DeeDee Harrison's lighthearted expression turned sullen at the mention of a single word — potential.
To the Tennessee senior middle blocker, there is no greater insult.
"When someone says you have potential, it means you haven't done anything yet," she said. "It's like saying you could, but you haven't."
Harrison heard the term often when she first took the court for a Lady Vols volleyball practice.
But the word she once viewed as mocking soon turned into motivation.
"It was a fuel," Harrison said. "When someone says I haven't done something, I have to prove them wrong. But I knew I had a long way to go."
She had lots of catching up to do.
If you asked Harrison her thoughts on volleyball just two years before she committed to play at UT, she would have used a word more blatantly insulting than potential.
"Dumb," she said. "Boring — just an intense game of keep the balloon off the ground."
But Harrison embraced the sport and never looked back after her high school coach coaxed her into playing her junior year.
Today, Harrison will play her final home game — pending an NCAA tournament game — when the Lady Vols (21-17, 14-5 SEC) take on Mississippi State (4-24, 0-19) at Thompson-Boiling Arena. Game time is 7 p.m.
UT will learn its NCAA tournament path on Sunday (TV: ESPNU, 4 p.m.). The top 16 seeds host the first round.
"We have more to be playing for than to just sent us into the tournament on the right foot," Harrison said. "We're motivated."
Harrison, alongside seniors Jasmine Brown, Leslie Cikra and Kayla Jeter look to inch closer to history.
A win against the Bulldogs would move the group one win away
from 100 as a class. The only other class to reach that mark was in 1984.
"We really want it," Harrison said. "It's amazing to look back at the journey and see how far this class has come and what we have accomplished."
But Harrison's journey was more difficult than most.
"She was lost, really lost," Lady Vols coach Rob Patrick said. "She'll tell you the same thing. The game was really unorganized, like really, really unorganized for her."
Harrison played basketball for four years at Hillsboro High School in Nashville. As a senior, she commanded more basketball scholarship offers than volleyball.
But Harrison chose the latter despite having less than two years of experience.
When asked why, she chuckled.
"To show some diversity," she said.
Harrison comes from a basketball family.
Among her 11 siblings, Harrison's sister, Isabelle, plays center for the Lady Vols basketball team. Her Brother, David, played four seasons with the Indiana Pacers in the NBA.
"My family has done basketball, I wanted to mix it up a little bit. Show we can do more than basketball" Harrison said. "But there were other reasons too."
Pausing for a moment, she laughed.
She pointed at a man standing behind her who cast a shadow over the volleyball parents he was mingling with.
"To be a rebel," she said.
That man was her father, Dennis. He was a former football standout at Vanderbilt and went on to spend 10 years playing in the NFL.
"I'm joking," Harrison said. "He's not bitter about the Vandy thing. He told me to go where I felt most comfortable and that's where I went."
But that comfort would soon fade.
"In high school, I was taller than everyone," she said. "When I got here I was shocked. I didn't know girls as tall as me actually existed."
The 6-foot-4 newcomer was redshirted her freshman year.
But just like the word potential, she used the redshirt as motivation.
"After the first few practices, I knew I couldn't compete," she said. "I used it as a challenge. But it was two and a half years of rough patches."
Working tirelessly with Patrick and UT's staff, Harrison said it all finally clicked in the spring of her junior year.
But "clicking" may be an understatement.
Harrison earned First-Team All-SEC honors in 2011 and this season.
While Patrick is the first to recognize the fruition of Harrison's work, what the coach will remember most about his first in-state recruit isn't recorded on the box score.
"Her smile," he said. "When you say DeeDee, the first thing I picture is this big smile and warm laugh. She is the kind of person that you are blessed to have on your team."
Riley Blevins is a freelance contributor.