Updated with a photo slideshow from the Wolfpack’s trip to Durham and 70-39 loss to Duke.
The NC State women’s basketball team travels to Durham tonight to meet No. 6 Duke at 7 p.m. in Cameron Indoor Stadium. It’ll be the first time that first-year Wolfpack coach Kellie Harper will face the Blue Devils as a coach. The significance? When she went to play for Pat Summitt at the University of Tennessee in 1995, Harper had one overriding goal: to win an unprecedented four straight national titles. Freshman year? Check. Sophomore year? Check. Junior year? Check. Senior year? The Lady Vols entered the NCAA tournament a favorite as a No. 1 seed. But in the 1999 East Regional Final, in Greensboro, No. 3-seeded Duke (then coached by Gail Goestenkors) upset the Lady Vols, 69-63.
After the Wolfpack picked up a 70-57 win over Virginia Tech Sunday night to improve to 13-10 overall and 3-5 in the ACC, NC State magazine asked Coach Harper about the team that ended her collegiate playing career and left her just one national title shy of her goal. See her thoughts after the jump. In the latest installment of The Kellie Harper Show, she talks about what NC State needs to do to beat Duke and looks ahead to the Sunday Hoops for Hope event, when the Pack will meet Miami at 5:30 p.m. and pay tribute to former NC State coach Kay Yow.
A couple weeks ago, NC State magazine also talked to Al Brown, who was an assistant coach at Tennessee when Coach Harper played there and who is now an assistant coach at Duke. Read what he has to say about Coach Harper after the jump.
And, Tim O’Brien, a photographer with NC State Student Media, will be traveling with the Wolfpack to Durham today. So be sure to check back in with us for exclusive behind-the-scene photos. We’ll also post a written account of the short road trip.
Coach Kellie Harper on her playing career, Duke
In 1999, your senior year, Duke upset your team in the NCAA tournament to end your playing career at Tennessee. What do you think of Duke?
Every time I think of Duke, I think of the team that ended my career. I can’t help it. It’s not the same coach. It’s not the same players. But it’s still the blue team that says Duke. And ironically, the assistant coach for Duke is Al Brown, who was one of my coaches when they beat us my senior year. I think it was hard on him when they honored that team, I think it was, last year. He called me up and thanked me for that one. Obviously, it’s completely different, but I think any kind of competitor and somebody who loves basketball, who loved her career like I did, would remember that last one.
When you began your career at Tennessee, you had the goal to win four national titles. You won three. Thinking back on it now, what do you make of that goal?
Even though my goal was to win four national championships, it was probably a ridiculous goal to start with. We didn’t reach that goal, but because we lost that, I can appreciate the first three championships we won. I would have no sense of reality right now if we had won four national championships. None. I wouldn’t understand losing at all, so it really put things in perspective. I know it’s funny, but it really put things in perspective. That’s something hard to admit and something I didn’t learn until about a year after that loss.
Q&A with Duke Assistant Coach Al Brown
Al Brown was an assistant coach at the University of Tennessee from 1995 to 2002 before eventually joining Joanne P. McCallie at Michigan State in 2004. Brown followed McCallie to Duke when she took over the Blue Devils program in 2007. A veteran assistant, he’s the only coach in college basketball history to coach in the men’s (1969, Purdue vs. UCLA) and women’s national championship game (Tennessee, 1996-98, 2000; Michigan State, 2005).
What stands out about Coach Harper?
Her work ethic. She was one of those players who would come to practice and then after practice she would play pick up with anybody who was in the gym. She couldn’t get enough of basketball. On the floor she was a leader and she kept the team together. She was a coach on the floor. . . . [And] she has a great understanding of the game because of her previous experience at home, with her mother being a player, her father being a coach and her brother being a player and now a coach. And of course, she was a very successful player at Tennessee. So she’s got all the background necessary to be a very successful coach. She has a great understanding of what a player goes through and has a great understanding of the game of basketball. It’s what you would call a natural fit. As a point guard and as a successful player on some outstanding teams, she knows what winning is all about.
In what ways are Coach Harper and Pat Summitt similar and different?
As far I’m concerned, you can’t compare anything about the two. They’re both different people, and they’re certainly in different places in their career. Kellie has an excellent opportunity to be an outstanding basketball coach. But to compare those two is unfair to Kellie.
Have you given Coach Harper any advice about coaching in the ACC?
We talk. We talk periodically, but I would say that for me to give her any words of wisdom would be fostering my ego. We exchange thoughts and ideas on the game of basketball. And we talk about other things because we’ve know each other a long time. So we talk about a lot of things. But as far as basketball, she knows her basketball. I don’t really give her any direction there. She does her own thing, and she’s her own woman. And that’s wonderful.
What does Coach Harper add to the ACC as a coach?
The impact is that she is a new, energetic face [who] certainly will be a positive force as far as NC State is concerned. . . . She is one of my dear friends and one of the people I admire and respect a lot. I’m thrilled she’s in the league, and I’m thrilled she’s at NC State. I know she’s going to do a super job. And I’m happy for her and for NC State and for the league. She’s the new face in the league, and she is going to be a very positive force in the league for years to come.
What should people know about Coach Harper?
Nothing more than what they already know. She’s very outgoing and personable, and she cares about her players. She’s going to work very hard to bring success to the program and she’s someone who knows how to do that. . . . All they need to know is what they’ll know as they get to know her better.
What will it be like for you to face Coach Harper when NC State plays Duke?
It’s the same as any other game for me. I’ve coached too long. I have great admiration and respect for Kellie as a coach and as a person, and I think the world of her. But when we lineup on the sideline, it’s just another game in which both teams are trying to win.