Trio inks LOIs to be Lady Vols

Mercedes Russell

Tennessee's three commits from the class of 2013 signed their LOIs to be Lady Vols on Wednesday. Go inside to read more about what the recruits did on signing day.

It was a low-key affair for all three 2013 signees as two inked the letters of intent inside a school conference room and another on a table at her house.

Jannah Tucker, a 6-0 wing from Randallstown, Md., was the first to sign as she put her name on the scholarship papers at 7:15 a.m. at her house before leaving for school. Her father, Robert Tucker, had the LOI faxed to Tennessee within the hour.

Mercedes Russell, a 6-6 center from Springfield, Oregon, was next as her paperwork was signed as she sat in a school conference room and then was faxed by her head coach, Bill Wagner.

Jordan Reynolds, a 5-11 guard from Portland, Ore., was the third signee of the day, as she also used a school conference room to affix her signature to the documents.

The paperwork of Tucker and Russell has already been certified by the compliance office of Tennessee. Reynolds' paperwork was also sent to Tennessee but arrived later in the day and is likely to be certified Thursday morning.

It was a stellar class by first-year head coach Holly Warlick – All Star Girls Report ranked it No. 2 in the country – with consensus No. 1 ranked player Russell the headliner.

Russell was pursued for months by her two finalists, Tennessee and Louisville – she was recruited by every top program in the country – and after a whirlwind process, she sat quietly in a conference room with her coach and her mother, Tammy Hill, and signed the LOI and SEC Financial Aid Agreements.

"It felt amazing," Russell said in a phone interview from her high school with InsideTennessee. "It made it seem like it was final."

Russell then called the Lady Vols basketball office and told the coaches, "I'm signing the papers, and I'm about to fax them over."

The paperwork was sent, and Russell returned to school, her life now returning to being a student and getting ready for her senior season of basketball.

Tucker visited with her parents, Robert and Cynthia Tucker, and siblings on Tuesday evening, and "we sat around the table and just reflected on what had happened," Robert Tucker said.

Jannah Tucker signed early Wednesday morning, and her father sent her documents to Tennessee.

"She got up, sat at the table, signed it, and that was it," Robert Tucker said.

Jannah then headed to New Town High School, and afterwards she went to rehab – she was in a session Wednesday night – as part of her recovery from ACL surgery in late September.

"She is actually ahead of schedule," Robert Tucker said.

Jannah Tucker is walking without crutches without a limp and will be released soon for light jogging. Her rehab is being done incrementally, and she is anxious to be turned loose.

"She wants to do more," her father said. "She is like a thoroughbred caged up."

The family will go out to dinner Saturday to celebrate signing day. The rest of the week is too busy with school and rehab.

"We're very proud," Robert Tucker said. "You look at all the hard work and recall when she was 6 years old and picked up a ball. Where does the time go? We just are very proud of the accomplishments."

Reynolds originally intended to sign Friday at Central Catholic High School with teammate Kailee Johnson, who is going to Stanford, but Johnson decided they should ink their names on the first day it was allowed, so they found a conference room and also held a low-key affair.

The school did decorate the room with balloons in the school colors of Tennessee and Stanford and at some point in December a ceremony will be held to honor all athletes who signed college scholarships.

"I could not be happier," said Reynolds' mother, Kimberly James, whose daughter was at basketball practice Wednesday evening. "She has surpassed my wildest expectations. I can't wait to see her get in that orange uniform."

Reynolds also can't wait and has asked her mother about how soon she can get to campus in Knoxville. The earliest would be next June for the first summer session.

"She is so excited to get there," James said. "I said, ‘I have one more year with you!' "

James called coach Kyra Elzy on Wednesday to tell her that Reynolds had moved up her signing plans. Elzy told James that the coaches intended to have a gathering of their own Wednesday evening to celebrate Warlick's inaugural signing class.

There is one more player on Tennessee's recruiting board – Tyler Scaife, a 5-9 guard from Little Rock, Ark. Scaife has said that she will announce her college choice Friday. Rutgers and Ohio State were among her other suitors.

Wednesday was the first day of the Early Signing Period, which lasts through Nov. 21. The regular signing period for the class of 2013 is next April, but the players often prefer to sign early so that they can focus on their senior seasons.

"I was ready to get it over with," Russell said of why she opted to sign on the earliest date possible.

Wagner, who shepherded Russell through the recruiting process, can now shift his attentions to winning another 5A state title.

"We're trying to make it three in a row," said Wagner, whose team just held its third day of practice. "We're going to refocus our energy."

Wagner likes the early signing period because he has witnessed firsthand players who were ready to have their college choice settled.

"It's a big decision and for them to be done with this process is good," he said.

He also is pleased with his star player's choice.

"I think she's going to the best school for her," Wagner said.

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