Why Marta Suarez signed with Tennessee Lady Vols despite never seeing campus in-person

Will Backus
Knoxville News Sentinel

Marta Suarez knew very little about the Tennessee women's basketball team

 Suarez had spent just over a year researching American schools when coach Kellie Harper and the Lady Vols staff contacted the 6-foot-2 guard/forward in April. It started with a phone call to her home in Oviedo, Spain, and evolved into frequent Zoom meetings.

Three weeks later, on April 24, despite never seeing the campus in-person, Suarez signed with Tennessee, becoming the final piece in Harper's 2020 recruiting class. 

"The most important thing for me was to choose the right people, because I'm going to be here for four years and those people are going to be my family," Suarez said. "Since the first Zoom call I had with the coaches here, they gave me a family and team feeling that I thought was right for me. I still believe that was the correct choice."

Given Suarez's international status and the staff's late contact, scheduling an official visit in a normal year would have been difficult — but the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic made it impossible. 

Instead, Suarez said the staff showed her pictures of the facilities, and gave her tours over Zoom of the campus and of Stokely Hall, where Suarez would be living during her first year.

They also frequently told her what a day in the life of a Lady Vol would typically look like, running through various practice and workout schedules.

She also formed a close relationship with Jessie Rennie, an international player from Bendigo, Australia, who signed with the Lady Vols in 2019. Suarez said that Rennie was always there to answer any questions she had, and to relate to the experience of playing overseas.

"The few months that I've been here in Tennessee have been way better than I could have ever imagined," Suarez said. "Basketball-wise, studies, my teammates – it's all been great. So, it's been a really good three months."

Suarez grew up in a region of Spain where soccer reigned supreme, while basketball was a mere afterthought. She said that though she grew up wanting to play soccer, her mother encouraged her to take full advantage of her tall frame and make an impact on the court. 

Guard/Forward Marta Suarez #33 of the Tennessee Lady Volunteers of the Tennessee Lady Volunteers during practice in Pratt Pavilion in Knoxville, TN.

She moved to Barcelona in 2018 to play for INS Joaquim Blume, where she spent a year before moving to Segle XXI Barcelona in Spain's Liga Femenina 2, the second-highest division of women's basketball in Spain.

She led the team with 12.7 points and 5.6 rebounds per game on 46% shooting from the field and 34.6% from 3-point range.

While Tennessee's two other 2020 signees, Tess Darby and Destiny Salary, arrived on campus early in the summer, Suarez was stuck in Spain due to travel regulations. She said that, for a time, the team did not think that she would be able to make it to campus until December. 

She was able to make the trip in August, in time for fall skill camps and practices, though she had to quarantine alone in a hotel for two weeks. She was still stuck communicating with her team and coaches through Zoom. 

Since then, she's been a full participant in practice. 

"My biggest goal right now is to be a plus as much as I can, never a minus. Not just on the court, but off the court," Suarez said. "On the court, I can use my size and abilities as a way to help the team, but I think off the court I have a big role in the way of trying to keep the team positive and competing and giving our best."