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Riverdale's Alexa Middleton commits to Tennessee

Guard helped lead Riverdale to second straight state title

1:00 AM, May. 20, 2013 EDT

Riverdale's Alexa Middleton goes up and makes the last shot in the 1st half of the game against Science Hill during the Division 1 Class AAA Girl's State Basketball finals. / HELEN COMER/DNJ


Riverdale rising senior Alexa Middleton went with her heart.

And that kept her coming back to the University of Tennessee.

The Lady Warrior 5-foot-9 guard committed Sunday night to Tennessee, picking the Lady Vols over Ole Miss.

"I have been thinking about it and praying about it," Middleton said. "It just felt like the right place.

"There were a couple of things -- how close it was to home so my family can come see me. And I've always dreamed of winning a national championship. I felt like Tennessee was the best place to meet those goals."

Middleton was one of the most highly recruited girls basketball players in recent history in Rutherford County. Virtually the entire SEC offered her scholarships including Auburn, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, LSU and Vanderbilt. Rutgers and N.C. State had also offered.

But none of those were Tennessee.

"A lot of little girls have a dream of playing at Tennessee. I think they are getting back on track. They are itching for another national championship."

Tennessee finished 27-8 this past season, falling to Louisville in the Elite Eight in coach Holly Warlick's first season.

Ole Miss became a serious possibility when it hired Matt Insell as its head coach. Insell had recruited her when he was an assistant at Kentucky.

Commitments are nonbinding for both the athlete and the school. She cannot sign until the November early signing period. But Middleton said UT is the place for her.

"I feel very certain that this is where I want to be," Middleton said.

Middleton spoke with Warlick and assistant Kyra Elzy of her decision Sunday. Middleton said Warlick was excited to hear of her commitment.

"When I told (Warlick), she was like, 'Woo hoo!' It was good to talk to her," Middleton said.

Middleton averaged a team-high 15.9 points this season to help lead Riverdale to an undefeated season. She averaged 3.6 assists and 2.6 steals for the Lady Warriors, who won their second straight Class AAA state championship in March. Riverdale finished as national champion by both MaxPreps and ESPN.

She was a Miss Basketball finalist this past season along with teammate Olivia Jones. Middleton is the 21st ranked high school player in the country by ESPN for the Class of 2014.

Riverdale coach Cory Barrett said Middleton's commitment will help Middleton focus on basketball during the summer and next season.

"I think it will be a little weight off her shoulders," Barrett said. "Commitments are nonbinding. She'll still get calls, and I'm sure I will too. But she's committed. Now, she can just focus on her game and getting better for her team for next year."

The Lady Vols have won eight national championships. Tennessee has reached the Final Four 18 times.

"Tennessee is probably the most storied program in the women's game," Barrett said. "I told her to follow her heart and evaluate it. We supported her, and we're very happy for her."




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