In the latest move of a very busy offseason, Lady Vols’ head coach Kellie Harper added two well-regarded assistants to her staff, Samantha Williams and Joy McCorvey. The pair of coaches round out Harper’s staff, after Jennifer Sullivan and Lacey Goldwire both left the program to pursue other opportunities.
“I'm really excited today to introduce you to our two new assistant coaches,” Harper said in an introductory Zoom press conference. “There's been a lot of buzz around the program, a lot of excitement, and I tell you what, they're both fantastic people, first. They're terrific basketball coaches, very experienced, and they have hit the ground running in the recruiting department, and I'm excited about where we're headed and the game plan that we have.”
Williams has nearly two decades of assistant coaching experience, with stints at DePaul, Duke and Louisville. She established herself as an excellent backcourt coach, a role she should thrive in at UT, with Rae Burrell and transfer Alexus Dye on the perimeter.
At those past stops, Williams also emerged as one of the nation’s top recruiters. She is responsible for two No. 1 recruiting classes in her career, signing the nation's top-ranked recruiting class in 2009 at Duke and in 2015 at Louisville. Williams will serve as the Lady Vols’ recruiting coordinator, further bolstering their recruiting program that is already a powerhouse in women’s basketball.
"I think her experience (at Louisville), coaching and recruiting for a national championship, she definitely has that experience,” Harper said. “And I think that's going to be important for us, because obviously, that's where we want to be. And if we continue to head that way, I think she's really going to provide that.”
Most recently, Williams served as the head coach at Eastern Kentucky. She inherited a program that was 2-27 and winless in the OVC in 2018, and coached them to an 11-win season, the third-best turnaround in the nation and the largest win improvement by any first-year head coach.
“It was not an easy decision to leave Eastern Kentucky. I enjoyed my time and loved being a head coach,” Williams said. “However, this is Tennessee, and the opportunity to continue to build what Kellie Harper is building here. This is an opportunity that I could not pass up. I'm just excited to get started.”
Along with her impressive resume, Williams has deep ties with Kellie Harper and her husband Jon Harper, who is also an assistant coach for the Lady Vols. Jon Harper was a practice player at Auburn when Williams was a player there, which was the start of their relationship. Over the years it has blossomed into a long friendship between the Harpers and Williams.
“I always stayed in touch with Jon. He's always been one of my good friends,” Williams said. “I've talked with him over the years. I never imagined that it would bring me to Tennessee now, but I'm thankful to be here and excited to get started.”
“I actually did not meet her until Jon and I were married,” Harper added. “But I think, again, that's been one of his girls. He always loved talking about Sam and what she meant to him, and that relationship just kind of passed over to me as well.”
McCorvey joins the Lady Vols after spending last season as the associate head coach at Florida State. While McCorvey is not quite the established coach as Williams, she is an up-and-comer with 10 years of experience. She has had successful stints at Tallahassee, Michigan and her alma mater St. John’s, before three years at FSU.
Florida State’s program made large strides with McCorvey there, starting with the 2019 signing class of two five-stars. She also played an important role in the development of Morgan Jones, turning the guard into one of the best players in the ACC. This past year, Florida State earned an NCAA Tournament appearance after a strong season, despite playing just one non-conference game before ACC play.
“I am grateful for Florida State and the opportunities that I had and my time there to grow as an assistant and to build relationships,” McCorvey said. “But I am super excited to be a part of this staff, to help Kellie to continue to grow our program and to chase national championships.”
While all of McCorvey’s roles haven’t yet been set in stone, one area she has excelled at in the past is coaching the post position. She coached Valencia Myers at FSU, who in her first season, totaled 54 blocks and made the All-ACC Freshmen Team. Her teams have always had very high rebound margins, which should pair well with a Lady Vols team that dominated the inside to a tune of a +12.9 rebound margin in 2020-21.
Unlike Williams, Harper and McCorvey had never met before the interview process. Despite that, her professionalism and relational skills always stood out to Harper from afar. So when the opportunity came, Harper couldn’t pass adding McCorvey to her staff.
“She's a hard worker; she does it the right way,” Harper said. “There were just so many things, and honestly, after the first phone call I knew she was the person I wanted to hire. You've probably heard this a lot, but sometimes you just know. So, we did our homework and had the phone call, and it was just the right decision on our part.”
Williams and McCorvey have had plenty of success at their past stops, and they were no doubt quite comfortable in their previous roles at EKU and Florida State, respectively. But for them, the idea of bringing Tennessee back to the forefront of women’s college basketball was too good to pass up.
“This is the best place to be a college basketball player. It's a great place to be,” Harper said. “So, I think they recognize that and understand that, and then there's our shared vision. We want to do it with great people, work hard and really put that ultimate goal out there of getting back to a national championship.”