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Diamond DeShields, center, won't be back for the Lady Vols next season.
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Mark Wiedmer

Emoji-gate. That's the negative narrative for a certain tweet sent by University of Tennessee women's basketball coach Holly Warlick at 6:04 p.m. Friday that could have/should have referred to the unexpected exit of Diamond DeShields, the Lady Vols' leading scorer last season.

For those few of you who, similar to me, may live in a somewhat dark, technologically barren place that doesn't include Twitter, an emoji is a symbol rather than a word. Think of a smiley face, though that face may also be crying, laughing, frowning, whatever — its apparent purpose is to underscore that a picture can save writing a thousand words, or however many you're allowed to type in a single tweet.

(By the way, or BTW, as my children say, an editor has informed me a tweet can't be more than 140 characters, emojis included.)

Anyway, after releasing a statement regarding DeShields' departure through the university's sports information department at 5:12 Friday afternoon by the semi-old-fashioned method of email — it contained the following 23 words: "Diamond has opted to forego her final collegiate season. She earned a degree from UT and now has a chance to play professionally." — Warlick went to Twitter 52 minutes later to post her smiling emoji.

No words. One smiley face. Nothing else.

Some point after that, Warlick shut down her account (@HollyWarlick), apparently uncomfortable with the relative firestorm (or was it a single smoldering match head?) regarding said tweet. The reason for this belated concern? Many believed the boss of the Lady Vols had chosen that emoji as a subtle way to state her glee over DeShields' decision.

And while some might have been shocked by that attitude — given the player's ability to stuff a stat sheet the way Santa Claus stuffs stockings, averaging 17.4 points, 6.4 rebounds and 3.8 assists in 2016-17 — others have long suspected DeShields was a divider rather than a uniter inside a fragile locker room.

For those in Big Orange Nation looking for similar past attitude problems, consider DeShields the Lady Vols' equal of former football malcontent Jalen Hurd.

Still, Warlick deserves to have her explanation for the emoji accepted at face value until proven otherwise. And even then, it wasn't like she blasted her former player. Her statement may actually deserve soft approval and applause for either its A) brevity, B) sensational subterfuge or C) both.

"People were asking me if I was OK; the tweet was intended to say I'm OK," Warlick said later. "People who know my character know that wasn't intended at Diamond. That's the truth. I don't tweet negative stuff. I apologize if it offended anyone."

Maybe it was that simple. If anything, there have been times during her five full seasons running the program after the legendary Pat Summitt was forced to retire due to early onset dementia — the first sad anniversary of Summitt's passing arrives Wednesday — that Warlick may have been too open and honest.

She doesn't always hide her feelings well. Because of that, those wishing to believe the emoji was directed at DeShields will perhaps always feel that way. Conversely, those of us who view Warlick as occasionally being too straight a shooter may buy her explanation too completely.

Both sides might be a little bit wrong and a little bit right. And if Warlick was posting the emoji because DeShields was leaving, however clever it was, it might not have been the wisest decision from a recruiting standpoint. Whatever the truth regarding the daughter of former major leaguer Delino DeShields, most recruits and their parents expect the coach to keep the locker room as secretive as Las Vegas. Whatever happens there, stays there. Always.

Yet players also have a responsibility to be decent, honorable young people. DeShields made an Instagram post in early April passionately stating her reasons for remaining at Tennessee: "I will forgo the WNBA draft to finish my senior year here at UT. Developing my game further and playing for championship(s) are always part of the ideal plan, but giving these four young ladies (the incoming freshman class) an opportunity to be themselves, make mistakes and still have the love they need and deserve is my first priority."

Instead, her first priority became to get out of Knoxville as soon as she learned her closest friend on the team — Te'a Cooper — was transferring to South Carolina. And in their absence, Warlick is down to 10 players, though she doesn't seem to mind, at least not publicly.

"I am pleased with the commitment of our talented group of returnees and highly regarded freshman class," she said in the release. "And I have been encouraged with the talent, chemistry, attitude, work ethic and intensity that have been displayed thus far during offseason workouts."

One word from that statement — chemistry — may express all Warlick really wanted to say about Diamond's rebuff.

But given that a three-word observation would also easily fit into a 140-character tweet — with or without a smiling emoji — allow me my first (and hopefully last) unofficial tweet regarding the possible impact of DeShields' decision on the Lady Vols.

It's simply this: Addition by subtraction.

Contact Mark Wiedmer at mwiedmer@timesfreepress.com.

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