Missouri State women's basketball head coach Kellie Harper addresses the media following the Lady Bears' Missouri Valley Conference loss to Wichita State at JQH Arena on Jan. 9.
One of only 11 coaches to lead three schools to the NCAA Tournament, Kellie Harper enters her fourth season at Missouri State in 2016-17 after guiding the Lady Bears to a Missouri Valley Conference Tournament title in her third year at the helm.
Harper owns a 12-year head coaching record of 223-171, including four NCAA Tournament appearances and five WNIT berths in that span. Her teams have historically played their best in the postseason, as she holds a collective 28-17 record in conference tournaments, NCAA Tournaments, and WNIT games. In fact, in 21 seasons as a Division I head coach, assistant coach and player, Harper has made 17 postseason appearances with a combined 471-224 (.678) record, 12 NCAA Tournament appearances and five WNIT bids.
Harper took Missouri State back to the NCAA Tournament after a decade absence in 2016, guiding her third MSU squad to an MVC Tournament title and 24-10 overall record. The Lady Bears became the first No. 3 seed in the 30-year history of the conference tournament to claim the title, dispatching Indiana State, Drake and UNI on the way to the school’s 14th NCAA Tournament bid. MSU earned a No. 13 seed in the Big Dance and fell at fourth-seeded Texas A&M in the first round, 74-65, to conclude a memorable campaign.
The 2015-16 season was a banner year for individual awards as well, with MSU’s decorated senior class of Hillary Chvatal, Tyonna Snow and Kenzie Williams leading the way as they combined for six MVC Player of the Week awards. Snow became the third player in league history to be named Jackie Stiles Player of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year in the same season, and was also the MVC Tournament MVP while setting school records for steals in a season and career and finishing ninth in MSU history in career scoring. Williams repeated as a first-team all-MVC selection and concluded her distinguished career ranked seventh on MSU’s all-time scoring chart. Williams also became the third Lady Bear to earn MVC Scholar-Athlete First Team honors three times, while sophomore Liza Fruendt made the league’s academic second team. MSU also saw attendance jump to an average of 3,400 fans per game to rank 32nd nationally nationally and lead the MVC for the 24th time in 27 seasons.
Year two at Missouri State saw Harper’s Lady Bears go through a remarkable mid-season turnaround after opening the year with a difficult schedule and numerous injuries, as MSU finished 18-15 overall and earned a spot in the WNIT after an 0-6 start. Missouri State debuted a 100 percent healthy roster for the first time all season on Jan. 16, and posted a 14-5 record when fully intact. The Lady Bears enjoyed a 10-game winning streak that ended in the MVC Tournament title game, and went 13-5 in league play for a third-place finish. Kenzie Williams was honored as the MVC Scholar-Athlete of the Year and a first-team all-league pick, while fellow guards Tyonna Snow and Liza Fruendt also earned all-conference recognition.
Harper’s first season in charge of the Lady Bears featured numerous highlights, including an 11-4 stretch from Dec. 15-Feb. 7 during which Missouri State toppled in-state rival Missouri 67-53 at JQH Arena. Sophomore guards Kenzie Williams and Tyonna Snow earned all-conference recognition, while Snow ranked fifth nationally with 3.0 steals per game and freshman Lexi Hughes led the MVC in 3-point accuracy at 46.6 percent. MSU also enjoyed a 14 percent increase in home attendance over the 2012-13 season to lead the league and rank 37th nationally with an average of 2,976 fans per game.
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.
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.
“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, 39, is married to Jon Harper, who has served on her coaching staff at Western Carolina, NC State, and now at Missouri State. The couple’s first child, Jackson, was born in November 2013.