NC State magazine will follow Kellie Harper during her first season as the women’s basketball coach at NC State. What’s a first season at a new school like for a coach? What’s it like to coach one of the major sports team in a major conference? How does a coach get to know a team? Prepare a team? Lead a team? How does a coach deal with the wins and losses? And how do you manage all of that in the first season after Kay Yow’s death? Coach Harper is letting us follow her this season to find out. We’ll keep you updated throughout the journey on our blog, so keep checking back in with us.
Here’s our first entry: Coach Harper talked to NC State magazine after she led her team through its first official practice of the season Friday. The N&O has some photos from the evening, and we hope to add some more soon.
What did you say to the team at the beginning of practice?
I don’t have to say a lot to get my excitement across to the team. I’ve been so anxious to get started. As a coach, in this position, I wear a lot of hats. And finally, I got to be a basketball coach today and that is a great feeling.
What’s the first drill you had the team do?
It was a full court drill. A simple three-man weave back into a three-on-two, a transition situation. I chose that because it’s a very simple drill. Two, I chose to start practice with it because I like having passing early to get the kids alert, and I wanted to see some transition situations. I wanted to make sure we got the girls up and down. And that’s something we emphasize very early on, of being able to score in transition. They were so willing and so excited about doing everything right.
What did you learn about your team today?
We have a group of pleasers. And I mean that in a very positive way. They want to do what we ask them to do, and as a coach, you love to see that. They play hard. They’re very active. I think that they are just as excited as our staff is.
How did you spend your summer and the first part of the fall?
Oh boy. It’s been a whirlwind, and it hasn’t slowed down. The recruiting is solid. You’re traveling, writing letters, making phone calls, e-mailing. And the PR and speaking engagements that I have done has been numerous. I’ve had a lot of meetings that were necessary for learning procedures and policies. So a lot of things that have taken up my time.
What are your goals for the season?
I’m one who wants the players to set the goals. After we get through a week of practice we’ll sit down and come up with some goals. We’re not to that point yet. I think kids will take more ownership on something when they set the goals instead of something we set for them.
What have you been doing with the players to get to know them better?
I have tried, although I’ve been busy with meetings and traveling, every time they are together in a team function, I try to be there. Sometimes I can make it, and sometimes I can’t. I try to be at their conditioning workouts. They stop by the office all the time, and we sit down and talk. Those are the times that you can really learn about your team—when they’ll sit down and just chat with you about their life and about what’s going on in their daily routine. That probably gets us as far as anything we do on the court.
Five years down when you’re looking back over your first season here, how would you like to be able to describe your first season at NC State?
An adventure and an enjoyable year. I think also I’m going to look back and absolutely love this team. This is a great group of girls to work with, and they’re already, in the little time that we’ve spent together, they’ve become very special to me. And I think they know that I would do anything in the world for them. In five years, I’m not going to remember the first practice, but I will probably remember Red Rally.
So what did you think of Red Rally?
I was excited by the turnout. I really wanted tonight to be about our players. I wanted them to come out here and have a ball. I told them earlier today that this is not going to be our practice tonight. I want you to come out and enjoy the time with the fans. Have fun with the fans and realize that it’s about you. I’ve really enjoyed this. I don’t think they knew what to expect, but when they can step onto the court and see that type of support and realize that that was for them, that was special. That’s how you define NC State fans. They love their teams with passion, and I think our kids saw that tonight.
During Red Rally, you did some singing and air guitar to Pat Benatar’s “Hit Me with Your Best Shot.” What does that tell us about you?
I love life, and I’m going to enjoy myself. I may act goofy or silly at times. But I know when I have to be serious, and when I can let loose a little bit. Again, I’m really just full of energy and can’t express how much I love life.
Update: Check out Coach Harper’s speech to the crowd during Red Rally.