KNOXVILLE - Asked for a word to describe freshman center Tamari Key, Tennessee women's basketball coach Kellie Harper said "skilled."
"That's not a word you often associate with a girl 6-foot-5-plus, but she's very skilled," Harper said. "The only ceiling she has is anything she puts on herself. She has a chance to be terrific."
The next step for the Lady Volunteers' first-year head coach is getting Key to realize that, too.
As a senior at Cary High School in North Carolina, Key averaged 13.9 points, 11.2 rebounds and 5.5 blocks per game. Despite only playing two full seasons, she was a three-time all-district selection.
On the AAU circuit, she was ranked as a top-50 player in the country, but at Tennessee she finds herself in a position where she's just trying to learn what it takes to play at her new level.
"After we got back from (an exhibition tour in Europe in August), Coach Harper and I talked about how my play was there," Key said. "We talked about what she wanted from me in the future and what she felt the other girls were looking for from me on the court. I have to get stronger and get used to the physicality of it all but also use my length, because I have really long arms and that's something that can give me an advantage on the court."
Defense could be her most direct path to early playing time, but she's doing a lot more work on her offense as the Lady Vols prepare to host Carson-Newman in an exhibition Tuesday and tip off the season a week later at East Tennessee State.
Key has concentrated on trying to refine her post moves and then testing them during practice in hopes of seeing how they work in real-time situations, and she also spends a lot of time leaning on Kasiyahna Kushkituah, a junior who has helped Key learn plays.
All of it has been designed to help Key get on the court as quickly as possible to help in the likely interior battles that loom in the Southeastern Conference. But that's why she chose Tennessee in the first place.
"That was one thing me and my mom talked about before I decided to come here. That was a big thing," she said. "At Tennessee, all eyes are on us. We play in front of the crowd they have, and the legacy that Tennessee women's basketball has is awesome.
For Harper and the Lady Vols, so is Key's potential.