Update: Go to the bottom of the post for a wrap-up of the Wolfpack’s win over Virginia Tech. On their bus trip to Clemson for their Jan. 31 game against the Tigers, NC State women’s basketball coach Kellie Harper showed her team a vintage commercial for Weeble Wobbles, a toy popular in the 1970s and 1980s. The tagline: “Weebles wobble but they don’t fall down.” Then, she passed a bag filled with the toys around and asked each player to pick out one. Harper’s message? Sophomore forward Bonae Holston, the Pack’s leading scorer, says:
She said that we have been playing so good in the first half, but whenever the other team makes their run in the second half, we fall. But the Weeble Wobble, if it falls over, it gets right back. And that’s what she was trying to get us to see that we need to do. When we fall down, we need to get right back. It was cute, and I appreciate Coach Kellie’s effort to try to get us to see that when we get knocked over, we have to get up.
The Pack lost to Clemson 69-56 Sunday after leading at halftime, giving them their third lost in a row and five losses in their past six games, but Harper’s message is sticking, says Holston, who has carried her Weeble Wobble — a blue chicken — in her book bag throughout the week. They’ll get another chance to bounce back Sunday when they host Virginia Tech at 4 p.m. in Reynolds.
Leading up to the game, as part of our ongoing series “A Coach’s First Season,” after the jump, we have
- an extended interview with Holston,
- an interview with Kim Durham, a sophomore who talks about being a walk-on player and her dream job (think Victor Newman),
- excerpts from a speech Coach Harper delivered a couple of weeks ago to about 200 university staff, and
- a round-up of recent stories from other sources about the Wolfpack program.
Q&A with Sophomore Bonae Holston
A Newport News, Va., native, Bonae Holston leads the team in points (12.3) and rebounds (6.3) per game.
The team has lost five of its last six games and will head into the Sunday game against Virginia Tech with three straight losses. What’s the mindset of the team?
Right now we know that we’ve got to get better. Every practice, every game—we’ve got to get better. Coach Kellie has told us that she didn’t feel like we were getting better and it has showed in our span of losing. So this week we’re focusing on getting better every time we hit the court. That’s where our mindset is right now.
What’s the biggest area for improvement?
[There’s] not one area. There are a couple of big areas that we’re emphasizing. Execution on offense. Rebounding. Taking good shots.
What areas do you think the team has grown the most throughout the season?
Our togetherness on the court. As this season has gone on, we have learned what our roles are, and knowing what your role is on the team makes it easier coming together, like a puzzle. We’re each a piece of the puzzle that has to all work together
What role do yourself playing?
I see myself as someone on the team who needs to score points and be aggressive.
You’re listed at 6 feet tall, so you’re a bit undersized for a post player. Why have you still been able to be successful despite going head-to-head against players who have several inches of height on you?
Probably because of my strength. It helps with post moves and you learn to create space, and you use your strength to get into their body so they won’t block your shot.
Last year, you were named the ACC’s Sixth Man of the Year. Talk about the differences between coming off the bench last year and being a starter this year?
With starting, you have to set the pace for the whole game. Last year, when I came off the bench, I could see what to do and get a feel for the game. When you get in, you know what’s going on and you can be the spark. You can see what’s open from the bench that you can’t always see when you’re in the game. That’s why I liked coming off the bench. It allowed me to get a feel for the game. And for me being a freshman then, it was good to be able to look and get a feel for the game before going in.
Because you’re a starter now, have your preparations for games changed at all?
Not really. I’m pretty superstitious, so I try to keep things the same. I don’t know if I want to share [the superstitious]. (She laughs.) I don’t like to go to sleep before the game because you wake up sluggish. I just like to stay up the whole time. I also like to listen to music.
What do you want people to know about this team?
