A Coach’s First Season: Highlights from Exhibition

November 4, 2009
By Cherry Crayton

Check out the above photos that Peyton Williams took during the Wolfpack women’s 87-44 win over North Greenville in an exhibition basketball game at Reynolds Monday night. We’ve added extended captions that include information from the game and quotes from Coach Kellie Harper and players Amber White and Bonae Holston, who had 19 points and 11 rebounds in the scrimmage. For a complete game recap and box score, go to GoPack.com. Wolf-TV, NC State’s student-run TV station, also has video highlights below.

After the jump, we’ve got a few notes from the scrimmage, some random notes, and a preview of an upcoming Q&A with Coach Harper. It’s our fourth installment in our ongoing series, “A Coach’s First Season,” in which NC State magazine is following Coach Harper during her first season as the head coach of the women’s basketball team.

Harper’s quick evaluation of exhibition

It went a little better [than I thought it might]. These first few games, you have no idea what to expect. But we were poised. I was proud of our poise to begin the game. The kids definitely had fun out there, and that was important to me.

Before the game, I thought we quite possibly could be so anxious that we would throw the ball all over the court in the first few minutes. But I thought we did a very nice job with that. We looked very poised. We ended up the game with 18 turnovers, too many for us. But I thought we started off well in that category. Our execution offensively will have to improve. We’ve got to work on our execution so that when we play a defense that can really defend us one-on-one, we can score in our [motion] offense.

Game notes

  • Before the game, Coach Harper wrote six keys to the game (three offense-oriented and three defense-oriented) on the white board and focused on them during the pre-game talk to the team. The three defensive: communicate, aggressive, and box out. The three offensive: push tempo, play with confidence, and fly to boards.
  • The five starters for the Wolfpack: redshirt junior guard Amber White, senior guard Nikitta Gartrell, sophomore forward Bonae Holston, senior forward Lucy Ellison and freshman guard Marissa Kastanek. “Our starting lineup is not set,” Coach Harper said. “Honestly, the first time I talked about who was starting was right before the game. We’re going to try to get a nice rotation. It’s not a big deal to me who starts. Our kids are all going to play.”
  • With about 50 seconds left in the game, redshirt sophomore Emili Tisler of Apex (6 points, 3 assists) fell hard to the floor, holding her leg. The guard hasn’t played the past two seasons because of knee injuries. So, when she went to the floor, the immediate concern was that she re-injured her knee. Coach Harper and the trainer both went on to the court to evaluate her injury and served as crutches as she limped to the bench. Though the injury turned out to be ankle-related, Emili was holding her knee much of the time. Coach Harper caught it and told her, jokingly, “Stop holding your knee. People are panicking.” After the game, Coach Harper said Emili’s ankle was “going to be OK.”
  • After the game, Coach Harper headed to dinner and then planned to watch film of the exhibition. She was back on campus Tuesday morning at 7 for a round of radio interviews. She had a 2 p.m. meeting and planned to watch film with the team later in the day. “I’m really anxious to go study this [exhibition] on film,” Coach Harper said immediately after the game. “I think film is a great teaching tool.”
  • Check out our photo gallery for extended captions that provide more game notes and tidbits.
  • Update: Some people have wondered if Coach Harper had butterflies before the game. She didn’t. “I rarely get nervous before games,” she says. “I may get anxious during games, but not before.”

Excerpts of Coach Harper’s halftime address to team

Offensively, we are not screening. You have to headhunt. If you’re getting the screen, you have to set it up better.

If you’re getting a pick on the ball, it is wait, wait, wait, wait, go.

We’re getting some [rebounds] just because we’re bigger than they are. I want to make sure that it is evident that we are crashing, not just because we’re bigger than them.

Entry pass. We can’t make the pass from back all the way to here. We’re going to have to come up and shorten the pass and you’re going to have to work to get open. We’ll work on it practice, but you’ve got to be very conscious about this. Right now, we’re trying to make too long of a pass and we’re putting a wing on the sideline. That’s a tough spot to put them in.

At some point we’re probably going to go to a X number of passes. The reason being is that we have got to see if we can actually run our offense (a motion offense) and score. If the quick jump shot is not falling for us in our next game, could we run our offense and score? We’ve got to be disciplined to do that. If we get a shot-clock violation, I’m not going to be mad at you. Let’s try to work it around and get a great shot, not just an open shot. You can get an open shot any time you want. So, let’s see if we can work it in our offense.

