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VOL. 46 | NO. 27 | Friday, July 8, 2022

Lady Vols’ Key opens door to leadership skills off the court

By Rhiannon Potkey

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Key was a finalist for the 2022 Lisa Leslie Award and is a three-time All-American.

-- Photos Courtesy Of Tennessee Athletics/Utsports.Com

Tamari Key always felt she had the ability to be a leader, but she initially “ran from it and didn’t want it.” But since arriving at the University of Tennessee, the rising senior forward has fully embraced her leadership role.

Key is the Student-Athlete Advisory Committee (SAAC) representative for women’s basketball, a member of the SEC Student-Athlete Leadership Council and took part in the VOLeaders Academy in 2020-21.

“I am glad coaches and people around me pushed me into this and said I have a natural gift and have to use it,” Key said. “It’s been a blessing to be able to grow in my leadership journey. I have learned so much along the way about being vocal and giving grace to people in their situations and how to go about things the right way.”

Key joined 64 other athletes, including UT football player Omari Thomas and cross-country runners Peyton Davis and Mikele Vickers, at the SEC Leadership Council annual meeting last month at the SEC offices in Birmingham, Alabama.

The two-day event featured a leadership presentation, a mental health discussion and updates on SEC and NCAA legislative items. The athletes were able to discuss certain issues and provide feedback on various topics with conference administrators, and spoke to SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey via Zoom.

“It’s just been really exciting to create relationships with the higher ups of our conference and hearing how much they really care about us and our experience in the conference,” Key said. “That has been a really fun experience, and leadership-wise, too, just having a voice for our team and our athletics here (at UT).”

After participating in the annual meeting virtually last year, Key says she was excited to finally attend in person.

“The coolest part was meeting the other athletes at other SEC schools. You know of these people, but you never really create friendships with them,” she said. “It’s great to pick their brains about what other athletes have experienced or how they problem-solved or did things differently and take notes.”

Along with learning about how different schools approach mental health issues, Key was intrigued by how involved programs are with community service.

“Obviously that is something big here that we really harp on, not just even with our team but across the athletic department,” Key said. “We love community service and giving back. Hearing from the SAAC reps about different things they did in the community was great.”

Key is majoring in communications and says she wants to follow in the footsteps of many other former Lady Vols and become a commentator for ESPN.

“That has been a really good part of this, as well,” Key said. “I can be shy, so just stepping into the roles in the conference with public speaking and the communication classes I am taking here has been really, really helpful with that.”

Following last season’s Sweet 16 run, the Lady Vols have been back on the court for summer workouts and camps. They’ve welcomed the newcomers to the squad, and spent time away from the gym bonding.

“We have so many different personalities and we just love each other genuinely and it makes me happy,” Key said. “I know a lot of teams out there that don’t have the genuine real relationships with teammates and coaches, so I am just thankful for the culture that has been created here with the group of girls we have. It’s really special and it’s been fun to be on the court with them.”

Key averaged career highs in points (10.5) and rebounds (8.1) last season while shooting 58.1% from the field. The Raleigh, North Carolina native set UT’s single-season blocked shots record with 119 to become the program’s career leader (277) in only three seasons.

In May, Key played for Tennessee in the Red Bull USA Basketball 3X Nationals and led the team in scoring. The Lady Vols finished 3-2 and advanced to the quarterfinal round before losing to Stanford.

“Just being able to be a threat offensively and continue to grow my game offensively,” Key said of her offseason goals. “I have been known to be a defensive player, but I want to work on my game all the way around and really continue to be a good teammate and play my role.”

Key has taken advantage of name, image and likeness opportunities by working with Orange Mountain Designs to create apparel. She appreciates the work owner Terri Holder does to help elevate UT’s female athletes.

“It’s been fun navigating (NIL) for the future and going to the next level with endorsement deals,” Key said. “You kind of have to grow up a little bit quicker and navigate the business side of being an elite basketball player. I think that is a plus of NIL now in college, and it has been fun creating relationships with fans and the people supporting us.”

Before returning to campus this summer, Key was able to spend time at home with her mom and younger sister, Teonni, who plays for North Carolina.

“The three of us don’t really get to be at home together very much,” Key said. “(Teonni) is growing up before my eyes. She is about to be 19 and I can’t fathom where my little sister has gone.”

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