How three women could return women’s basketball in Tennessee to glory


Shea Ralph’s arrival at Vanderbilt gives the state a trio of former players who experienced the same unforgettable era of women’s college basketball.

Ralph, the new Vanderbilt coach, was a star player at Connecticut from 1996-2001. Her boss, Vanderbilt athletics director Candice Lee, was a team captain for the Commodores and played from 1996-2002. Tennessee coach Kellie Harper was a star player for the Lady Vols from 1995-99.

As players, the trio combined for four national championships and seven No. 1 seeds in the NCAA Tournament from 1996-2002.

Now 43-year-olds Ralph and Harper and 42-year-old Lee are leading what they hope is a women’s basketball resurgence in the state of Tennessee.

NEW COACH: Can Shea Ralph win enough for Vanderbilt to succeed Geno Auriemma?

TENNESSEE ROOTS: How Lady Vols coach Kellie Harper learned about basketball, life from her dad

FROM PLAYER TO AD: How Vanderbilt’s Candice Lee went from gutsy athlete to athletics director

Here’s the rundown of their March Madness playing days:

  • 1996: UT won an NCAA title with freshman point guard Kellie Harper in the rotation.
  • 1997: UT won second straight NCAA title with Harper earning All-Final Four team honors. UConn lost to UT in the Elite Eight, but freshman point guard Shea Ralph suffered a season-ending ACL tear in the first round.
  • 1998: UT won third straight NCAA title with Harper earning Final Four All-Tournament honors. Vanderbilt redshirt freshman Candice Lee played in her first NCAA Tournament after sitting out the previous season with an ACL tear. Ralph missed the 1997-98 season after a second ACL tear.
  • 1999: UT lost in the Elite Eight to end Harper’s senior season. UConn lost in the Sweet 16 to cap Ralph’s redshirt sophomore season. Both were No. 1 seeds. 
  • 2000: UConn won an NCAA title, beating UT in the final. Ralph was named Final Four MVP. Vanderbilt reached the second round of the tournament with Lee in the rotation.
  • 2001: UConn lost in the Final Four after Ralph suffered a career-ending ACL tear in the Big East Championship game. Vanderbilt lost in the Elite Eight in Lee’s best statistical season.
  • 2002: Vanderbilt earned a No. 1 seed with a 30-7 record and lost in the Elite Eight with Lee as team captain.

Reach Adam Sparks at [email protected] and on Twitter @AdamSparks.

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