As part of our ongoing series in which we’re following Kellie Harper in her first season as the head coach of the Wolfpack women’s basketball team, NC State magazine sat down with redshirt sophomore Emili Tasler for an interview Thursday. An Iowa native who moved to Apex during high school, Emili missed the past two seasons because of knee injuries. The reserve point guard scored a career-high 11 points in the Pack’s 74-71 loss to South Carolina on Sunday. “I didn’t care at all that I had 11 points,” she says. “I was more worried about our defense and upset about the loss and the things we could have done to prevent that because there were so many things we could have done.”
After the jump, Emili talks about how her team is dealing with going 1-3 in its last four games and handling the South Carolina loss, in which the Wolfpack had 22 turnovers and were out-rebounded 45-39. She also talks about the coaching staff, her injuries and her background.
NC State’s next game is on Saturday, Dec. 19, at 5 p.m., when the Pack host Winthrop in Reynolds. Bring a new, unwrapped toy for free admission; children can also get their photos taken with the team after the game. If you can’t make the game, follow it on GoPack.com or listen to it on WKNC 88.1 FM.
Interview with Guard Emili Tasler
On the losses
The team has gone 1-3 in the past four games, with losses to Vanderbilt, Wisconsin and South Carolina. What’s the mindset of the team right now?
We know what we’re doing wrong. It’s the same thing in all the games. It’s the little things like boxing out. And as Coach Kellie says, “It’s the little things that matter, and it’s things that we can fix easily.” We just have to go in and do it, and I think we’re really motivated to do things the right way. We’re going to try really hard to do that. Watching films helps a lot. . . We’re learning the system and we’re getting the system down, but it’s consistently doing the things right. Consistently boxing out every time. Consistently sprinting up and down the court. Consistently doing the plays and knowing what’s going on. I think once we get that down, good things will come. Great things.
What have your practices been like since the last loss to South Carolina?
Over the exams and holidays, your practices are a little different because you have longer spans between games. Every practice we have an offensive objective and a defensive objective, so our practices are based on those objectives. But our last practice was a little different and based on how each possession matters. So practice completely revolved around that. It was a good practice. It was intense — a really, really good practice.
What have you learned about the team as you’ve gone through a stretch where you’ve lost three of the past four games?
None of us are ever going to give up. We want to win. We’re going to keep working hard. And just from the last practice, I know that we’re competitors and we are going to do everything we can to win.
Learn anything new about the coaching staff?
I think I knew this already, but Kellie wants you to work hard and rebound and she’s just very passionate about her job, basketball and us. It’s very apparent that she wants the best for us. You can just tell by her intensity, even in practices. . . . And everybody is upset after we lose, but you can just tell that [losing] really does not make her feel well.
On the coaching staff
What were your first impressions of Coach Harper?
I thought that she was very genuine. The first day I met, her all my nervousness and worries were gone. We met her right before the press conference [that introduced her as the head coach] for about 15 minutes. Just within that time I knew that we were going to be fine and that she was going to take care of us. And I know that she’s a great lady.
You and junior forward Tia Bell did a class presentation on the documentary A Cinderella Season, which featured Coach Harper, when she, as a starting point guard, helped lead Tennessee to the 1997 national title. What did you think of the documentary?
That was so cool to see. I’m so glad I watched that because you can see a lot of [Tennessee] Coach [Pat] Summitt in Coach Kellie. And, it was really cool just to see Coach Summitt and her philosophies and then seeing Coach Kellie play. Tia and I were laughing when we saw it because there was actually a phrase we’ve heard both Coach Summitt and Coach Kellie use, and we told Coach Kellie but she didn’t know she had said that. Coach Kellie basically told us that she can’t teach us heart and the will to want to work. And Coach Summitt said that two or three times throughout the documentary. And it’s so true.
As a guard, you work a lot with assistant coach Jon Harper. How would you describe his coaching style?
He can be laid back, but if you do something wrong, he’s going to tell you. . . . You can tell that he and Kellie have the same philosophies. He’s like Coach Kellie in a lot of ways. If you do something wrong, you’re going to know you did something wrong, but he makes things easy to understand and lets you know when you’re doing a good job.
What are some of the specific things you’ve learned from the coaching staff?
There have been so many times where I’ve been like, “Oh my gosh, yeah.” But I just had one the other day that was about boxing out. They always stress that if you box out your girl, that leads her to not being able to get the ball. Well, we were watching film the other day, and one of our players got a rebound. But the girl who didn’t get boxed out was right there to get a jump ball. So then it was their ball. But if that girl had been boxed out, there wouldn’t have been a jump ball and we could have had another possession and gone down and scored. Another example is on offense, just moving around consistently—even though you may not get the ball and score—it opens things up like drives. If you just keep doing it and running it, the defense is worried about you. And then they can’t see and can’t help as well as they might otherwise. They’re not just standing there and waiting for the person to drive. It opens up a lane for another person to score.
On her injuries and coming back
How do you think the injuries and sitting out the past two seasons impacted you as a player and as a person?
