There is a swift breeze moving across the Tennessee Valley that can unofficially be attributed to Lady Vols Nation and its collective sigh of relief. The uncharacteristic lull in recruiting that seemed to coincide with the legendary Pat Summitt's announcement of her battle with early onset dementia is officially over. And it seems what Tennessee fans thought they knew -- that new head coach Holly Warlick is more than capable of leading the program to a similar standard of excellence -- is real.
Jannah Tucker, who is ranked eighth in the ESPN HoopGurlz Super 60 for the class of 2013, verbally committed this weekend while on an unofficial visit. The commitment of the 6-foot wing ends what seemed like a considerable drought in elite recruiting.
Admittedly well aware of the drought, Tucker had no reservations of being the first underclassman to commit in the post-Summitt era.
"I had good relationships with all the coaches and I knew what the standards were," Tucker said. "I'm excited to rebuild the tradition under Coach Holly and make Coach Pat proud."
Now Tucker moves on to her final summer circuit, which includes an August trip to Puerto Rico, where she will compete for a FIBA Americas gold medal with the USA Basketball U18 national team. But she also knows there is some work to do on the recruiting front and she can be a major cog in the rest of the Lady Vols' 2013 haul.
"I don't think it's a mandatory role, but you want the best players with you," Tucker said. "Subconsciously you have pride in your team and you want to play with and against the best."
Tucker won't have as much direct contact with Lady Vols targets as she did a year ago. Her selection to the U18 team places her on a roster with primarily 2012 players and only one uncommitted underclassman, Kendall Cooper of Carson, Calif.
Tucker is aware of the Tennessee needs in recruiting and knows Mercedes Russell, the 6-foot-5 post from Springfield, Ore., along with Cooper, are considering the Lady Vols. While not on staff just yet, she has no qualms about reaching out to those standout players and putting in a good word.
In the bigger picture, Tucker's pledge means more than simply replacing the perimeter scoring of the program's upperclassmen. It stabilizes what many of the perennial SEC power program's competitors hoped was weakness and opportunity to surpass Rocky Top quickly. While one player doesn't mean that the program will ascend to the very peak of the game, it does mean passing them up will have to be earned.
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Chris Hansen is the national director of prospects for ESPN HoopGurlz and covers girls' basketball and women's college basketball prospects nationally for ESPN.com. A graduate of the University of Washington with a communications degree, he has been involved in the women's basketball community since 1998 as a high school and club coach, trainer, evaluator and reporter. He is a member of the McDonald's All-American team selection committee. Hansen can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.