Kellie Harper named new Lady Bears head coach
One of the nation’s most-respected young coaches has been selected to lead the Missouri State University Lady Bears basketball team. Kellie Harper, the former head coach at North Carolina State and Western Carolina, was announced as the seventh Lady Bears head coach at a news conference Wednesday (April 10) at JQH Arena.
Harper’s five-year agreement will include a base salary of $145,000, plus $60,000 for radio and television shows. The contract, which will be formally approved by the Missouri State Board of Governors at its next scheduled meeting May 16, also includes performance incentives.
“I couldn’t be happier and more excited about this opportunity. This program has great tradition, fantastic facilities and a solid fan base,” said Harper. “It’s a fresh start for Lady Bears Basketball. The future is very bright, and we’re going to have high expectations to do something really special here.”
Harper, 35, and her husband, Jon – who served as an assistant coach for her at both Western Carolina and NC State – arrived in Springfield Tuesday. Prior to Wednesday afternoon’s announcement, they met with the selection committee, Lady Bears’ players and members of the Missouri State administration and Board of Governors.
“We are very excited for Kellie to join the Missouri State family,” said Director of Athletics Kyle Moats. “She was a tremendous college basketball player; she comes from a great basketball pedigree, and she is widely regarded as a great tactician. I know our fans, alumni and community will share our enthusiasm and welcome the Harper family to Springfield.”
Harper’s coaching history
Harper has earned her reputation with a nine-year record of 167-128, including three NCAA Tournament appearances and four WNIT berths in that span. Her teams have historically played their best in the postseason, as she holds a collective 22-13 record in conference tournaments, NCAA Tournaments and WNIT games. In fact, in 18 seasons as a Division I head coach, assistant coach and player, Harper has made 15 postseason appearances with a combined 415-181 (.696) record, 11 NCAA Tournament appearances and four WNIT bids.
A Division I representative on the WBCA Board of Directors, Harper became just the third coach in North Carolina State history in 2009 and directed the Wolfpack to three postseason appearances during her four-year stint at the helm, including the 2010 NCAA Tournament. NC State joined Tobacco Road rivals Duke and North Carolina as the only Atlantic Coast Conference teams to score wins over the league’s other 11 teams during that span, and earned six top-25 victories in four seasons.
Prior to her stint in Raleigh, Harper piloted Western Carolina to a 97-65 record and four postseason berths in five seasons, including a 70-31 mark her final three seasons in Cullowhee. The Catamounts captured the first two Southern Conference (SoCon) Tournament titles in school history while seven student-athletes captured all-conference honors during her tenure.
She earned 2007 SoCon Coach of the Year honors and placed her squads in the WBCA Academic Top 25 on three occasions, including a fifth-place finish in 2007-08.
Before her first head coaching job, Harper spent three seasons as an assistant coach at Chattanooga, helping the Mocs to three consecutive Southern Conference championships, three NCAA appearances and a combined 78-15 record under head coach Wes Moore. She tutored four all-conference guards while at Chattanooga, including the 2004 league player of the year. Prior to her time in Chattanooga, Harper spent two seasons at Auburn, the first as an administrative assistant before being promoted to assistant coach under Joe Ciampi for the 2000-01 campaign. She was part of the Auburn staff that squared off with the Lady Bears in the first round of the 2000 NCAA Tournament in State College, Pa.
Harper’s playing history
The former Kellie Jolly played on three national championship clubs at Tennessee for the legendary Pat Summitt and earned honorable mention All-America honors as a senior in 1999.
As a junior, she guided the Lady Vols to a 39-0 record and national championship, averaging 7.6 points and 3.8 assists for the season and scoring a career-high 20 points in the national title game against Louisiana Tech. She went 4-of-5 from beyond the arc in that contest and was named to the 1998 All-Final Four Team.
“As a player at the University of Tennessee, Kellie showed great leadership, poise and dedication,” said Summitt. “She knows the game of basketball. She is an excellent teacher, and her passion for the game is infectious. She will bring all this to Missouri State. I wish Kellie and the staff she assembles all the very best as they take responsibility for the Missouri State Lady Bears basketball program.”
Harper set an NCAA championship game record with 11 assists and dished out 20 helpers in two games for All-Final Four honors in 1997 after returning from injury midway through her sophomore season. That year, the National Strength and Conditioning Association named her its Strength and Conditioning Female Student-Athlete of the Year.
For her Tennessee career, Harper scored 894 points and had 450 assists, leaving UT on the school’s career top 10 lists for assists, assist average, 3-point attempts and 3-point percentage. She was drafted by the Cleveland Rockers in the fourth round of the 1999 WNBA draft and earned her degree in mathematics that same year. She was a three-time Academic All-SEC recipient as well.
She played for her father at White County High School in Sparta, Tenn., and was a five-time All-American during her AAU playing career. She was inducted into the Lady Vols Hall of Fame in 2009 and White County High Hall of Fame in 2012.
The Lady Bears
“I am very excited Kellie Harper has joined the Lady Bears family,” said Missouri State President Clifton M. Smart III. “She has shown she is an outstanding coach and recruiter who also wants to be deeply involved in our community. I am expecting great things from this program in the years ahead as we work to reclaim our rightful position in the Missouri Valley Conference.”
Harper inherits a Missouri State club that returns nine letter winners, including four seniors, from a 14-17 campaign. She also noted the team’s five freshman commitments are some of her top priorities from the onset of her coaching term.
“My first priorities are the team, the staff and our signees,” said Harper. “We’ll get started on those things right away. I met our players this morning, and we’ll get the chance to work out tomorrow for the first time. I’ll start contacting our signees today and then start working toward getting our coaching staff in place.”
She replaces Nyla Milleson, whose contract was not renewed after six seasons at the helm of the Lady Bears.
During Wednesday’s news conference, Moats also confirmed a forthcoming overhaul to the Lady Bears’ season ticket pricing structure for the upcoming season. The vast majority of lower-level season tickets will be $120 without a seat assessment (down from $259 a seat last year), and bleacher tickets will be $80, Moats said as a preview. Complete details on the new season ticket pricing plan will be released in the coming weeks.