As a player, I got to sit two years and just watch and hear [former Wolfpack head coach Kay Yow] coach the other players, so I could listen and see what was going on, which was a good view to have. . . . Then, there’s the other part. When you come back after two years, your body is rusty and it takes a while to get back to normal. But you get a different insight, which is good to have and which most people don’t get. So, that’s a positive that came out of everything. And as a person, it taught me perseverance and if you keep trying and never give up, good things will happen. And by not giving up, I’m playing now at the college level, which is what I’ve always wanted.
You’ve had three knee surgeries to repair torn ACLs. Why have you stuck with basketball despite your injuries?
Quitting has never been an option. It never even entered my mind. That’s always been my personality; I’m not going to quit. Basketball was my first love, and nothing can keep me away from it.
What role do you see yourself playing on this team?
Offensively, knowing what’s going on, helping my teammates get open and hitting a few threes. Defensively, making sure I’m doing the things I know I can do, like boxing out every single time – making sure that I do the stuff that I can control. . . .I think one of my biggest problems is that I’m real anxious. . . . [Coach Harper] has told me to just calm down, and you’ve got to be calm and poised as a point guard and to be able to handle all situations and not let the defense mess you up. . . . Physically, I feel like I’m back 100 percent. I don’t have a crutch anymore. It’s just me getting experience and playing.
What are doing now to try to protect your knee?
I continually do rehab-type things three times a week, getting in the weight room to work on my hamstring and quad muscles because I’ve got to keep them strong in order for my knee to not take a blow. So, I’m continually strengthening my leg to try and not mess up.
On her teammates
What do you want people to know about this team?
We are competitors, and we really want to win, and we’re really, really united. We all get along, and I think everybody is going to be able to see that.
What do you think it is about this team that makes everyone click?
I think it is a lot of different things. I think it’s the going through [the death of Kay Yow together]. We all had each other during that tough time, and that’s a big part of it. Also, it’s all the different personalities. This team is really goofy, and everybody just has a lot of fun. We laugh all the time, and I think that makes things better and easier on the court.
What are some of your favorite moments with this team so far?
I just love when the team is all together, whether in the locker room before practice or on the road and out to dinner. We’re always having so much fun and laughing and getting told to tone it down a notch because we’re cracking up too much. It’s those moments with the whole team.
On her background
How did you get started playing basketball?
I was doing dance classes, and I hated it. This was in the second grade, and my dad told me, “If you go to this basketball camp, I will let you quit dance.” He didn’t play basketball in high school, and I don’t know why he chose basketball. I think it was a sport going on and he knew about the camp and just wanted me in sports. So I went to basketball camp. I was the youngest one, and I wasn’t even supposed to be there, but my dad knew the high school coach. I was awful, but I loved it. All the drills. I would go out every day and do all the drills, and I progressed.
What are your favorite drills that the team does now?
It’s like a love-hate relationship with them, but I love the boxing out drills that we do — the Circle the Wagon and the two-on-two rebounding drills. It gets so physical and just so competitive. Girls are flying down and running into each other, running into the bleachers. I love that drill. It’s so intense.
Why did your family move to North Carolina when you were in high school?
My mom’s whole side of the family lives in North Carolina. Everybody was originally from Iowa, but her side moved down to North Carolina. And both my mom and dad wanted a change, so we moved.
Why NC State?
I loved the family atmosphere here and of course Coach Yow. She’s a legend. And [a chance to play in] the ACC was another big thing.
How did you first get exposed to the NC State program?
When I lived in Iowa, we used to come out every summer to North Carolina for vacation. I always wanted to bring my basketball and play while I was here. So, my grandpa was like, “Well, there’s a school here — NC State — and they have a basketball camp, Kay Yow camp. So I came to Kay Yow camp, for I don’t know how many years. Geez, a lot. I came to a day camp, so that’s how young I was when I was first introduced to the school.
When did you realize that you could play in the ACC?
I did this thing called NetWorks basketball, and I did boot camp, which was basically a four-hour long day of workouts, and I would do college prep, which was for college girls and guys. I was in high school, and I could keep up with them and I thought, “This could really happen.”
What do you love about basketball?
I don’t know what attracted me so much about the game, but I loved it so much. I don’t know if it was putting the ball through the hoop or dribbling or the whole game in general. But I loved even just practicing it.
What would you like to do career-wise?
I’d like to make it through the rest of my time here without an injury. That’s number one. And I’d love for us to win a national championship. And then, after college, [playing] overseas would be nice.
You and [sophomore Kim Durham] played together at Apex High School. How does playing with a former high-school teammate help you and the team?
Kim and I talk about this all the time. “Oh, we get to play with each other again!” We played together in high school, and it’s really cool to play again with each other because we know what each other is thinking. She knows what to say to me if I need somebody to talk to and vice versa. It’s great to have somebody there who knows you.
The team gets three days off during the holidays. What are your plans?
I’m just going to go home and be with the family. They’re really goofy and so much fun to be around.