We are good people, and we’re a good team. There’s not a lot of drama. There are not people on the team who don’t like each other. That’s rare to find. In high school, you always have battles with each other and there’s always conflict. My mom says she won’t call me when I’m around teammates because all she hears is giggling. . . . We have characters on this team. I’m not one, but we have characters. You’re going to get a couple of laughs from them every day. Not just once, maybe three or four or five times.
Describe the characters on the team.
My favorite character has to be [junior] Brittany [Strachan]. I don’t think she tries to be a character, but just the stuff she does is funny. She’ll be performing in the mirror. She loves to sing. If you want to know the words to a song, go ask Brittany. She always dances. She cracks me up. She’s a trip.
How did you get started playing basketball?
Where I lived at, I guess that was the thing to do to play basketball. One of my friends, Ebony, we went to high school together, and she was the point guard, and she introduced me to basketball. I became good at it.
When did you know that you could play in the ACC?
People around me thought I could play in the ACC, but I was still nervous before I got into college when I would watch ACC games on TV. Watching them, it was like, “Wow.” Then when I came here, I thought maybe it wouldn’t be too bad. If my teammates went through it, maybe I could go through it, too. When ACC play came along, it wasn’t as a dramatic of a change as I thought it would be. I thought it was going to be an extreme change in the level of play, but it wasn’t as extreme as I thought it would be. It’s a tough league to play in, but not as extreme as I thought coming in.
What are your career plans?
Well, outside of basketball, my major is technology education. I could go be a teacher. Tuesday we went to go take a tour of WRAL with a video production class. I could see myself maybe doing something like that [with video] but not at a news organization because they’re so fast paced. . . . But I wouldn’t mind being a teacher either. I think teachers are very important to the development of the next generation. I think if I can have a positive influence on children, I can help the world in some way.
Besides your parents, who are some of the people who made a big impact on your life?
My high school coach, Michael Gardner, not only did he help me become a basketball player but a good person. He helped me a lot with character. Probably all my basketball coaches have helped me in so many ways not only on the basketball court.
What do you enjoy the most about being part of the Wolfpack?
The close-knit part of it. I like the fact that I’m a part of something.
Q&A with Sophomore Kim Durham
Kim Durham of Apex is a walk-on sophomore who has played in seven games this season, averaging 4.3 minutes in those games.
In the month of January, the team 3-5, losing five of the last six games. Describe what that month was like for the team.
We were kind of up and then we got down, and now we’re trying to build ourselves back up. We’re coming off a couple of losses and we’re really trying to have good practices this week and prepare for our game on Sunday. It’s been crazy. We’ve had several games in a short period of time, so it’s definitely been very straining I suppose. It’s nice to have a week to prepare for a team than just jumping right into it.
What has the team been working on and what has been the emphasis during practice?
Kellie pointed out to us that we haven’t really been having a lot film lately, so we’ve been trying to add more film in to try to figure out what the mistakes we are making are, so we can learn from them and fix them. This week of practice have been one of the best so far and [the coaches] are definitely trying to point out things that each of us can be improving on in practice. They’re also showing us in the games the things we’re not doing the way we should be doing them. Hopefully we’ll carry that into the next games.
What are the biggest areas for improvement?
We’ve been really close in a lot of games this season. I don’t think there have been a lot of games where we haven’t been competitive. We usually go into halftime looking pretty good but somewhere in the second half someone strikes a blow against us and it seems like we just kind of fall apart. So it’s definitely been an area of focus—to be able to not fall down but to be able to bounce right back and get back into the games, to be able to take a blow and give them back out. Hopefully, [the Weeble wobbles that Coach Harper gave us] will help. It’s definitely something that if we can bring it up, it’ll lighten the mood a little bit. I think that, in turn, will help us to be more successful at the end of the games – to not be so serious and feel like everything is falling apart.
Why do you think there have been breakdowns during the second half in some of the more recent games?
More than anything it may be our mentality. It’s obviously not anything physical or our capabilities as players because we get ahead and we’re capable of being able to go in and beat somebody. I think it’s more mentality than anything. When someone hits us, we have to have to the mentality to come back and hit them back as well. I think that’s the most important that we’re losing track of right now. It’s something that has been discussed, and we’re going to continue to work on it.
