A Coach’s First Season: NC State Opens ACC Play Tonight

January 7, 2010
By Cherry Crayton
NC State women's basketball coach Kellie Harper during the Pack's Dec. 19 game against Winthrop. (Photo by Tim O'Brien of NC State Student Media)

NC State women's basketball coach Kellie Harper during the Pack's Dec. 19 game against Winthrop. (Photo by Tim O'Brien of NC State Student Media)

The Wolfpack women’s basketball team (10-5) begins its ACC schedule Thursday night at 7 when it hosts Maryland (12-2) in Reynolds Coliseum. To mark the start of the second half of the season, as part of our ongoing series “A Coach’s First Season,” we’ve got (after the jump) an interview with junior small forward Brittany Strachan and excerpts from a Wednesday press conference in which Coach Kellie Harper talks about the season so far and what’s ahead.

And, if you live in the Raleigh area, come out to the 7 p.m. game. It’s SPCA Night; so if you bring an item to donate to the center, you get in for free. Click here for a list of items you can donate.

Comments from Coach Kellie Harper during Wednesday’s press conference

Editor’s note: About a half-dozen members of the media were at the 12:45 p.m. press conference in Reynolds Coliseum . Read a complete transcript of the press conference here. Below are excerpts from the press conference that focus on the team’s performance as a whole throughout the season so far, coaching and playing in the ACC, and facing Maryland.

What are you thinking as you head into ACC play with a 10-5 record and having to open against Maryland, which was the ACC regular season and tournament champions last season and won the NCAA title in 2006?
Fortunately for our staff and for me, I treat every game the same. Whether we’re playing Columbia or Maryland, our scouting reports are identical; our preparations are the same. I think that consistency not only helps the players, it helps the staff and it helps me. If there is any anxiety, that helps alleviate any of that. We try to instill in our players that every game is important. I think, still, everyone looks to the ACC games as the meat of the schedule, as they should. I’m excited about it. Obviously, we’re opening with an extremely tough opponent, but it’s the ACC. You’re going to have a tough opponent no matter who it is. I think our players are excited about the challenge ahead . . . and we look at it as an opportunity.

What challenges do Maryland present?
Maryland, first of all, has great size. They can score from every position on the floor. If you put five kids on the floor who can put the ball in the hole, that’s dangerous. Obviously, rebounding will be an issue with their size.

How would you assess your team’s performance during the first 15 games of the season and where you stand heading into ACC play?
The team is improving, and we’re doing some little things better than when we did in November. We’re playing more physical now. We’re playing with better energy. And I think we grasp the concepts we want to do. They’re not habits yet, and that’s our biggest challenge right now. Some of the things we’re incorporating – a new offense – take a while. I would like to be a little bit further ahead. But again, the kids are willing, and they’re trying every day. They’re coachable, and they want to do it right.

What type of playing style works best for this team?
I think our team is a little better up-tempo. I don’t think we’re as good walking the ball up the floor. But I also think that we’ve been able to adapt in some of our recent games, even during the game, we’ve been able to adapt to our opponent to find success.

Will that up-tempo style work in the ACC?
I think we have to play the way we need to play first. That’s our first objective. We’ve got to find ways for NC State to be successful. Our up-tempo may not be another ACC team’s up-tempo style, but I don’t think we want to be slow.

What does the team need to do to be successful in the ACC?
I think we need to be overachievers, we need to be the scrappy team, and we have to play physical.

Is your team built to do those things?
Those things are innate. They are inside, and we are built to do those things. It’s a mindset. . . . I think our kids understand the importance of those things, especially the playing hard and playing physical. They’ve really made some strides in those areas. I also think, just as important as getting better in those areas, that they understand the importance of those areas. That will carry them as far as anything else.

What did you think of the ACC before you became a coach in the conference?
I felt that the ACC was consistently one of the top conferences in the country for women’s basketball. I felt like there had been some powerhouses, and they were good at what they did. . . . I want to be the best. That’s always been my nature. I wanted to be the best softball player . . . in church league. I wanted to be the best coach. I wanted to be the best player. I wanted to be the best. To be the best, you’ve got to play the best. Being in one of the best conferences, I like the challenge. I feel like I’m not intimidated. I hope people don’t perceive me as being cocky. You just have to be confident in what you’re doing.


Junior forward Brittany Strachan with junior forward Tia Bell during the Pack's Dec. 19 game against Winthrop. (Photo by Tim O'Brien of NC State Student Media)

Junior forward Brittany Strachan with junior forward Tia Bell during the Pack's Dec. 19 game against Winthrop. (Photo by Tim O'Brien of NC State Student Media)

Q&A with Junior Brittany Strachan

After Coach Harper’s press conference Wednesday afternoon, we sat down with junior Brittany Strachan for an interview. The 6-foot-3 small forward attended Carver High School in Winston-Salem and comes off the bench to average 21 minutes and 7.5 points a game. She scored a career-high 18 points in the Pack’s 67-66 loss to Georgetown on Dec. 22.

