Lady Vols' Kellie Harper is counting on Rennia Davis

When Rennia Davis signed with Tennessee, she was one of three players in the Lady Vols’ 2017 signing class who ranked in the top 12 nationally in the ESPN/HoopGurlz recruiting rankings.

Now, as she prepares for her junior season, she’s the only member of that five-star trio left.

Anastasia Hayes was dismissed from the program after her freshman season and transferred to Middle Tennessee State. Evina Westbrook transferred to Connecticut earlier this month.

That leaves Davis as a key veteran around whom first-year coach Kellie Harper thinks she can build.

“I think Rennia Davis has the capability of being that (leader) for us,” Harper told the News Sentinel during an exclusive interview earlier this month. “I’m really excited about her and her growth. I know that’s always a big step, to be able to be that person for a team. I’m just looking forward to seeing where we can go with her and seeing how the team follows suit.”

Davis (14.9 points per game) and Zaay Green (9.6 ppg) are UT's only players set to return who averaged at least five points per contest last season. Davis will be among five upperclassmen on a roster that will include four freshmen and three sophomores.

“A leader, in my opinion, has to be willing to lead at all times – even the worst times," Davis said in an email interview facilitated by UT. "I have to be mentally prepared for what the game brings me every night, and I believe that Kellie and her staff have the personality and willingness to help me do so.”

While Westbrook and forward Mimi Collins transferred after the season, Davis said she "stayed at UT for several reasons."

"I’m a very loyal person who believes in getting it done here," Davis said. "I know we have the pieces from a talent standpoint, but it’s important to have people here who are fully committed to buying into this program and where it is headed.”

Davis likes what she's experienced from Harper and her staff in the weeks since Harper's hire was announced April 10.

"Kellie and her staff seem to really emphasize discipline, having a positive attitude, an unmatched work ethic and just the little things in general," Davis said. "Being a student of the game, I also enjoy playing for a coach that enjoys teaching the game of basketball like Kellie does.”

Davis ended last season playing at a high level, reaching double figures in scoring in each of UT’s final 13 games. She recorded 21 points and 10 rebounds in Tennessee’s first-round NCAA Tournament loss to UCLA, giving her nine double-doubles for the season.

She was a second-team All-SEC selection.

STIRRING THE POT:Geno Auriemma says Lady Vols are 'any other school now'

Davis’ length, athleticism and ability to sink free throws – she shot 85.6% from the line last season – make her a player any coach would covet.

Harper is trying not to judge her players much on how they performed last season under a different coaching staff, but she saw enough of Davis that she can’t help but be excited by her talent. She likes Davis’ ability to get to the rim and wants her to expand on that skill.

“She can shoot the basketball. She’s physical. She’s strong. She can rebound,” Harper said. “But maybe polishing up every aspect of her game, growing that (is her next step). She wants to be a pro, and we want to help her get there.”

A KnoxNews subscription gets you unlimited access to the best inside information and updates on the Lady Vols, plus newsletters and the ability to tap into sports news from throughout the USA TODAY Network's 109 local sites.

Blake Toppmeyer covers University of Tennessee athletics. Email him at blake.toppmeyer@knoxnews.com and follow him on Twitter @btoppmeyer. If you enjoy Blake’s coverage, consider a digital subscription that will allow you access to all of it.