Edited transcript of Nov. 5 Press Conference with Kellie Harper, head coach of the NC State women’s basketball team
On what worked during the exhibition and what were areas for improvement
I still felt like our effort was good. . . . Our execution offensively was not where it needs to be. . . . When we do cross half court, we do not flow well from our transition break into our offense. . . . We were a little tentative in offense. It’s still early and we’re all young in this offense. But we’ve got to make that improvement this week.
On what’s not acceptable
No excuses for our effort. I think most people who saw the game will walk away thinking that our kids played hard. No excuses on [rebounds]. You’ll hear that from me as long as I’m coaching. I think defensively they understand concepts. I think they know what we want. Our defense is ahead of our offense right now. Our tempo should be a certain tempo, but that’s something that’s going to come — [knowing] when to shift, when to push. It just takes time.
On accessing how each player fits into the new offense
We know what we want to do as a staff, and we feel like we can be successful . . . : try to get scores in transition [and] try to be aggressive defensively. The further we go in the season will determine how much we have to back off. And by back off, I mean being less aggressive with our tempo. It’s hard to tell right now because I think there are still questions about our depth.
On implementing a new offense and defense
I’ve had to be extremely patient. By nature, I’m not a very patient person. However, when I’m teaching, I’m a little more patient. . . Maybe I’m being a little bit more patient than normal right now. However, the players have really picked up some things a lot quicker than I expected. You have to give them the opportunity to learn, but at some point, as a coach, the leash has got to get shorter. You can’t continue to make the same mistakes.
On biggest surprise so far
For me, the player that has been the most surprising, from going back to the first 30-minute drill we did in May to now, is [senior forward] Lucy Ellison. She has improved the most. . . .She’s playing with a lot of confidence and being very aggressive. When she’s not on the court, you can tell. . . .
On building confidence
One of the things we needed to do is give [the players] confidence. They’re ACC basketball players, and when they step on the court, they need to know they are ACC basketball players. [For example,] the first few workouts and practices, Lucy would [get the ball on offense] and pass it up, and we were hammering it home for her to score. I think now she’s looking to score more.
On what she expects from the point guards
Our point guards need to be on my page in knowing how I want the game to flow. They need to have a good feel of the game. It’s hard to describe. Sometimes you tell them to push the ball, push the ball. Sometimes you tell them to slow down, slow down. They’ll learn by repetition. And they learn from playing in games.
On the true freshman
[Guard Marissa Kastanek] has been a great leader for us as a freshman. She does things the way we want them to be done. I love her leadership skills. Everybody responds positively to her.
On the starting lineup
We do not have a starting lineup in mind. I downplay that a lot. The first time we discussed who was starting [the exhibition] was 20 minutes before the game. If you earn playing time, you’ll get playing time. It’s a team sport, not an individual sport. I’ve actually brought some of my best players off the bench. . . . There are so many decisions that go into those five people. It’s much more than who the best players are.
On the first regular-season game
I would definitely like another month of practice. The players are so much more ready to play than myself. But today I started watching some film of our first opponent. That made things very real. . . . A lot goes into a college basketball program. A lot of work behind-the-scenes has to occur before you tip it up before the first game, but all that work is heading in that direction. We’re almost there. It’s exciting. And you coach basketball because of the games. This is why we do what we do. The competition. You have to love competition, or this is not the profession for you. I’m very focused on the job at hand and I don’t try to get overwhelmed. . . .There will be that “Whoa!” feeling before I walk out on the court. I had a little bit of it at the exhibition, standing in the tunnel waiting to walk out. I cracked myself up a few times thinking about what I was doing and where I was. “This is pretty cool.” And I’m sure I’ll have that moment again several times this year. [Editor’s note: NC State opens the regular season on Friday, Nov. 13, at 8 p.m. against Florida International in Reynolds.]
On setting team goals
After this weekend I think we will sit down and set goals. It needs to happen before our first game. Again, I think goals need to be set by the staff and by the players.
On the coaches’ and media polls
We really haven’t even talked much about the polls. I did tell them where we were and that was the extent of the conversation. I think [polls] are great because they give media something to talk about. It gets people excited about women’s basketball. But there are so many questions. The voters have no idea what our team is going to look like. I don’t think there’s any way to accurately place us in a poll right now. [Editor’s note: NC State was predicted to finish 9th in the ACC this year.]
On receiving votes in the coaches’ pre-season poll
I’m very shocked at that poll. Again, I don’t how anyone could think they know where to put us in any poll. Nobody has seen us play. We won’t take much stock in the pre-season poll. We’ll worry about that later. [Editor’s note: NC State received 11 votes in the USA Today ESPN Top-25 preseason women’s basketball coaches’ poll.]
On games most looking forward to
I’ll personally like going to the tournament at Vanderbilt because I’ll have family at that game for sure. And I guess Florida International, that first team on our schedule. I don’t look too far ahead. [Editor’s note: NC State will play in the Vanderbilt Thanksgiving Tournament Nov. 27-28.]
On interactions with other ACC coaches
I’ve been able to talk to those coaches at the ACC meetings back in May and a little bit out when recruiting. They were all very cordial and very nice. [Duke women’s basketball coach Joanne P. McCallie] took me to lunch, and that was very nice of her and a very nice gesture.
On the assistant coaches
Jon [Harper, her husband and assistant coach], and I knew [assistant coach Richard Barron, who was a former assistant coach at Baylor University]. And, we knew he was interested in some positions back in this area because he has family in the Southeast. When this job became available, we kept our fingers crossed that this might be something that he would be interested in. We used the “Come to Raleigh” as a selling point. I think it was just a really good fit, and it made sense for us and for him. He’s an excellent, excellent basketball coach and a great recruiter. He is very aggressive and very assertive. He will pick up the phone and call anyone. He can evaluate talent, and he’s a good person. He can build relationships that are sincere and genuine. I like that quality about him. [Assistant coaches Stephanie McCormick and Jon Harper] and I have been together for five years now. Jon accuses me and Coach Mac as being long lost sisters. She does a very nice job of coaching post players in practice. Jon is very, very good at timed-scoring situations in a game. That’s one of my weakness, and now I don’t have to worry about that; he takes care of that for me. For me, my Xs and Os input. I think we all bring something very different and that will help us.
On NC State fans
I learned very quickly that NC State fans are passionate about their sports and they’re passionate about their teams and they’re passionate about their university. I love that. I absolutely love that. I know as a player in college I experienced that same support. I want our players so badly to have that same experience. When they take the court, I want there to be thousands of people in the stands. . . . People are so anxious and so excited and they have shown a lot of support for this team already.
On memorable interactions with fans so far
Everyone tells me that they sit behind the bench. I can’t figure out how everybody sits behind the bench, but apparently they do. “Hey coach, we have season tickets, and we sit right behind the bench.” I’ve heard that about 500 times. I’m trying to figure out how many seats fit behind the bench.