As part of our ongoing series “A Coach’s First Season,” in which we’re following Coach Kellie Harper and the Wolfpack women’s basketball team throughout the season, we plan to sit down with each member of the team for extended interviews. Up first is point guard Amber White, who had 10 points, six assists and three steals in NC State’s 87-44 exhibition win over North Greenville Monday night. The 5-foot-6 redshirt junior missed all of last season due to an Achilles injury. Below is the interview we conducted with Amber Thursday afternoon following a press conference with Coach Harper. Read an edited transcript of that press conference here.
On making the most of the injury
Sometimes you would get frustrated by not being able to play. But when I was sitting on the bench, I looked at everything going on and tried to learn from what the point guard was doing and how to handle different situations.
On what she’s learned
Clock management and knowing when is a good time to run a certain play and how to get somebody a shot when she’s hot. Now I’m just really trying to grasp the offense and connect with players on the floor.
On the new up-tempo offensive system
I really like it. We get an opportunity to get our guards running, and I think that is what best fits this team. We have very athletic posts and very good guards. We haven’t gotten it all down to the point that we want yet, but the offense fits us perfectly because of the players. No particular person has to start the play, and we’re not walking the ball up the court. It’s just fun to be running around, trapping people, defending people, getting steals, getting layups. It’s a fun team to play with when you’re doing those things as opposed to walking the ball up and sitting back and trying to defend a team in the half-court set. As a point guard, I think I have the easiest job. I throw the ball up and let our guards and posts work. I’m really excited for the new offense and defense. We’re still learning it, of knowing which plays to run after we do certain things and of getting a feel for what to do in certain situations.
On her teammates
We’re a family. We’re pretty close-knit and have each other’s back. On the court, we’re going to work hard, both on the offensive and defensive end. We’re trying to stay together and prove a lot of people wrong.
On what makes the team a family
We have 11 returning players, so we’ve been here for awhile. And on top of that, when you have to deal with a death and continue playing, where else could we turn but to each other? Right after [Coach Kay Yow] died [Jan. 24,2009], we were back on the road in a week traveling, and we knew that we could go to each other for guidance if we were down. Everybody on the team knew what we were dealing with, and we tried to focus on school and basketball. Throughout that time, we grew close.
On the transition to the new coaching staff
[The coaches] were sincere about their approach. Coach Harper said she wasn’t going to try to be Coach Yow—that she was just going to try to be herself. If you come around Reynolds, you’ll still see the pictures and the whole Wall of Fame that was there when [Yow coached]. Coach Harper is not trying to tear anything down; she’s not trying to stop any tradition. She’s just coming in here to put her own footprint on the game. It’s genuine. She’s just trying to be herself, and she’s not trying to be something that she’s not. And that’s something you can really love about a person, whether it’s a boss or a coach or whatnot.
On first impressions of Coach Harper
Coach Harper probably spoke to us for about 30 minutes before we had the press conference [in which she was announced the new coach of NC State]. She came in there, and she was really energetic. She was genuine. She was high in spirit, really excited and trying to bring in a breath of fresh air.
On Coach Harper’s style
Last year, we had high expectations of where we’d finish in the league, and we didn’t do that. That put a damper on our spirits, but [Coach Harper] came in with a renewed energy and confidence. And when your coach believes in you and wants you to shoot and wants you to do these things, you’ll believe in it. One of the things Coach Yow taught me was that you fake it until you feel it. Even you don’t believe it right then, after a while, you’ll get it. The more you do it, the more you feel comfortable, the better you get at it. I feel [Coach Harper] helped tremendously just coming in and being confident. She never told anybody on the team that they couldn’t shoot or not to shoot; she has given the green light for every player.
On season expectations
We’re flying under the radar right now, and I feel like in a couple of months, we’ll definitely surprise some other teams. We’re working hard every day. A lot of people think this is a rebuilding year, but we’re not looking at it that way. We’re not going to settle for ninth place in the league. We’re not going to take a back seat to anybody. We’re going to come out here, work hard and really buy into what the coaches are preaching to us.