The two seniors will be honored today before their final regular-season home game, when No. 8 Tennessee (22-5, 13-1 SEC) plays No. 13 Texas A&M (21-7, 11-3). They’ll stand on common ground at Thompson-Boling Arena (TV: CSS, 7 p.m.) by virtue of their shared experiences, too. After four eventful years, they have a greater appreciation for each other.
“Our relationship has gotten a lot stronger,” Spani said. “We’ve grown through a lot.”
They will go through a lot tonight. The Lady Vols need one victory to clinch the conference regular-season championship. But a share of the crown remains within reach of Texas A&M.
The Aggies are led by Kelsey Bone, a 6-foot-4 junior post who leads the conference in rebounding (9.9 per game) and field-goal percentage (57.7) and is ranked third in scoring (17.6 points per game).
“To be shooting the percentage she’s been all year with double and triple teams is pretty darn good,” Aggies coach Gary Blair said.
Given the opponent and what’s at stake, Spani and
Williams shouldn’t linger over their senior moment.
“It’s going to be a balancing act,” Spani said. “But I think for myself and Kamiko as well, we kind of feed off that emotion and energy. We just have to channel it all in the right direction.”
That couldn’t be any more difficult for them than forging the unlikeliest of friendships.
Spani, a 6-1 forward from Lee’s Summit, Mo., has been a picture of decorum throughout her UT career. She opened a Twitter account last month and has been using it to share bible verses.
Despite a military upbringing, Williams, a 5-11 guard from Clarksville, has marched to a hyperactive beat. Even though she’s starting tonight, she likely will stay on the court to interact with fans and the UT mascot rather than run out through the tunnel. She’s more inclined to tweet instragrams of her shoes or her name spelled out in food.
Not hard to imagine what Spani and Williams thought of each other as freshmen.
“She couldn’t stand me and I couldn’t really stand her either,” Spani said. “I couldn’t relate to her at all and she had no idea. I was like from another universe.”
Said Williams: “I always thought she was judging me. She probably thought I was judging her.”
In the meantime, they’ve celebrated SEC championships. They experienced the tumult accompanying Pat Summitt’s final season as Lady Vols head coach. Now they’re helping with the transition to coach Holly Warlick.
Off the court, they both have completed their undergraduate degrees. Spani is working on a master’s degree while Williams is pursuing a second undergraduate degree.
Furthermore, Spani said that Williams has been a regular at her bible study meetings.
For all they’ve been through, Williams said that the torn anterior cruciate knee ligament she suffered in the summer of 2011 did the most to bring them together. Her recovery coincided with Spani suffering a knee injury early in the 2011-12 season.
“I think it was me getting hurt and her having her knee issues,” Williams said. “I guess injuries have brought us together. We had something in common for the first time. So we had something to talk about.”
Williams now describes Spani as someone “who keeps it 100 percent honest with you at all times.”
“She is probably the main person I go to for advice,” Williams said. “Whether it be about my family, basketball, even relationships, which is kind of weird. She’s my go-to person.”
Spani, meanwhile, appreciates the thick skin Williams has exhibited as a frequent target of the coaches’ scorn. Spani also admires Williams’ big heart.
“She really cares about people; that’s something that’s refreshing to see,” Spani said. “She’s wrapped up in all her craziness and her dancing and all of that but at the root of it she really loves people.”
A lasting impression that was years in the making.