April 22, 2004

Harper to take over Lady Cats

CULLOWHEE, N.C. -- Former Tennessee basketball standout Kellie (Jolly) Harper has been named head coach at Western Carolina, the university's athletic director, Jeff Compher, announced Thursday.

Harper, former assistant coach at Southern Conference rival Chattanooga, becomes the 10th head coach in the program's history as the Lady Cats prepares to enter their 40th year of women's basketball.

Harper, a Sparta, Tenn., native, replaces Beth Dunkenberger, who left for Virginia Tech on April. 6. Dunkenberger spent four years at the helm of the Catamounts, compiling a 65-50 overall record to finish as the second winningest coach in the program's history.

"I believe Kellie Harper has what it takes to build on the foundation that Beth established and will lead our program to the next level competitively," Compher said. "I was fortunate to see her play at Tennessee on several occasions. In my opinion, she was one of the best floor leaders I have ever seen on the basketball court.

"Kellie also showed poise, determination and a winning attitude that has transferred into her coaching style in a most effective way. Wherever she goes, championships seem to follow. I am excited for the future."

Harper was a three-year starting point guard for Tennessee, and helped guide the Lady Vols to three consecutive national championships in 1996-98.

Harper just completed her third year as an assistant at Chattanooga, where she helped the Mocs to three consecutive SoCon championships. While at Chattanooga, she worked primarily with the perimeter players, which have included 2004 Player of the Year and tournament MVP Katasha Brown, two-time tournament MVP and All-Conference guard Miranda Warfield, along with two other all-league players. In 2004, the Lady Mocs finished with a 29-3 overall record (including the nation's longest winning streak at 27 games), ended with a perfect 20-0 league record and became the first SoCon women's basketball team to ever win an NCAA Tournament game when the Mocs defeated Rutgers (74-69) in the first round of the 2004 tournament, which Chattanooga hosted.

"I think Kellie is one of the young up-and-coming coaches in women's basketball," Chattanooga coach Wes Moore said of his former assistant. "With her playing for Pat Summitt, I think Western Carolina is getting a great coach with a lot of great attributes. She's more than just a name. I think she's going to be an outstanding coach for years to come and what's great is that Kellie's an even better person. Good people have a way of being successful and she's quality, through and through."

Prior to her stint at Chattanooga, Harper spent two years on the Auburn staff from 1999-2001, quickly moving from administrative assistant the first year to assistant coach in 2000-01.

"Kellie was already a coach on the floor when she played at Tennessee and her decision-making skills were outstanding," former Auburn head coach Joe Ciampi said of his former assistant. "At Auburn, her ability in selecting players that fit into our system was spectacular and we are so happy for her and wish her the best as a head coach."

As a senior in 1998-99, Harper earned All-America status as an honorable mention selection by the Associated Press after averaging 7.5 points and 4.1 assists. She was also a second-team All-Southeastern Conference selection.

As a junior, she averaged 7.6 points and 3.8 assists in guiding the Lady Vols to a perfect 39-0 record. In the national championship game against Louisiana Tech, she poured in a career-high 20 points and hit 4 of 5 3-pointers. She did not miss a free throw during the NCAA Tournament, nailing 14 in a row. She earned a spot on the All-Final Four team.

"Kellie Harper is a great young talent for the coaching profession and having the opportunity to coach her and follow her success as an assistant at Chattanooga, I knew it was just a matter of time," Tennessee coach Pat Summitt said. "Kellie was every coach's dream as a point guard, and I know she will work hard in all aspects of this position, from recruiting to continuing to build a great program. Western Carolina has made an excellent decision in hiring Kellie."

For her career, Harper tallied 894 points and 450 assists. At graduation, she ranked in the school's Top 10 lists in assists, assists per game (3.41), 3-point field goals (99), 3-point field goal attempts (272) and 3-point field goal percentage (37.1). She was drafted in the fourth round of the 1999 WNBA draft by the Cleveland Rockers.

A 1999 graduate of Tennessee, Harper received her bachelor's degree in mathematics. She is a three-time Academic All-SEC honoree.

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