How did you get started playing basketball?
It was Apex rec league. My mom signed me up, and I liked it. I started playing soccer first, so I knew I was interested in playing sports. I just got started playing in the rec leagues, went on to play AAU and it went from there. I guess I just kept working my up the chain.
You’re a walk-on player. How did come to join the team, and why did you decide to be a walk-on player?
I didn’t come here with any expectations at all to play basketball. I found out about tryouts about a week after I got here. I missed not playing. I really missed it. I felt like it was an opportunity, if nothing else, if I just tried out, the worst thing that can happen is you don’t make it or decide not play, if you do make it. What am I going to lose by trying out? Ultimately the reason I tried out was because I missed it and didn’t feel like I could pass up the opportunity. . . . When the ball is in my hand, it just feels right. It’s something I’ve been doing since I was a little kid, and I’ve always loved it. I really missed it when I didn’t have it because it’s taken up so much of my life and has been such a big part of my life. Things just feel strange without it.
What was the tryout process like?
There were not that many people here. I think they put a notification in Technician, but there really weren’t that many that came out. Most people that came were pretty decent and had experience playing. It just wasn’t random people. I think four of us went at a time. We did some three-on-three and some drills. I went down and lifted some weights, and we did a couple more drills. I was really tired and really out of shape by the end of it. And Reynolds is really hot. I thought I looked decent at the beginning, but at the end, I was thinking I probably didn’t look so good. Everything worked out. I guess they figured that conditioning could be worked on. They called us that night if we were invited to continue the try-out process. They told us at the end of practice one day who made the team. It ended up being Kristy Kenney and me. (Editor’s note: Kenney played basketball at Green Hope High School from 2001-2005 and earned a bachelor’s in animal science from NC State in 2009. She’s now a doctorate student in veterinary medicine at NC State and is part of the Wolfpack women’s basketball radio network for home games.)
How would you describe your experience as a walk-on player?
It’s been an interesting ride. I feel like I’ve been all over the charts. I didn’t have any idea I’d be playing. And then when we got the new coaching staff, I didn’t know initially if they would allow me to stay on. They didn’t have a problem with that at all. I’m excited about the opportunity. I think it’s something neat for me to have experienced not having any idea that I was going to be able to do it initially.
What do you hope your teammates see you?
That I am a passionate person about everything I do and everything I believe. And that I’m very honest and I hope they think that I’m relatively smart. I think that’s important. And that I’m a good teammate and that I have their backs.
What’s your role on the team?
Right now I want to be the best cheerleader possible. Whatever they ask me to do, I will do it in a heartbeat. That’s my main concern: to do what I’m asked, and to do it as best as I can.
Why NC State?
Well, see. There’s a little thing called in-state tuition. (She laughs.) I applied to several schools, and I got into all the ones I applied to. But at the end of the day, my parents had kind of banked on me playing basketball in college and getting a scholarship. I didn’t really feel like that I should allow myself to have an out-of-state tuition. Once I got here, I just fell in love with it.
What’s your dream job?
I’m majoring in film studies and business entrepreneurship. I just think a very steady job, although the industry is on the rocks, would be to be a soap opera producer. Since I was 10 years old, I have been watching The Young & Restless. You can ask me about any storyline, and I will know what is going on with every character, and I can tell who all the originals are. I just think that that would be a pretty steady job, more so than movies. You go from movie to movie. Soap operas are on every day. So that would be my dream job. A soap opera producer.
How did you get introduced to The Young & Restless?
I came home from school. It was me and my sister, and my sister was like, “Let’s watch a soap opera.” But we didn’t want to tell the parents, but we found out they knew the whole time. She got me hooked on it. She doesn’t watch anymore I think, but I’m still hooked, going 10 years, 11 years strong. 4 p.m. CBS. We didn’t have cable when I was younger, so we had six channels. CBS was Channel 5. Four o’clock. I knew it was on.
