How Lady Vols coach Kellie Harper plans to manage minutes with a full roster for the first time

Will Backus
Knoxville News Sentinel

Kellie Harper is in a unique situation.

With 13 scholarship players, the second-year Tennessee Lady Vols women's basketball coach has a full roster. It's the first time since 2014 that the Lady Vols have used all of their available scholarships, using 14 players to start that season. 

This 2020-21 team is a far cry from the one Harper had to rely on last season when injuries and transfers limited her choices  to just nine healthy players for long stretches. 

While it's new for Harper to have such depth to manage, she sees only a positive outcome. 

"It just takes them buying in and understanding how effective and beneficial it is to have a solid, deep rotation," Harper said Thursday in her first interview with the media since practice started on Oct. 14. "I feel really good about it. I see less challenges than positives."

Harper said that the biggest challenge has been everyone wants to play — but that's not a problem. She plans to institute a heavy rotation, with the entire roster expected  to receive playing time. 

Harper  will use the same substitution pattern that she instituted last season, though it was more of a necessity due to the lack of depth. All 12 players saw playing time, with Jordan Horston and Tamari Key, who were freshmen, establishing themselves as starters. 

Harper said that she has always utilized a deep rotation in her 16 years as a coach. 

"Going into the season, I feel more comfortable with our depth," Harper said. "I like playing players. They come to practice every day, they want to play. I think when they get out there and earn playing time, I want to reward them with that."

With depth comes a level of experience across the board that the Lady Vols have not had in awhile. In three of the last four seasons, a freshman has started at point guard. 

That likely won't be the case this season, as Horston made 22 starts. Tennessee also added Western Michigan graduate transfer Jordan Walker, who Harper said will split time with Horston at point guard. 

A true freshman may still make an appearance at point guard with Harper impressed with newcomer Destiny Salary. Salary and Horston also have the ability to play off-ball at the two. 

"I feel like (Horston's) maturity level has been raised," Harper said. "She looks amazing right now. She looks the part. She walks out on the court and she's bigger and stronger than everybody. ... Her strength and size right now could allow her to play more powerfully."

Guard Jordan Horston #25 of the Tennessee Lady Volunteers during workouts in Pratt Pavilion in Knoxville, Tenn.

Another important area of depth is Tennessee's frontcourt. The 6-5 Key established herself quickly  and started 29 games. Behind her are senior Kasiyahna Kushkituah and sophomore Emily Saunders.

At forward, Keyen Green, a graduate transfer from Liberty, bolsters an already deep area of the court that also features senior and Knoxville native Jaiden McCoy. 

Tennessee's depth at the four and five spots will also allow All-America candidate Rennia Davis to move back to her natural position at the three, where she can truly flash her versatility. 

She'll likely be backed up by junior Rae Burrell, who can also play the two, and freshmen Tess Darby and Marta Suarez.

"We don't have 13 players that are just on the roster," Davis said. "We have 13 players that can play basketball. We also have 13 players that I feel like will be able to contribute at some point this year."