What is the mindset of the team heading into ACC play?
The ACC is a whole other season, so we’re back to square one. We’re excited and we’ve really taken an attitude that it’s a new season and a fresh start. But we’re trying to learn from our non-conference games and we really have to get after it in the ACC.

What has the team learned from its non-conference games?
Execution things, getting back to the fundamentals and the basics. Just trying to be consistent throughout the whole game: getting off to a good start, finishing out the game and doing the little things.

What will it take to beat Maryland?
We’re going to have to play our game. That’s the most important thing. You want to prepare for your opponent, but it’s all about executing your game and who can execute their game plan the best.

During the pre-season, the team was predicted to finish ninth in the ACC. What are your thoughts on that?
We really don’t pay any attention to that. If anything, it’s used for motivation. But we don’t dwell on polls or rankings. We just try to come in and take it one game at a time and improve every game. . . I’m very confident about this team. I feel like we’ve learned a lot and have come a long way. We have veterans. Half of us are juniors and seniors, and we have a strong freshman class and the sophomore class is strong. I feel confident about this team going into ACC play.

Coach Harper has said that the key to being successful in the ACC will be consistency. How is the team trying to develop that?
It goes back to practice and doing a lot of repetition and watching film and seeing, “OK. This is what you did. This is what you have to do.” That’s been a very strong tool, watching film. Because somebody can tell you what you’re doing wrong, but . . . actually seeing what you’re doing wrong gives you an opportunity to find what you’re doing yourself and change yourself.

Coach Harper has said you’re the most consistent player on the team. How did you develop consistency?
I always try to look things at one game at a time and one practice at a time. When you do that, you really break things down into units. I really feel like that’s better than looking at the big picture. It’s good to look at the big picture, but for me, personally, I’ve tried something different. With each game and with each practice, I come in with the attitude that I need to play like this could be your last practice or your last game.

What led to that different attitude?
Just talking to my parents and friends and family. It’s kind of hard for me to open up sometimes, but I like to talk to people and get a different perspective on things — especially talking with my dad and my mom. I’m real close to them, and they said, “You know, you might want to change your focus a little bit.”

What have you learned from this coaching staff, and how do you think you’ve grown as a player since you’ve been at NC State?

Taking your time. For me, freshman and sophomore year, I was rushing a lot. When I would get into the game, it would be fast, fast, fast, fast. And I think I’ve learned to assess the situation. . . . [L]ook at what’s in front of you. Look at what the offense is running. Look at where you’re supposed to be. . . .  The big thing I’ve learned from this coaching staff is that doing the small small things at the right time can make a big difference. If you’re out of position, that can lead to another person being out of position. It has a snowball effect. . . . [And] I never knew there was such a technique to taking a charge. [Coach Harper] has tried to teach different techniques in taking charges.  . . . I’ve never looked at it like that before now. It’s really a technique. . . . It’s all about selling it to the ref. If they make contact, you really have to show the ref you were hit by the offensive player. There is an art to it.

How did you get started playing basketball?
I was an only child, so my parents wanted me to get around kids and make friends. I was also really tall for my age, and I had coordination problems. So it was a matter of getting me into something active. I tried gymnastics, and I did that for a little while and got tired of it. Then I danced for like a day and that was something I didn’t want to do. One of my mom’s friends found out about the YMCA basketball camps, and I got into that and it just stuck.

Why did it stick?
I think it was a matter of meeting friends, and I had fun playing the sport and it gave me and my dad something to do together. We would go out certain days and practice and have daddy-daughter time. My mom and dad came to all my games, so it brought us together as a family.

Why NC State?
Both of my parents went to NC State [Timothy ’84 and Sharon ’86 Strachan]. I think being around NC State for a while, it psychologically was a comfortable place for me. I’m also a computer science major, and this is a top engineering school. I knew it was going to be a good degree to have. And I’m big on family. I like feeling close to people, and the people around the campus were welcoming.

What would you like to do with your computer science degree?
I want to do software development. I like to code. I’m a coder. . . .Wherever it takes me.

How did you get interested in that field?
I’ve always liked computers. As an only child, it was another source of entertainment — it was my friends and technology. And I took a computer applications class either my sophomore or junior year in high school, and we did Web pages and HTML coding, and it was fun. My senior year in high school I took an AP computer science class, and I loved that class and it just went from there.

Latest Installment of “The Kellie Harper Show”

In the third installment of “The Kellie Harper Show,” Coach Harper talks about the season so far and what’s ahead for the Pack as ACC play begins. There are also video highlights of the games against Seton Hall, Southern California and Columbia.


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