In this week’s coaching conversation, Tennessee head coach Kellie Harper joins the Basketball Podcast to share insights on defensive concepts to build their defense.
One of only two coaches to guide four different programs to the NCAA Tournament, the 1999 UT graduate and three-time national champion point guard joined Jim Foster in that select company in 2020-21. She has done so while reshaping programs at Western Carolina, NC State, Missouri State and now Tennessee. Foster accomplished that feat during stops at St. Joseph’s, Vanderbilt, Ohio State and Chattanooga during a career lasting from 1978 to 2018.
In 18 complete years as a Division I head coach, Harper has led her teams to a 348-235 record and 14 postseason appearances (7 NCAA/7 WNIT) through the 2021-22 campaign. She has piloted her squads to 14 top-three league finishes and four conference tourney titles along the way, and in 2021-22 she guided Tennessee to the NCAA Sweet 16, equaling her run with Missouri State in 2018-19 before she was hired by her alma mater.
During her three seasons on Rocky Top, Harper has set the program on a journey toward the top. Her teams charted records of 21-10 (10-6 SEC) and 17-8 (9-4 SEC) while navigating pandemic limitations and elevated to 25-9 (11-5 SEC) in 2021-22 despite being dealt a terrible hand with injuries to key personnel. The squad opened the season 18-1, rose to No. 4 in the AP Poll, won the South Point Thanksgiving Shootout, finished third in the SEC for the third consecutive season and kept the Big Orange perfect in NCAA berths as the only school to appear in all 40 women’s tournaments.
Harper is 63-27 overall and 30-15 vs. SEC competition during a quick makeover on Rocky Top, ranking third in winning percentage in league games behind only South Carolina’s Dawn Staley and LSU’s Kim Mulkey. Harper and Staley are the only SEC coaches to guide their teams to top-three SEC finishes in each of the past three seasons, and UT and USC were the only league squads to advance into the NCAA Round of 16 in 2022.
Kellie Harper Coach Quotes:
“The right people are the most important thing, and that’s your staff and your coaches, but also your team . . we’ve done a good job where we’ve been getting the right fit . . the longer you coach, you realize that the fit, getting the right people around you, is about as important is anything you could do.”
“If you can find ways defensively to make the game a little bit more predictable . . it is to your advantage; one of the ways that we want to do that is keeping the ball on one side . . I think you can be a little bit more consistent with your help side, if you know where that help needs to happen.”
“If the ball is above the free throw line extended, we want to high side and push down and what I tell our players is that is not a position, that is an action. You’re not just there, you are literally physically moving them, because it’s going to be a lot easier for us if we can keep them from riding us up the lane.”
“If you’re playing against a team that can make great passes and quick passes and cut and seal and do those types of things, then your emphasis has to be more on the denial. I think you have to go harder there. And that’s whas to be a little bit more accountability and ownership.”
“What we found is to teach our perimeter players, as that ball drives baseline, we have to flood down, we all flood down towards the ball. And that I-cut should be a steal or a deflection from one of our perimeter players flooding towards the ball on the drive.”
“A lot of that is your stance, we don’t want to let them go to the baseline, but you’re not going to the middle . . we have to rep the stance a lot because it’s something that’s not natural to most kids.”
“This is one of my favorite things, “You’re not there to look great. You’re not there because I told you to be there . . you’re there to make a play. So, if your teammate gets beat on a backdoor cut, then you get a steal, take a charge, be there . . be active. I think our defense is a lot better when the people off the ball are looking to make plays.”
“I do think sometimes the aggressiveness looks different. So for us, this year, the aggressiveness was you just didn’t get anything easy. It wasn’t that we got a lot of steals, we were low in the league in steals, but your shooting percentage was low and you didn’t get a lot of offensive boards.”
“Throughout the years, I’ve played different zones . . Because it’s not our primary defense, I think this is where it’s important to find the right fit, to find the right defense that’s going to be the most comfortable, the most easy, the most seamless to run without a lot of practice.”
“We want to try to utilize all of our strengths and in order to do that, we’ve got to start in the paint.”
“It’s not that I don’t love a kid that can go out and defend, but the problem is, right now, if you can’t score you’re a liability . . because a bad offensive player is going to end up with the ball every single time and that hurts your other players . . it hurts spacing, it hurts opportunity, somebody’s gonna get double teamed now.”
Kellie Harper Breakdown:
1:00 – Coached at 4 Different Schools
5:00 – Philosophy on Defense
9:00 – Matchups
13:00 – Throw The High Low
15:00 – Fronting The Post
17:00 – In and Out
17:18 – 18:01 – DR. DISH AD
21:00 – Keeping The Ball on Side
24:00 – Closing Out
27:00 – Top Coach
29:00 – Aggression
34:00 – Ball Screen Coverage
35:50 – 36:28 – JUST PLAY AD
39:00 – Ultimate Coaching
41:00 – 50 Defense
44:00 – Defensive Culture
48:00 – 3-Point Shooting
51:00 – Evaluating Defense
Kellie Harper Links from the Podcast:
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