Harper: 'This Is A Unique Group'

RALEIGH, N.C. -- NC State women's basketball coach Kellie Harper recently met with the media to discuss the upcoming season.

Opening Statement:
"I'm excited! I love coaching this basketball team. We have a long way to go, but these kids work hard, they enjoy coming to practice every day, and they want to get better. I think we're in a good place right now." What is the potential for this year's team?

"I still think it's too early to decide the potential of this team. It will depend on how much they get better during the season. You don't want to peak in December. You want to be playing your best basketball when it counts the most – in conference play. But at the same time, we would like to be a bit ahead this December than where we were last year at the same point. They work hard, and if they keep doing that and keep that attitude, they will get better."

On Tia Bell's recovery:
"Tia's recovery has been a little bit up and down. Right now, she's working in non-contact drills, and we'll be progressing in the next week and a half into full-contact drills. Tia had a setback in August with a torn meniscus that we had to deal with. She's worked hard and I know she's anxious to get back in the court.

"Tia actually was released in August. She played two or three days, then tore her meniscus during a pickup game. It was the night before we started our workouts. But very fortunately for us, her ACL is in tact and very strong, and this second surgery was just the meniscus."

Thoughts on adjustment/settling in for second season:
"I think this preseason has been definitely easier for me because I know our players. They know me, they know what to expect. Things go a little quicker. Our terminology is already in place. As a staff, we now have been here with the policies and procedures in place; we've been able to move forward quicker and smoother this year.

"Going through my second year at Western Carolina, and talking to friends that have gone through second years, that year can be really tough. I think your newness wears off. You start bringing in recruits, and sometimes that changes your team chemistry. I just don't feel like I'm going to see that with this group, which really gives me a lot of confidence in this second year, which is – like I said – a lot of times tough for programs. We don't have drama on our team. There is good team chemistry. I think that speaks highly of our kids, and I think that's going to come into play early in the season."

Thoughts on post size/production:
"Our kids that have the size are really working hard to be able to contribute. We're still not going to be ‘huge'. But if these kids that can bring that to the table, if they keep the attitude they have right now and keep developing, we'll be able to get them in early in games so that they'll have some experience going into ACC games."

Thoughts on early standouts in practice:
"Right now, in practice, Bonae [Holston] has been very, very good. She is a lot better than she was last year. She was pretty good last year. I think she needs to establish herself as a go-to player for us to be successful. In addition to Marissa [Kastanek] and Bo, Brittany Strachan can put points on the board. She showed that last year from behind the arc. She's doing a nice job off the dribble, going to the basket and scoring. And then, I think you're going to see a lot of other people, that when they step on the court, they're options. If we have a lot of different weapons we can use, then hopefully, our opponents can't just key in to just one or two players – they've got to guard five people. That's the plan."

It's interesting when you say that you bring in your recruits and then somehow things don't quite mix. That seemed to be the problem he had in his second season.
"When I was at Western Carolina, we had that issue. The worst basketball season that I've ever had was at Western Carolina. It was hard. We were very talented, but chemistry-wise we just couldn't make it work. So this year, I tried to head off some of that early by doing some team-building activities and being really cognizant of watching our players. I just don't see it. They genuinely love each other, and you just don't feel any tension or jealousy with this group.

"I was nervous about it – last year. Throughout the season, I felt good about the leaders on our team and the quality of kids on our team – the quality of the kids returning and the quality of the kids coming in. I just feel really confident about them being able to be above pettiness that could hold our team back."

Areas of improvement:
"You could look at just about every aspect of our game and know that we needed to improve statistically. Sometimes, you can look at the ACC standings and wonder how we won games. So, we need to be more efficient offensively, we need to rebound better, we need to hold our opponents to a lower field goal percentage, we need to limit our turnovers… the list goes on and on. I don't think I have to worry about our work ethic – it's more on the execution side of things for us this year.

"Right now, I don't think we're going to have major overhauls with our schemes and our philosophy. We'll have tweaks along the way to fit this team and this particular personnel, but no overhaul. I want to give our players an opportunity to be good in our system. And if you put it in one year and take it out the next, you don't give them a chance to really know the ins and outs of our system, so we're going to give them that opportunity. We'll tweak things as we go during the season, as need be."

