Kellie Harper, a former Lady Vol player, was named the head coach of the women’s basketball team in the spring of 2019. This season Harper will begin her tenure as the third head coach since 1974.
Harper, formerly Kellie Jolly, played at Tennessee from 1995-1999 under the legendary Pat Summitt. During Harper’s time as a point guard, she helped lead the Lady Vols to three straight national titles in 1996, 1997 and 1998.
Pat Summitt was regarded as one of the most legendary coaches in basketball history. Before her retirement, she was able to rack up an NCAA record 1,098 wins, and won eight NCAA titles.
“There are some philosophical things, especially defensively that Pat used to incorporate that we still do,” Harper said when asked what she adopted from Summitt’s coaching style. “There are a few drills that I’ll do that we used to do when I was a player.”
In her career thus far, Harper was the head coach at Western Carolina, NC State, and Missouri State. Throughout her coaching career she has notched an overall record of 285-208, with a win percentage of .578.
Harper takes great pride in her time at Tennessee. Harper spoke frequently Tuesday about being an alumnus and spreading the pride of being a Lady Vol to her team.
“The first thing we’re doing is we’re telling our players what we want it to look like,” Harper said. “We explained to them, effort’s going to be there, how we act towards each other, our body language on the court, and how they should be enjoying things.”
Harper also spoke of some special moments coming back to her alma mater.
“This is the first time I’ve walked out on this court and those bleachers are here,” Harper said. “It looks like a game day gym. I had a moment after I walked out, and I’m going to continue to have those moments for a while.”
Coach Harper surely takes pride in her new job, but she also has a project ahead of her. The Lady Vols held an overall record of 19-13 last year, with a losing record in conference (7-9), including a home loss to Vanderbilt for the first time in program history. They lost in the first round of the NCAA tournament to UCLA, 77-89.
Harper is not intimidated by the challenge, but seems rather eager to get started with her team. She spoke of her expectations and goals for her team.
“For us, we just need to be the best basketball team we can be,” Harper said. “I don’t even know yet what that is going to look like, but that is what we need to strive for. And at some point we will realize what areas we can really excel and take advantage of, but right now, our goal every single day is to be as good as we possibly can be.”
Sophomore guard Jazzmine Massengill also spoke on her coach’s style.
“(Harper) doesn’t accept nothing but the best from you,” Massengill said of her coach. “When you feel like you can’t go, she takes you to the next level. She’s a hard coach and that’s what we need.”
Coach Harper is a very tough, hard-nosed coach, which is exactly what the Lady Vols were looking for in their next coach. She spoke several times about making Tennessee a much more tough, physical team. In the first drill ran at practice, a rebounding drill, Harper blew her whistle and stopped the drill to coach her players to be more physical.
Coach Harper is not the first former player to be hired as head coach since Pat Summitt retired, but she is the “Vol for Life” that many fans want in the position.
“Just how excited I am for this opportunity and just how much it means to me, and I know how much it means to a lot of people. It’s something I don’t take lightly,” Harper said of her appreciation for her job.
Harper is in for a journey to rebuild her alma mater to the Pat Summitt standard, but she is ready for the challenge. She will have a young team, including seven underclassmen, to build and develop.
The Lady Vols will start their season against Carson Newman in their first exhibition match of the season. The game is set for Tuesday, October 29th in Thompson-Boling Arena.