Kellie Harper: Lady Vols basketball booster club's revival 'huge advantage' in recruiting, NIL

Kellie Harper had everyone's attention in the film room at Pratt Pavilion.

Everyone was hanging on every word she said Wednesday as the Lady Vols basketball coach went through clips from Tennessee's 17-point comeback against LSU in the SEC Tournament.

But it wasn't her players in the room – it was fans.

A film session with Harper was one of four stations fans got to participate in at the fan camp for adults put on by the Lady Vol Boost (Her) Club.

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"We want to give them an experience, right? We want to give them the experience of being on the court with our players and being in the middle of something with the head coach," Harper said. "One of the things that I love is the film study. I also like to share some thoughts with them and let them see exactly how detailed we get in the film room. I think sometimes you get to walk away from that with a different appreciation for the detail in what we do."


Campers and spectators filled the Lady Vols' practice court Wednesday, going through layup lines with Rickea Jackson and Kaiya Wynn or doing ball-handling drills with Sara Puckett, Jasmine Powell and Edie Darby. But the most popular station may have been getting blocked by post players – especially Tamari Key, who broke the career blocks record for Tennessee her junior season.

The Boost (Her) Club made its return last summer after being dissolved in 2012 when the women’s athletic department was combined with the men’s and all donations fell under the Tennessee Fund. Since returning, the club has grown substantially.

"For us to have a club that is solely focused on women's athletics I think is a huge advantage in the NIL space," Harper said. "Our players are the recipients of that advantage. We have a great brand here at Tennessee, so to see the booster club really pushing and promoting that brand for the success of our young women, it's great."


Besides hosting private dinners and events like Wednesday's, the Boost (Her) Club recently arranged the largest name, image and likeness deal to date. Jackson, who opted to stay at Tennessee for her fifth year instead of entering the WNBA draft, signed with Mercedes-Benz of Knoxville in April.

Rickea Jackson, left, poses with Ann Baker Furrow and Lady Vols coach Kellie Harper at Mercedes-Benz of Knoxville, where Jackson signed in April. Her NIL deal is the largest to date for a Lady Vol.
Rickea Jackson, left, poses with Ann Baker Furrow and Lady Vols coach Kellie Harper at Mercedes-Benz of Knoxville, where Jackson signed in April. Her NIL deal is the largest to date for a Lady Vol.

Jackson will have use of a 2022 Mercedes Benz CLA 250 coupe as part of the deal and will attach her name and image to Mercedes-Benz of Knoxville's marketing this year.

"It's the world we live in now," Harper said. "I think (people) need to understand that this is part of college athletics, and it's an opportunity for them to invest in players' futures. It's an opportunity for them to partner with players' brands, to have players become spokespeople for their companies and just to continue to see the Lady Vol tradition stay on top."


Harper said she often gets asked what the late Pat Summitt would think about NIL if she were still coaching, often in a negative context. College athletics and women's basketball changed throughout Summitt's career, Harper said, but her former coach always stayed on the forefront of it all.

"She always stayed relevant, because she didn't compromise, but she adjusted to be able to stay relevant, to stay current, to stay successful," Harper said. "I think she would have said, 'We have to figure it out. It's the new norm, and we want to continue to be successful. We've got to figure this space out.' "

This article originally appeared on Knoxville News Sentinel: Lady Vols basketball booster club 'huge advantage' in recruiting, NIL