Fourth-year Tennessee Head Coach Kellie Harper has been voted as USA TODAY Sports Network Preseason SEC Coach of the Year, and three of her players have been named to the media organization’s Preseason All-SEC Teams.
USA TODAY selected Lady Vol seniors Jordan Horston and Tamari Key for the first team and classmate Rickea Jackson for the second team. That trio had been named previously to SEC preseason teams by the media at-large as well as the coaches.
During her first three seasons on Rocky Top, Harper has set the program on a journey toward the top, opening the 2022-23 campaign ranked No. 4 in the USA TODAY poll and No. 5 by AP, with ESPN projecting the Big Orange for a No. 1 NCAA seed in March. Her teams charted records of 21-10 (10-6 SEC) and 17-8 (9-4 SEC) while navigating pandemic limitations and elevated to 25-9 (11-5 SEC) in 2021-22 despite being dealt a terrible hand with injuries to key personnel. The squad opened the season 18-1, rose to No. 4 in the AP Poll, won the South Point Thanksgiving Shootout, finished third in the SEC for the third consecutive season and kept the Big Orange perfect in NCAA berths as the only school to appear in all 40 women’s tournaments.
Harper is 63-27 overall and 30-15 vs. SEC competition during a quick makeover on Rocky Top, ranking third in winning percentage in league games behind only South Carolina’s Dawn Staley and LSU’s Kim Mulkey. Harper and Staley are the only SEC coaches to guide their teams to top-three SEC finishes in each of the past three seasons, and UT and USC were the only league squads to advance into the NCAA Round of 16 in 2022.
Tennessee’s 18-1 start in 2021-22 was its best since 2007-08, its overall and SEC records the best since 2017-18 and its NCAA Sweet 16 berth its 35th all-time but first since 2015-16. UT also defeated five ranked teams for the most since 2017-18, topping its total of five from Harper’s first two seasons in Knoxville combined. Harper matched personal bests for wins in a season (25), most wins over ranked teams (5) and deepest NCAA tourney run, and she was a late season candidate for Werner Ladder Naismith Women’s Coach of the Year. The Tennessee Sports Writers Association named Harper the organization’s state women’s college basketball coach of the year for 2022.
Horston, 6-foot-2 guard, averaged 16.2 points, 9.4 rebounds and 4.0 assists per game in 23 starts last season before suffering a season-ending injury at Alabama on Feb. 17. She was a 2022 All-SEC First Team pick by the media and coaches, and was named All-America Honorable Mention by AP and the WBCA. Additionally, Horston made the 2022 Ann Meyers Drysdale Top 10, Wooden Late Season List and Naismith Midseason List, and was the South Point Shootout Most Outstanding Player. She is a member of the 2022-23 Ann Meyers Drysdale Preseason Watch List.
Key, a 6-foot-6 center, put up 10.5 points, 8.1 rebounds and 3.5 blocks while starting all 34 contests as a junior. The school’s all-time record holder for blocked shots and triple-doubles in a career and season, she was named All-SEC Second Team by the media and coaches a year ago and is a two-time member of the SEC All-Defensive Team. Key also was named a 2022 Lisa Leslie Award Top-Five Finalist and was a Naismith Defensive Player of the Year Semifinalist. She is a member of the 2022-23 Lisa Leslie Award Preseason Watch List.
Jackson, a 6-foot-2 forward, averaged an SEC-leading 20.3 points as well as 6.8 rebounds, 1.5 blocks and 1.1 steals while starting all 15 games she played before entering the transfer portal out of Mississippi State last January. Jackson has previously earned WBCA All-America Honorable Mention accolades twice and made the All-SEC Second Team, SEC All-Freshman Team and SEC All-Tournament Team in 2019-20. She is a member of the 2022-23 Cheryl Miller Award Preseason Watch List.