How much can we expect to see the freshmen on the floor?
"Our freshmen are going to play. Our freshmen are good. They understand basketball. They've played with our upperclassmen. Our upperclassmen want them to play. They're definitely going to see substantial playing time.

"I think these freshmen are fun to work with, and already how much better they've gotten over the last month – it's pretty impressive. But it's genuinely every single kid on that team. I asked one of our players if she's ever been on a team that practices this hard, and she said ‘no, maybe a couple players would practice hard, but not ever the whole team.' They're fun to be around."

Early thoughts on the team:
"This is a unique group. They practiced hard last year, but there's just something about this group. I give a lot of credit to Marissa. I think she's led by example with her work ethic. And again, I can't say enough about Bonae Holston. Her attitude is as good as it can be right now. She's working harder than she's ever worked before. It's showing on the court. Her teammates respect what's she's done and how well she's playing. I love this team! I'm sure you haven't figured that out yet.

"Again, I love this group, but we're still not the most talented team in the ACC. So, we're going to have to overachieve to win a lot of basketball games. And I'm OK with that, and they're OK with that – and that's fun! Being the absolute best that you can be – that's a pretty good feeling at the end of the day. To be able to do that, the first thing you have to do is work harder than everybody else, and I feel really good about our effort in practice right now."

"I think at this point, we're in much better shape this year than we were last year. We've worked hard in the weight room, and we've worked hard in conditioning. We've tweaked it to fit our system a bit more. Our kids are strong; our freshmen came in pretty strong. We've put some pretty good weight up in the weight room, and I think the fellas we practiced against can tell you that we're strong. And I think we're learning how to transfer that strength over to the floor."

On the season's biggest questions:
"I think our depth is going to be a question, and that's going to be determined by how quick our players pick things up from here on out. A lot of our players need reps to get things and that's OK, but unfortunately, we can't put these kids out there if they don't know what they're doing. We have to put the kids on the floor that understand our system. I think a lot of that depth is going to be our biggest question. Obviously, in relation to the depth, would be our size. I think those two are directly related. If we've got depth, we've probably got a little size to work with."

Trying to replace Nikitta Gartrell...
"Nikitta Gartrell was really special in her ability to create with the basketball for her teammates and herself. Right now, I really feel like Amber White has that ability. I think you're going to see a little bit more of that from her this year. Her jumpshot looks really good. She worked hard this summer on getting her three-point shot more consistent. We're excited about how she's been playing this preseason. I think she will help in that area. I think you're going to have players step up and maybe not give you exactly what Nikitta did, but as a group, be able to bring some of the things she could do."

Thoughts on Marissa Kastanek:
"I think Marissa's improved. One thing I asked her to work on this past summer is her jumpshot – her mid-range game – and it looks really good right now. Also, I think she just feels good about who she is and feels good about this program right now. When you watch her on the floor, she doesn't look like a sophomore – she's a leader. Just having that confidence makes her even better."

Last year in big games, you went with the curls. Were you pleased with how you performed with the curls? Should we look for a mix?
"I think a mix is good. I had some fans that requested the curls, so I had to get the rollers out and curl it up a few games. I'd like to go back and check my record – straight vs. curly. I think you'll see a little mix up this year."

Thoughts on Lakeesa Daniel:
"Lakeesa [Daniel] is working hard. She brings size and length that no one else has. She has had some really good practices this week. I've been proud of her recent progress. She's very coachable right now, and we're asking her to do a lot of things that we expect a veteran to do. I'm really pleased with her effort and where she's at. I think the coaches all enjoy working with her. We can all see the potential she has – and that's fun when you have a kid like that who will respond to you in practice and you ask her to do something and the next day, she's doing it."

"I wouldn't want to put too much pressure on her to be a program-changer right now, but I think she has the ability to bring another dimension to our team, which is something that we need. We're just going to keep working with her and bringing her along so that she's got confidence and feels good about what she's doing. Again, we have to look at her as a freshman, and as a freshman, she's doing pretty well."

