MARTIN, Tenn. – Four years, four Ohio Valley Conference Tournament championships and four NCAA Tournament appearances. The University of Tennessee at Martin women’s basketball has been there and done that but this group of seniors which includes Heather Butler, Jasmine Newsome and Megan White has one goal they have yet to reach throughout their illustrious careers.
“We want to not just go to the NCAA Tournament, but we want to win a game,” said Butler. “We want to see how far we can go, because we know we can make a huge statement. It’s time for a win in that tournament!”
Those thoughts exactly were echoed by another senior. “We want to win that next game in the NCAA Tournament,” said White. “We have been there for four years and haven’t won a game. Each year you can see that we’ve gotten closer and closer as we’ve narrowed the margin. We just believe that this is our year.”
Measuring every record, milestone and achievement is quite impressive. Since head coach Kevin McMillan took over the reins of the UT Martin women’s basketball team, the Skyhawks have broken nearly every record and set several program firsts.
In McMillan’s first season, the Skyhawks were coming off of a 2-27 season. McMillan would piece together a competitive team which would ultimately overachieve and earn the No. 4 seed in the OVC Tournament en route to coach of the year honors. It was what McMillan did over the offseason which deserved a fictitious recruiter of the year award.
The trio of Butler, Newsome and White is just a fraction of the highly heralded 13-player signing class of 2010 which still remains. These three seniors have combined to tally 5,607 points, 1,186 assists, 1,153 rebounds and led the Skyhawks to 87 wins over the course of their four-year careers. Butler leads the OVC in scoring with 2,846 career points while ranking 18th in NCAA history. Newsome ranks second on the OVC’s list with 2,558 career points. The duo became the first pair of teammates to ever rank first and second in their respective conference’s scoring history.
Beyond their individual statistics, the trio notched the program’s first two outright OVC championships, four consecutive OVC Tournament championships and the program’s first four NCAA Tournament appearances.
When trying to recall the recruitment to UT Martin, all three players bought into what McMillan was trying to sell. “I remember recruiting those kids, sitting in our locker room and talking to their families about what we were going to do for them,” said McMillan. “It does not seem like four years ago, it just goes by so fast. I hope that we have done everything with those kids that we could have because they have been a special group.”
Despite battling numerous injuries throughout her career, White says she wouldn’t have it any other way. “What basically brought me here was the coaches and the great family atmosphere which surrounds this program,” said White. “As a player you want to be able to trust your coaches, and I completely trust them. Coach McMillan told me about how we were going to win championships and he has lived up to what he sold us on.”
This year’s squad has done what no other team has accomplished. UT Martin finished with an overall record of 24-7, the best finish in program history, while going 15-1 in conference play. Currently sitting with an RPI of 76, the Skyhawks are 3-3 against the RPI top-100 going into tournament field. The Skyhawks set the program’s single season scoring record with 2,623 points on the season, while beating OVC competition by 22 points per game.
Regardless of how exciting this season has been, the records which have been shattered and the memories that have developed - there is still work to be done.
“I want to win in the NCAA Tournament,” said Newsome. “I want us to have a fair seed because I think we deserve it. We’ve made it to the first round, played and came home the next day which hurts. We are focusing on trying to do whatever it takes to win our last year.”
Regardless of what team the Skyhawks are paired up against when Selection Monday has come and gone, one thing is for certain, the best senior class in program history will compete and will not be satisfied with just their fourth trip in four years. The nation’s best kept secret is poised to make a splash in March Madness and move to the round of 32 in search of that last first.