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Front Page - Friday, February 21, 2020

Lady Vols' Key erases ‘a lot of mistakes’ with blocked shots




Tamari Key, who is among the nation’s leaders in blocked shots, recently had to shut down a different opponent, her online shopping habit. “I have a problem,” she admits. - Tennessee Athletics/UTsports.com

Her last name fits her perfectly because Tamari Key does her best work in that area on the basketball court.

Although most players thrive on scoring, the 6-foot-5 Tennessee freshman center takes more pride in preventing points.

Key wants to block as many shots as possible as often as possible.

“It is my favorite part of the game,” Key says. “I know if I am not getting after it on offense, I can just block shots on defense and try to get into my flow on offense that way.”

Key is averaging 2.96 blocks per game this season, which ranks among the top 10 in the nation.

She had her biggest game for the Lady Vols while facing another prodigious shot-blocking freshman in South Carolina’s Aliyah Boston.

Key blocked a UT freshman record nine shots in a loss to the top-ranked Gamecocks earlier this month. Key’s output ranked second all-time at UT regardless of class, behind only Kelley Cain (12).

“She cleans up a lot of mistakes,” Tennessee head coach Kellie Harper says. “We can make mistakes on the perimeter defensively, and she is an eraser when she comes over and blocks a shot. She has made a big difference in the paint for us.”

Athleticism and height run in Key’s family. Her mother, Tammy Brown, played volleyball and her father, Marcus Key, played basketball at Coastal Carolina University.

Key, a Cary, North Carolina, native, was already 5-foot-9 by the fourth grade and towering over other players on the court.

She’s not self-conscious about her height. Rather, she embraces her stature and the positives it’s brought to her life.

“It doesn’t bother me at all,” she acknowledges. “Maybe in first or second grade it did, but after that I started really liking basketball a lot and just wore it with pride. I am blessed and glad that God gave me this height.”

Blocking shots came much easier for Key during her younger years when her size was enough to swat balls at will. Her transition to Division I has required a bit of refinement to her natural ability.

The Lady Vols coaching staff has emphasized that Key not jump to block shots. They want her to keep her hands up and wait for the ball to be released before attempting any blocks.

“At the start of the season, I started fouling a lot and my timing was off,” Key explains. “As the season has progressed, my timing has gotten a lot better. I just needed to work on my timing and shifting from high school to college.”

Key has a proficiency for tracking the ball, and her God-given physical attributes enhance her defensive prowess.

“First of all, she is gifted with her size. Not just her height, but her length,” Harper says. “Her arms are really long and she covers a lot of ground with her reach.”

It’s something Harper can’t relate to, which is why she doesn’t offer any coaching tips to her young center.

“I have never taught anybody how to block a shot, ever,” adds the former Lady Vols point guard. “It is not my thing. I teach them how to take a charge. I don’t teach them how to block a shot.”

Key has received help from Lady Vols freshman guard Jordan Horston. The two have spent hours in the gym, with Horston driving to the basket to work on her offense and Key attempting to block her shot to work on her defense.

Denying guards brings great pleasure to Key. Her two favorite types of blocks involve the shorter players.

“I really enjoy it when a guard is driving from the wing and I come over and block it to help defense or if the guard comes to the middle and turns around to shoot and I stuff it,” Key says.

Although it may be more demonstrative to swat a shot into the first row of the stands, Key knows it doesn’t help a team as much as keeping the ball in play.

“I have been trying to work on that recently,” Key continues. “It can be hard to do on some blocks, but it’s better for the team if we can get possession and then have the ball on offense.”

Two things in Key’s life that have been harder to block are her Starbucks addiction and online shopping habit.

Key began drinking Starbucks in the seventh grade, and orders a white chocolate mocha with caramel syrup (hot or cold) at least once a day.

Before the season started, she was receiving three to four packages per week of accessories for her room, shoes, Uggs and clothing.

“I have a problem. I tell my mom this all the time,” she says. “I started downloading the Forever 21 and Nike apps on my phone, and ever since then I am buying a lot of clothes online.”

Key staged a personal intervention to slow the spending.

“I have deleted the apps and I haven’t been shopping as much since doing that,” Key says. “We are getting there.”

Key has no plans to halt her improvement on the basketball court. She wants to develop her shot blocking even more and strike fear in any opponent that has the ball in her vicinity.

“I want to be a rim protector for our team,” Key points out. “The main thing is just to keep being aggressive and do as much as I can defensively to keep my confidence up even if my shots aren’t falling.”