KNOXVILLE, Tenn. -- New Tennessee assistant coach Bridgette Gordon doesn't need to remind the Lady Volunteers what she accomplished in her playing days.
"We see her name in the rafters (so) we figured she's pretty important," senior guard/forward Jaime Nared quipped.
Gordon played on Tennessee's first two national championship teams, in 1987 and 1989, and remains the program's No. 2 all-time scorer. She played for Tennessee from 1985-89, reached the Final Four four times and won a gold medal with the 1988 U.S. Olympic team.
She returned to her alma mater with the hopes of helping Tennessee regain the prominence she helped the program establish during former coach Pat Summitt's heyday. Gordon will be on the bench in her new role for the first time Tuesday when the 14th-ranked Lady Vols face Carson-Newman in an exhibition game.
"It's just a great thing to be back," said Gordon, who was named the most outstanding player in the 1989 Final Four. "It's really an advantage to me because they know that I played here, so they know that I know what it takes to be here, stay here and be successful here."
Gordon returns at a critical time.
Tennessee is seeking to bounce back from an inconsistent 20-12 season that ended with a second-round exit in the NCAA Tournament , only the second time the Lady Vols failed to advance beyond the round of 32. After going 86-20 in the first three seasons under Holly Warlick, Tennessee went 42-26 the last two years .
The Lady Vols are trying to regain their footing with a team that features a pair of highly regarded seniors, Nared and Mercedes Russell , but also will require major contributions from a heralded freshman class.
Gordon and Warlick know each other well. Warlick was an assistant coach on Summitt's staff when Gordon played for Tennessee. Both are Women's Basketball Hall of Fame inductees whose jerseys hang from the Thompson-Boling Arena rafters.
Tennessee needed an assistant coach after Jolette Law left for a similar position at defending national champion South Carolina . Gordon spent the last seven seasons as an assistant on a Wichita State staff led by Jody Adams-Birch, who was replaced in January.
Warlick said she didn't want to rush into a decision replacing Law, but whenever she talked to people about the vacancy, Gordon's name came up.
"You're not going to find another person that loves this program as much as Bridgette Gordon," Warlick said. "Obviously she's part of this history, and she started the whole ball rolling as far as our national championships. She's got a lot invested in this program. I think it means a lot that you've got somebody here with her number in the rafters.
"She's not the type of person to (say), 'Back when I played,' but I think Bridgette is a great example of what this love of the program, where it can take you, how you can benefit from it."
Gordon has been working primarily with the guards, where Tennessee has plenty of questions following the graduation of Jordan Reynolds and the offseason departures of Diamond DeShields , Te'a Cooper and Alexa Middleton .
The Lady Vols will depend heavily on freshmen Anastasia Hayes and Evina Westbrook, with one of them likely opening the season as the starting point guard. Both lean on Gordon's own experience.
"She's been through it," Westbrook said. "The knowledge she has, how she sees the court is similar to how we see the court. She may say something, and I'll ask her, 'Why?' She'll break it down for me. To have someone like that who understands the game that well is really helpful."
Gordon says it hasn't quite hit her yet that she's coaching at the place where she created so many memories on the court.
"I'm sure the first night, reality will sink in," Gordon said. "I'll probably have a tear or two just to share and think about everything it means to me and just actually to be a part of it. This is my dream job."
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