A transcript of the Jan. 6 press conference featuring Wolfpack women’s basketball coach Kellie Harper
What are you thinking as you head into ACC play and having to open against Maryland, which were 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. I mean, 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 do you take away from the Columbia game that you can build on during the ACC games?
As a coach, I think the majority of coaches, when they walk out on the court before the game, they have their fingers’ crossed and they’re hoping that they are going to play well. We concern ourselves with what we do in shoot-around, what we have in pre-game, how practice went the day before, but in actuality when that ball is tipped, it’s in the players’ hands and they have to make plays. [Against Columbia] we had too many defensive backgrounds . . . We did not shoot well. There’s no doubt about it, and when you don’t shoot well, you have to do find other ways to be good. We had too many fundamental breakdowns that led to wide-open baskets. After reviewing the film, we showed our players that after one person — one person! — messed up on the defensive end, it would lead to a wide open basket. We have a very team-oriented defensive philosophy and we rely on five players being very good, and five players were not very good against Columbia.
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 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’s team up-tempo, but I don’t think we want to be slow.
What are the things the team needs to do 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. That’s a pretty good formula actually.
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, they understand the importance of those areas. That will carry them as far as anything else.
The team has been out-rebounded in the past several games, and you’ve talked previously about the need for your team to out-rebound opponents. What are you doing to address that concern?
Our lack of rebounding is very frustrating to me. That is so important to me. We work on that every single day. We do multiple drills both offensively and defensively. The fact that we are getting out-rebounded is hard to swallow, and I want to be a dominant rebounding team. I’m just going to be persistent with our team. We’re going to continue to work on it every single day. If it means I’m going to have to continue to up drills we have to do every day, so be it. It has to be an emphasis for us. It has to. We offensively need second shots to score points. And defensively, our opponents do not need any help scoring. They’re going to be just fine with that first shot. So I think, again, it’s not only got to be a priority for me and our staff, it’s got to be a priority for our team.
During the latest edition of “The Kellie Harper Show,” you said the key to the upcoming ACC schedule is playing consistently. What are the strategies the coaching staff uses to try to develop that consistency?
Film work is invaluable. For us for us to be consistent, whether it’s help-side defense, our screens on the ball, our free-throw shooting, there are so many areas that we need to be consistent. One, you do that with repetition in practice. That’s not always the fun part of practice, when you do the same drill over and over and over. But you have to repeat things to be good at them to find that consistency, and I think for us to continue to teach. Not just to teach the players where to go, but why to go there. I think they really enjoy that — the learning process — but they also have to transfer that out on to the court. Those things will help us be more consistent. . . . Boxing out drills. Close out drills. Ball-handling drills. Passing drills. As a player, I remember going to practice and there was a new drill and we were so excited. But I’m a firm believer in repetition.
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 conference, 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.
How often do you run into players who have that same desire to win and to hate to lose?
I’ve often thought about who had the desire to win like I did. Growing up, every one of my teammates had that desire. My high school team was very talented. And we hated losing. Our team was miserable when we lost. I’ve got just always been surrounded by people like that. In AAU teams and in college. And when I became a college coach, that’s when I started seeing a different mentality. I think some of that is the generation, but we’re trying our darnedest to get everybody in this program to feel the same way.
How have you been able to transfer that desire to the players?
It hasn’t been hard. I’m consistently reminding them how important winning is, and they want to win. They’ll come out and practice hard. Sometimes you wonder if it is going to be difficult to instill that attitude and mentality, but these kids are right on board.
Do the players take the losses as hard as you do?
I would say there have been a couple of games that certain kids took it pretty hard. I don’t think they consistently take it as hard as I do, each and every loss, but there is a fine line. You have to hurt after a loss, but then you have to bounce back. It can’t affect you negatively moving forward.
Can you spot that attitude in kids you’re recruiting?
I think you can spot it, but I also think kids have it in them and sometimes they don’t show it. That’s where getting to know players and asking questions – that’s important during the recruiting process. . . . And I think when you’re recruiting kids, kids coming from winning programs, there is a lot to be said by that.
Are you surprised you’re not seeing more zone defenses from opponents?
I feel like we’re seeing more sagging man-to-man defense than anything. I feel like the TCU game really caused some opponents to shy away from the zone. I think we handle that zone defense fairly well the majority of the game. We were able to score and that’s against a team that plays zone the majority of the time. I think most teams out there, the majority play man-to-man as their primary defense. I think instead of going to zone, they’re just tweaking their man and playing more of a sagging style.
What was the process you went through to keep freshman Marissa Kastanek’s commitment after you were named coach?
After the press conference on Thursday [when I was named the head coach], she was the first phone call I made. I knew that she had built a great relationship with the previous staff and had made her commitment very early in the recruiting process, so I knew that relationships were important to her. Obviously, those first couple of weeks, I had a lot of things going on. But I was still able to manage to get to Lincoln, Nebraska, two times to visit with her. I think those were good for her to get to know me. That was important to her. I kid her now that I would have taken five more trips if I had to. Marissa, she is a coach’s dreams. That is the person you want to coach. She goes above and beyond. She plays hard. She is a gym rat. Sometimes she is too coachable. She’s fun to be around and a great kid.
How important is the addition of another inside player — Kelsie Lliteras, a freshman who joined the team in mid December?
I wish Kelsie wasn’t as far behind with the knowledge of what we’re doing. Not being here the first semester, she’s going to be behind. She’s a nice-sized body, very mobile and scores very well around the basket. We’re trying to speed her education along. I would love to be able to find ways to utilize her. That’s going to be determined on how quickly she picks things up. . . . I think right now we are limited with her. She’s not comfortable with our defensive package or our offense, and until she becomes comfortable, or if we find ways to cheat with her, so to speak, she will probably see limited action.