about a month in May and June before the players went home for a break and the coaches hit the recruiting trail. The players returned to campus on July 25 for practice and for an academic course related to the trip. On July 30, they also took a cooking class that featured food from the countries on their itinerary:
The Lady Vols are prepared on all fronts—basketball, academic, and culinary—for their trip, and they’ll also have two practices while they’re overseas to prepare for their three games. However, Harper said that those practices would be closer to shootarounds or walkthroughs than to full practices, in part because the Lady Vols’ ambitious, three-country itinerary leaves little time for basketball. “Our trip is really packed from arrival until departure,” Harper said. It is also unlikely that Harper and her staff will give the team scouting reports like they do for regular games. Less than a week before the team’s departure, Harper had little information about their opponents, and she said simply, “What we will try to do is just get our team as best prepared as we can. … The issue for us is we’re not a veteran staff with this team, so we will not … have a lot [implemented].” She added, “At some point, we’ve got to put an out-of-bounds play in!”
Between meeting the new coaching staff, taking courses before the trip, and absorbing the cultural education the trip will provide, this summer is providing ample learning opportunities for the Lady Vols players. Davis anticipates lots of growth on and off the court during the trip. On the court, she said, “we’re going to be working hard on some specific objectives overseas, trying some different things, implementing some new plays. It’s still early at this point, and there’s so much learning going on.” And off the court, “the team chemistry will no doubt be enhanced with this trip, and we’ll continue to learn the culture the staff is trying to implement. … it should lead us to be closer to each other and rely on one another even more.” Last season, the Lady Vols were not always in sync on or off the court, and their 19 wins were the program’s fewest since 1975-76—before Harper was even born. A foreign trip could be the perfect recipe for a program that needs to gel if it has any hope of regaining its status as a perennial championship contender.