'I'm proud of who she is': Lady Vols' Kellie Harper responds to criticism of Tamari Key's appearance

Kellie Harper had strong words for anyone suggesting Tamari Key cares more about her appearance than winning basketball games for the Lady Vols.

"They don't know," Harper said Friday. "Are you in practice every single day? No. Are you in the locker room every single day? No. Do you understand what they go through? No, you don't. Unless you are in the locker room, unless you're in practice, unless you have put in time, plus you've watched film, you don't have the same perspective. You don't."

Key was the target of demeaning comments on social media after the 12th-ranked Lady Vols lost two of their first three games to start the season.

Key posted a screenshot of a post full of digs at the eyelash extensions and nails the senior center is known for wearing. The post was widely shared on social media, and Key received support from not only her own teammates, but a number of women's basketball players and fans.

Key's post included photos of her from media day, an illustration of a Black woman with similar eyelashes, hair and nails done, and a screenshot of a tweet talking about her triple-double against Texas last season.

Her message: "black girl magic."

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Key's lashes and nails are nothing new. She always had both done for games last season when she averaged 10.5 points and 8.1 rebounds. Key also set the program record for career blocks at 277 after her junior season, surpassing the 275 record set by Candace Parker from 2005-08.

"I want our players to be themselves," Harper said, and that is who she has been."

Harper acknowledged that even though the negativity on social media can be the minority, it can be louder than everything else sometimes.

"My job is to make sure our players are supported, our players feel good, our players understand that noise is noise, and we know the truth," Harper said. "That's where we as a staff and we as a department really try to support our student athletes. It's the world we live in now. We're not immune ... It's very unfortunate. We just want to make sure that we're prepared to handle it."

Tennessee basketball coach Kellie Harper talks with center Tamari Key during an October game against Carson-Newman.
Tennessee basketball coach Kellie Harper talks with center Tamari Key during an October game against Carson-Newman.

Key went back and forth about posting about the situation, and she didn't expect the wave of support she received.

"I think that what Tamari did was amazing," Lady Vols guard Jordan Walker said. "To be able to use your platform and your voice to be able to speak on issues like that ... there were a lot of people commenting from numerous schools, and they're going through the same thing. So I think that for Tamari to be able to use her platform and use her voice to speak on behalf of all of us was something really good."

This article originally appeared on Knoxville News Sentinel: Lady Vols basketball coach Kellie Harper backs up Tamari Key