So are you a Victor Newman fan?
Victor left recently. He just came back a few years week ago. I like the show with Victor more than without him. Now they have DVRs, so I can fast forward through boring story lines. Lately, I’ve been fast-forwarding through him. But I’m definitely a Newman fan over the Abbotts, I would have to say.
In what ways is the team like a soap opera?
I don’t feel like we have as much as drama as we could. I feel like we’d be more of a comedy than a soap opera. We definitely have some characters on the team. We have a lot of fun in the locker rooms before the games. That would be something fun and interesting to film and see.
What do you want people to know about this team?
We’re not going to give up. We’ve been down as far as production lately, but we’re definitely not going to quit. So I hope people keep coming out to support us. We’re not going to give up.
Excerpts from a recent speech by Coach Harper
Kellie Harper was the luncheon speaker during the University Advancement staff retreat on Jan. 28 at the McKinnon Center. Here were some of her comments of her talk on the importance of being a team and how to regroup after a change.
We’re not perfect. We don’t have an undefeated season. We’re competitive, and our kids ply so hard and are having so much fun. There’s a lot of energy and it’s Reynolds Coliseum. It’s an awesome environment. Don’t miss it. Those kids deserve to have support.
Change is inevitable and it can be hard at times. . . . It depends on the outlook and attitude of people involved. With change can come opportunity. It allows you to learn from the past successes and build on lasting traditions. It also allows you to be excited about the new opportunities and make the best out of it.
Trust is essential, and you can’t trust anyone when you don’t know them.
I have to live in the present with the present circumstances. I can’t worry about what I don’t have. I have to worry about what we do.
We utilize . . . strengths to minimize . . . weaknesses.
If being successful is important when change happens, you will find a way to make it happen.
I find it hard to believe that highly successful people believe almost is good enough.
I always wanted to be the best at whatever I did. And we are trying to be the best that we can be right now. If you can’t dream of being the best, you’ll never reach your goals.
Attitude determines success.
The great teams have an air about them when they walk on the court that they know they’re good.
Saying that I’m so demanding, I probably sound like a tyrant. But I’m really a cupcake. A highly motivated cupcake. Maybe not a cupcake but close to it.
It’s so important the kids have fun. After all, basketball is a game. You are only your best when you enjoy what you do. I love to come to work every day. I love who I work with—both the players and the staff. They’re really good people, and that is so important. That’s huge. Though we work hard on the court, we have fun and we laugh. If you trip on the line, we’re going to watch it and we’re going to laugh at it in film session.
We want to do things the right way. There are no shortcuts to building a program the right way. Coaches that find shortcuts are going to recruit players with suspect character and they may find themselves making unethical decisions. I make mistakes, and I do not always have the answers. But I will always try my best to be fair. I will not cheat, and I expect to be good doing it the right way.
This is the 34th day in a row that I haven’t had a day off. People ask me why do I do it. There are a lot of people out there counting on me to work hard at my job.
Links to recent stories on the Wolfpack women’s basketball program
- Shootaround with Beth & Debbie: Debbie Antonelli picks her all-time starting five NC State women’s basketball players and remembers Kay Yow
Monday morning update: NC State women’s basketball coach Kellie Harper thought starting point guard Amber White needed something different. Plus, the Wolfpack had to deal with the loss of post players Tia Bell, who has a sprained ACL , and Igna Muciniece, who has an injured ankle. So Harper switched White from point guard to the wing and moved Marissa Kastanek to the point. The result? The two combined for 34 points and 10 steals to lead the Wolfpack back from an early 10-point deficit en route to defeating Virginia Tech 70-57 Sunday afternoon at Reynolds Coliseum and snapping a three-game losing streak.
