'We've lost all control': How Tennessee Lady Vols are upping the ante on locker room celebrations

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Tennessee Lady Vols coach Kellie Harper has lost control of her team – in their locker room celebrations, that is.

Harper and her staff started the celebration videos after Tennessee's comeback win over South Florida. The video crew for the Lady Vols (16-1, 5-0 SEC) captured all the coaches bursting into the room postgame, yelling and screaming with their players.

The next video came after Tennessee's overtime win over Texas and featured Lady Vols legend Tamika Catchings, who came to Knoxville to be honored for her Women's Basketball Hall of Fame induction in August.

The locker room celebration videos have become a fan favorite, and the team has outdone itself with every win ahead of its game against Kentucky (8-4, 1-1) on Sunday (3 p.m. ET, ESPN) at Thompson-Boling Arena.

Part of it stems from Harper's message every team she coaches: No wins will be taken for granted.

"(Wins) are hard to get, and if you play poorly, and you win, we'll figure all that out later," Harper said. "Finding a way to win is very, very difficult, and we try to celebrate those wins with our team. I think that's something that we we started doing, we got excited about it, it's really taken off. It's not manufactured, it's not fake — it's real. That is how excited we are with this team. Honestly, I think those videos kind of show reality with this team."

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The players have taken control of the celebrations. After the Alabama win, the players sat straight-faced as the coaches came in yelling. The players eventually broke, giving into the celebrations. After the Arkansas win, the players hid in the lockers – even 6-foot-6 center Tamari Key and 6-5 center Emily Saunders.

Harper's son, Jackson, ran into the locker room, expecting to see his favorite players ready to celebrate, and was met with an empty locker room. The players then jumped out from their hiding spots to join Jackson and the coaches.

Harper figures she lost control when she and her staff tried to trick the players, coming in stoic after one game before letting loose.

"I think because we did that, they decided, 'Oh, we could turn the tables on them,' " Harper said. "So they started turning the tables on us, and now we've lost all control, completely lost control. So I have no idea what's going to happen, and we're out of it now. I mean, we just come in and see what's about to happen."

The Lady Vols bench reacts to a play during a game between Tennessee and Texas A&M at Thompson-Boling Arena in Knoxville, Tenn. on Thursday, Jan. 6, 2022.
The Lady Vols bench reacts to a play during a game between Tennessee and Texas A&M at Thompson-Boling Arena in Knoxville, Tenn. on Thursday, Jan. 6, 2022.

After the Texas A&M win on Jan. 6, the players all had their backs to the door when the coaches threw open the door.

"I think it's fun just to add that, it's kind of our own special thing that we have now," Rae Burrell said. "It's just really fun for us and the coaches, kind of like bonding and just to celebrate our success. We just like to spice it up a little bit."

The Lady Vols still take things seriously, as the leader of the best conference in the country. But Harper said it's important to keep the fun in the game, and it's something the players in her leadership groups brought up in meetings this week.

"We think it's really important that we maintain the fun," Harper said. "I don't think that's going to be an issue. I don't think we're going to lose it. But I am a firm believer in we can work really hard and have a good time. I think you can do both simultaneously.

"I think this team responds well to that. I think they will come out and they will work hard and they will do it with a smile. That's, to me, a really good space to be in."

Cora Hall: Covering UT women's athletics
Twitter | cora.hall@knoxnews.com
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This article originally appeared on Knoxville News Sentinel: How Tennessee Lady Vols are upping the ante on locker room celebrations

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