Again, we’re getting rebounds because we’re bigger than them. Let’s make sure that we’re very fundamental and we’ve very disciplined on our box outs. Every single time we yell, “Shot!” and we go find somebody.

We’ve got to communicate better. We’re not talking enough. We’ve got to talk better in transition. Often times we didn’t match up well in transition.

Closeouts, y’all. Don’t jump. Don’t jump. High hands. Low hips. Quick feet.

Random non-exhibition-related notes

  • She and her husband, assistant coach Jon Harper, lived out of a hotel room for six months before moving to their new house a couple of weeks ago. They looked at about 50 houses and bought the last one they saw. It’s her dream home, Coach Harper says, largely because their lot is big enough to allow her two horses (Shera and Phoenix) to live on the property. Once the grass at the back of the house grows to form a pasture, they’ll move the horses. Right now, the horses are in Holly Springs with one of her office assistants.
  • Coach Harper had the team over to her new house this past weekend, and just one player dressed up for Halloween. That was guard Marissa Kastanek. Who did she dress up as? Kellie Jolly (the name Coach Harper went by when she played for Tennessee). Marissa wore a replica Tennessee jersey, braided her hair and carried a basketball. Among the coaches? L’Tona Lamonte, director of basketball operations, says she was a Mardi Gras dancer.
  • What did Coach Harper serve to the team this past weekend at her house? Chicken, steamed vegetables, mashed potatoes, cookies, croissants, red Kool-aid, sweet tea, and macaroni and cheese.  Though Coach Harper likes her own macaroni and cheese (and she’ll eat pizza), she doesn’t like cheese. No cheese on her sandwiches; no cheese on burgers. “I know it’s confusing for some people,” she says, jokingly.

Random Coach Harper quotes

I was pretty competitive as a kid, but I think early on I was just on good teams. My junior high teams won [championships]. My elementary school teams won [championships]. Well, one year we didn’t, but we usually won. I was on very, very good teams in high school. You get accustomed to winning, and it has a snowball effect. I remember when I was a little kid, we lost a T-ball championship to the Green Rockets. I was furious.  I’m still mad about that.

Tell Jon we should get a dog.

And if you’ve read this far, here’s a little preview of a Q&A with Coach Harper that we’ll publish in the coming weeks.

Why NC State?
I’ve had opportunities to leave [Western Carolina] before, but the fact of the matter is that I felt like we could go to a Final Four here. That’s a dream of mine: to a coach a team to a Final Four. I love this university, and I wouldn’t have taken this job if I didn’t feel like I could do that here. I understand it’s not easy, and it’s not going to happen overnight, but I’m confident.

What do you see at NC State that gave you that confidence?
Tradition, and I really like the support we could get here. It’s a basketball league. I know it’s tough, but that will give you an advantage. If you want to coach basketball or play basketball, I think this is the best place to be in the country.

How long do you think it will take before your teams contend for championships?
I think we could be competing for championships in three or four years. Does that mean we won’t win before then? No.

Want more now? Check out our Q&A we did with Coach Harper following her team’s first official practice on Friday, Oct. 16; a Q&A we did with veteran sportswriter A.J. Carr; and a behind-the-scenes look at a recent practice.

Have a question for Coach Harper or for any of the players and assistant coaches? Submit it to us, and we’ll ask it. We’ll post some of her answers to the questions already submitted in the coming weeks. E-mail us, or leave a comment.


2 Responses to “A Coach’s First Season: Highlights from Exhibition”

  1. the one and only ridor says:

    Gawd. ACC wbball competition is getting crowded these days.

    In the past it was Virginia and Maryland and the rest. Then in the last decade, the ACC shifted to UNC & Duke with Maryland re-surging around.

    Now practically every team in the ACC is improving its programs. UNC, Duke, Ga Tech, Maryland, Virginia, Florida State and Boston College are fighting for the crown. Clemson, Miami, Virginia Tech and NC State are looking to join the crowd.

    And Kellie seems to be the one that may push NC State ahead of some ACC schools quicker than I thought. And that spells trouble for me since I’m a fan of Virginia Cavaliers!


  2. ruth says:

    i have been waiting for a number of years for state to hire a coach capable of winning championships. go coach harper!!

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