Kastanek, a freshman, had 19 points, five rebounds and four steals to break double digits in points for the first time since Jan. 17. White, a redshirt junior who made just five of 13 shots and had 14 turnovers in the past three losses, had 15 points, four rebounds and six steals. Forward Bonae Holston added 12 points, eight rebounds and four steals.
“[White] just didn’t feel comfortable on the court the past couple of games. We felt like moving her to the wing was a way to [help her feel comfortable],” Harper said. “I think for the future, moving forward, Marissa and [senior guard] Nikitta [Gartrell] and Amber are all going to have to handle the basketball to get it up the court . . . [with] Marissa running plays from the point position.”
NC State got off to a slow start, missing nine of 11 shots and grabbing only three rebounds in the first 7 minutes. A jumper by the Hokies’ Lindsay Biggs, who had a game-high 21 points, put Virginia Tech up 14-4 with 13:46 left in the half. That led to an NC State timeout in which the Harper switched the Pack’s defense from a man-to-man to a 1-2-2 zone. “I thought we needed to change, more so for us than Virginia Tech,” Harper said. “That change made a huge difference in their scoring. At the same time, we were able to settle down on the offensive end and find ways to score.”
The Pack held the Hokies to 26.9 percent shooting (7 of 26) in the first half and outscored Virginia Tech 29-9 over the final 13 minutes to go into the locker room up 33-23. To start that run, NC State scored 12 unanswered points to pull ahead 16-14 on a Nikitta Gartrell old-fashioned 3-point play. The Pack, which made 22 of 24 free throws in the game, never trailed again and extended its lead to as many as 19 points in the second half.
“We were definitely very motivated in this week in practice. . . . Everybody was on the same page to try to get better,” Harper says. “. . . .[A]nd I think that showed up in the game.”
Notes: NC State improves to 13-10 overall and 3-5 in the ACC. Virginia Tech is 12-11 and 2-7. . . . Bell and Muciniece will be out for a couple of weeks. . . .NC State’s next game is Thursday, Feb. 11, when the Pack visits No. 6 Duke, which stands atop the ACC at 18-4, 6-1 . . . . Here’s some history we dug up this weekend: Dating back to 1977, when the AP began issuing national rankings for women’s college basketball, NC State has had the 10th most appearances in the polls Through Feb. 1, the Pack have appeared in 327 of the 589 polls, with an average ranking of 12.6. At the top stands Tennessee, which has appeared in 575 of the 589 polls. Click here for archives of the AP polls.
Post-game comments from Kellie Harper
On opening thoughts on the game
I was hoping our team would win for obvious reasons but also because we had a great week of practice, and I wanted to see our players rewarded for that great week of practice. I had a lot of confidence in our team coming into the game because of those practices. And I think when you’re on a losing streak, you can gain confidence out of practice, and it made an impression.
On changing defenses
I don’t remember exactly when we switched our defenses, but we went from our man to a zone. I didn’t think our man was bad. I thought we were getting good pressure. . . . But our team was playing so hard on defense and we were still giving up points. I thought we needed to change, more so for us than Virginia Tech. That change made a huge difference in their scoring, and at the same time, we were able to settle down on the offensive end and find ways to score. . . . When we go to our zone, we pack it in and protect the paint. I thought we did a much better job in the first half than we did in the second half when we ran our zone. We had some breakdowns in the second half in our zone, but I thought in the first half, we did a nice job. It’s not a typical zone defense you see every day, and it took them a little while to figure out what we were doing. It’s a 1-2-2 and it changes as the offensive set changes.
On the week of practice between the loss to Clemson and Virginia Tech game
We were definitely very motivated in this week in practice. It takes two parties to be motivated. It takes the players to be motivated and the staff. It just can’t be me. And it wasn’t. Everybody was on the same page to try to get better. We went back to the basics. We worked on our defense and getting after people, and I think that showed up in the game. We also worked on changing positions, moving people, working with different combinations, playing with four guards.