Any recent discussions with Pat Summit?
"I talked to Coach Summit a little bit, and I think, she texted me a few times when we won a big game. This summer, she just complimented us on what we did. I think she understood the circumstances really well, and I think she also caught a game or two or ours. You know, that means a lot when she's keeping up with me. That was my family, and I think she's supportive of us."

"I'd like to get to a playing rotation of 10. I like to play a lot of kids. I think that's important. You never know when injuries are going to creep up. You never know when foul trouble's going to bring someone new off the bench. I don't know if we're at the 10 mark yet, but that's where I'd like to get to.

"Last year, we were at seven. We didn't have that many last year, and when we lost Tia, we started a rotation of seven. Until that Boston College game, when we got Inga [Muciniece] in there, and she hit the shot of the tournament. I think the next couple of weeks will determine that early rotation, and that's what you play those non-conference games for. You test yourself. You see who you can rely on for those conference games and who you can't. I'm hoping that we'll have enough that we can keep the kids fresh."

"I think worst case, we'll be about where we were last year – about seven or eight. Again, I'm anticipating our freshmen will be able to contribute. Hopefully, we'll get Tia back and she's feeling good. We did lose Hanna Halteman – she's been medically disqualified for having a second concussion – so that immediately takes one of our 6-4 kids off the roster.

"She can't play basketball anymore. The doctors will not release her. She's had 2 or 3 [concussions]… she was out 2½ months last year for a concussion, and she sustained another one this preseason."

On new flagrant foul rule:
"I think right now any elbow that connects above the shoulder is a flagrant foul and will be penalized, I think, maybe as a technical… I can't remember the terminology. They're just trying to protect these kids, and even if it's inadvertent – it doesn't have to be an intentional elbow – players are so much bigger and so much stronger – an elbow connected to the head can do a lot of damage these days."

On recruiting:
"We're ahead with our 2011 class from where we were last year, and we're ahead with our 2012 class from where we were with the 2011s last year. It's a process, and it takes a while. But we're making headway, and we're just trying to get our foot in the door with the best kids in the country. And where we want to recruit North Carolina hard, we're going to recruit nationally, if that's what it takes to get the best players. We work hard. We were out a lot last year, and we've been out a lot this year recruiting in schools and trying to get our name out there the best we can. So, I'm hoping that we'll see some of the benefits in the next year or so."

On recruiting Cody Burke out of California:
"Cody Burke is special – I love Cody! Cody, first of all, is a sweet kid – you guys are going to love her! She didn't know much about NC State when we started recruiting her, but she was intrigued, enjoyed our phone conversations early on. We provided her a lot of information. On her visit, she just fit in. She felt like it was a really good fit for her. It's tough for a kid to come across the country and not have any family here, and you have to have that connection on your visit to be able to make that decision, and she did. She's done really well. Her teammates love her. Obviously, things are very different in North Carolina than they are in Los Angeles. But she's adapting and learning those differences. I did take her to ride my horse with me the other day. That was a first for her – something that she really enjoyed. We're learning from her, she's learning from us."

Talks with Debbie Yow?
"I've had a couple of sit-down meetings with Debbie Yow, and she's been very supportive of the program and wants to assist us in any way possible. She's been there. She knows what it's like. Obviously, she was there for Maryland's success, and we'd love to see that here. We're going to utilize her experiences to help us be the best program we can be. Maybe get her another Final Four…"

Coach Harper on current freshman class: Who would you say might have the biggest impact now and down the road?
"I would have to say the three that are practicing right now – Myisha Goodwin at the point has looked good. She has the ability to get our scorers the basketball, which is a pretty good thing to have from your point guard. Kody Burke is going to bring us some athleticism and size and some basketball savvy in the post, and we need that, especially with Tia's injury. Kody has a lot of opportunities ahead of her early on.

"Our local kid, Breezy Williams, she's probably improved more than anyone in the past month. She's learning to play hard. She's extremely coachable, fun to work with. She is gifted. And when she puts it all together, she's going to be something special. She was definitely overlooked by the recruiting services and a few other schools. The kid's got a lot of potential, and we don't expect her to have a lot of pressure during her freshman year, but we will expect her to contribute. And I think she's going to have a great career ahead of her."

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