Dan Fleser: UT's Kellie Harper And Her Juggling Act

Wednesday, July 31, 2019 - by Dan Fleser

Kellie Harper took an idea presented by her staff and ran with it. Well, actually she was driving.

Tennessee’s first-year women’s basketball coach has been zipping around campus in a golf cart as part of a video campaign conceived by assistant coaches Lacey Goldwire and Jennifer Sullivan. The intent, as expressed by the campaign’s hashtag “KaraokeWithKellie,” has been to catch the eyes and ears of recruits.

“I think I took it a little further than they thought I was going to take it,” Harper said on Wednesday. “I had an absolute blast with it.”

Harper has covered a lot of ground with the promotional vehicle. Along with the singing, she talked academics with senior post Kamara Harris, who has received her undergraduate degree. Harper relived some 1990s jams and UT history with former Vols quarterback Tee Martin. Her former classmate is a member of football coach Jeremy Pruitt’s staff.

Harper’s juggling act was not along for any of these rides and for good reason. The harmony she’s trying to strike at present between being a teacher and a coach is a more serious undertaking, one that might go a long way in defining the first impression of Harper as Holly Warlick’s replacement.

Speaking of a long way, the Lady Vols leave Monday on a 10-day European trip to the Netherlands, Belgium and France. Along with three games, the team will take in the sights of Paris and visit the D-Day beaches at Normandy.

The extended time together with her team will give Harper the opportunity to continue making the case for her priorities.

“I’m balancing the patience of a teacher and the urgency of a coach that wants to win tomorrow,” Harper said. “I think that is one of my biggest challenges.

“ … And giving that message to our players. I want them confident in what they’re doing and it takes time to build that confidence. But also the urgency to get it done is very important. I think that’s a daily task for me to find out. Hey, I’m going to push here, going to teach here, pick and choose when I’m going to do each thing.”

Junior forward Rennia Davis, Tennessee’s leading returning scorer, already has noticed a melding of both objectives in practice. The Europe trip has afforded UT with 10 extra practices in addition to its regularly scheduled work.

“She forces us to be great,” Davis said. “You have to pretty much get stuff right before you can move forward so I think that’s going to help us in the long run.”

There hasn’t been enough long run in advance of this trip, however. Harper conceded that she has a laundry list of things she’s like to do but hasn’t had enough time to do them yet. No matter her mode of travel, she can’t speed up this part of the process.  

“The rush I feel to do that right now is challenging to me as a coach, just to get them prepared to play a game,” she said.

“I’m hopeful that what we see over there will maybe be the pace of play that we’ll see later on. Maybe you can see some philosophy, but in terms of the package you’ll see offensively and defensively, things will get more detailed later on.”

* * *
 
Dan Fleser is a 1980 graduate of the University of Missouri who covered University of Tennessee athletics for the Knoxville News Sentinel from 1988-2019. He can be reached at danfleser3@gmail.com 

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