On what NC State needs to work on
Our transition defense hurt us in the second half. Our man defense wasn’t that bad at times, but our transition defense was not good. . . . We’re going to go back and work on the transition. When we got back into the half-court, we did OK. Without watching a lot of film yet [for the Duke game], I would imagine that the transition defense will be one of the priorities against Duke. I know that they’re athletic and they get up and down the floor and you better take care of the ball.
On moving Marissa Kastanek to point and Amber White to wing
We felt like Amber needed something different. She just didn’t feel comfortable on the court the past couple of games. We felt like moving her to the wing was a way to do that. You’ve got Nikitta [Gartrell] and Marissa—either one can play the point. Marissa knows the plays better, and that’s why we chose Marissa. I think for the future, moving forward, Marissa and Nikitta and Amber are all going to have to handle the basketball to get it up the court and having Marissa running plays from the point position. That’s the intention. I thought Marissa did a nice job and handled it well. She’s going to see more pressure in future games, specifically on Thursday, but I thought she did a nice job tonight. For a freshman, to have never played point—you throw her out there—and I thought she did well.
On the coaching staff’s connections to Virginia Tech
For the past five years, I’ve really been really pulling for [Virginia Tech coach Beth Dunkenberger, whom Harper succeeded as coach at Western Carolina], and I know she was pulling for us at Western Carolina. So, we have great relationship with that staff. Actually, [NC State assistant coach] Jon [Harper] and I worked with [Virginia Tech assistant coach] Angela Crosby at Chattanooga. Angela Crosby recommended [NC State assistant coach] Stephanie McCormick to me, and I dearly love her for that. I think [NC State assistant coach Richard Barron] was the only one who wasn’t a coach at Western or Chattanooga. I think everybody else had that combination. [When we lined up at the end of the game,] I felt like it was a reception line. You’re hugging and hugging and hugging. It’s great to see friends, and that’s what we consider them.
Post-game comments from Marissa Kastanek
On coming back after scoring just 2 points in the loss to Clemson
. . . .[M]y teammates and my coaches . . . told me to keep shooting and that it would fall. And I did. . . . The important thing for me. . . is to forget about the past but learn from it. I think throughout the whole week of practice I had it in my mind on how not to play. So throughout practice, I always held my head up and encouraged my teammates, “Hey we got this,” if we didn’t get a bucket in that possession or had a defensive let down. I was always keeping us up and mentally focused. So the biggest thing is to keep a positive attitude.
On what the team learned from the last three losses
We realized . . . that if we pressure the ball and get in the passing lanes and go crazy on defense, that’s when we win games. The last time we truly, truly did that was against Maryland. That obviously turned out very, very well. And again, this game, it turned out well. We’re now sold that defense can win games.
On facing Duke
They’re beatable. Everybody in the ACC is beatable. Every team is beatable, so we can’t go in scared and think about everything they do. We have to focus on what we’re going to do and execute our game plan.
Post-game comments from Amber White
On the slow start
We were making them take some shots deep in the shot clock, but I think we felt like were rushing on the offensive end, so we tried to settle down and get good shots instead of taking one pass and shooting it, and get some second-chance points and get offensive rebounds.
On the crowd support
It’s so good to have the crowd behind you when we get down. They do a fantastic job of staying into the game for us, and we try to push through with them.
On the emphasis of defensive intensity during the past week of practices
It helped tremendously. We had 16 steals for the team. I felt like that was from ball pressure and getting after it. . . . We wanted to be in the passing lanes. They took a lot of shots deep in the shot clock, and that’s what we wanted.
On momentum heading into the Duke game
I definitely feel like it gives us momentum. At the same time, it’s a whole new ball game. We’ve got to focus on Duke next and take the positives from Virginia Tech and let it carry it over. . . . [Duke is] good. They’re big. They like to run the floor. . . . They get up in people’s faces. They run a lot and push it in transition. I feel like a lot of teams in the ACC do that. It’s a very similar style. We need to focus on NC State and focus on our defensive intensity.