Tamari Key, the leader in college basketball, unexpectedly announced her resignation during

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — Tennessee women’s basketball all-time blocks leader Tamari Key announced Tuesday that she will not be pursuing her COVID year to embark on the next chapter of her life.

The decision comes the day after head coach Kellie Harper was fired. Key was the only player left on the roster who was with Harper during her first year at Tennessee in 2019.

“I am so thankful for everything basketball has blessed me with,” Key penned in a social media post. “It has given me the ability to travel, meet new people and create relationships with you all. I will always cherish those moments.”

Key wraps up her career with 347 blocks, which is the most in Lady Vol basketball history.

“I have found a forever home and family here,” Key said in her post.

Key returned for a fifth year on Rocky Top in 2023-2024 after she missed most of the previous season when it was announced that blood clots had been discovered in her lungs during testing.

When Lady Vols basketball found out it would be playing in Raleigh, North Carolina, nobody was more excited than Tamari Key.

“We’re probably 10 minutes away from NC State,” Key said. “I grew up going to watch them play, and Duke and UNC. I came back to my phone with a million and one text messages and a lot of people I need to add to my ticket list.”

In her five-year career, Key has never played in her home state. She has never had the chance to impress those who got her to where she is now. Some friends and family have made the trip to Knoxville, but everyone has not been able to do so.

That all changes on Saturday when the No. 6 seed Lady Vols take the floor against No. 11 seed Green Bay in the NCAA Tournament.

“A lot of people I grew up with back home aren’t always able to get out here,” Key said. “So just to go home and be able to play for them, my old volleyball coach, my old basketball coach, my old teachers from elementary school, just everybody that had an impact in my upbringing.”

Key has gone through a long rehabilitation process since being sidelined in December 2022, missing most of the 2022-23 season. She started this season playing limited minutes and has improved all season. Now, she is starting every game and playing significant time, averaging 20 minutes per game since rejoining the starting lineup at the start of February.

Now, all that hard work pays off. She will be playing in the NCAA Tournament in front of friends and family for the first time as a Lady Vol.

“I already know she’s going to have a lot of people there, so I’m really excited for her to be able to finally get to play there within her five years here,” Tennessee forward Sara Puckett said. “So I’m just really excited for her to put on a show for all of them.”

Key has been a large part of Tennessee’s production, especially on the boards. She averages five rebounds per game since returning to Tennessee’s starting five. Her production has been very important to the Lady Vols, especially late this season.

Now that the seeding has been earned, the Lady Vols need to use it to get far. Key will be important to that goal again.

“I’m just really excited to have her back out there and affect the game in many different ways that people may have not seen last year,” Puckett said. “So I’m just really excited to see what she’s going to do this year.”

In her three tournament games in 2022, Key averaged 12 points and eight rebounds for the Lady Vols, including a double-double in the first round against Buffalo. After not playing in the 2023 event, Key is ready to play again in the 2024 NCAA Tournament back where her basketball career began.

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