AP Report: NC State tabs Western Carolina’s Harper

Published 3:28 pm Thursday, April 16, 2009

By By AARON BEARD, AP Sports Writer
RALEIGH — North Carolina State has chosen Western Carolina’s Kellie Harper to replace Hall of Famer Kay Yow as the Wolfpack’s women’s basketball coach, a person with knowledge of the decision told The Associated Press on Wednesday.
The search committee will forward Harper’s name to the university’s board of trustees for approval at its meeting later this week. The person spoke on condition on anonymity because an official announcement had not yet been made, though the school has scheduled a news conference for Thursday afternoon to announce the hiring of a new coach.
Harper has spent the past five seasons at Western Carolina, compiling a 97-65 record while leading the Catamounts to two NCAA tournament bids and a pair of Southern Conference championships. Harper also played under Pat Summitt as part of Tennessee’s three straight national championship teams from 1996-98.
This year, Harper led Western Carolina — located about 300 miles west of the Raleigh campus in the North Carolina mountains — to a 21-12 record and an appearance in the first round of the NCAAs.
While N.C. State has long been one of the more successful programs in the Atlantic Coast Conference, it slid in recent years while nearby rivals Duke and North Carolina became annual fixtures among the nation’s elite. The decision to hire Harper, who turns 32 on May 3, apparently signals that athletics director Lee Fowler was ready for a fresh start for a program defined by Yow’s success on the court for the past three decades and her courage in fighting cancer away from it.
Harper will become just the third coach in team history. Robert ‘‘Peanut’’ Doak spent one season as coach in 1974-75 before Yow’s arrival.
The decision will be a sensitive one for many surrounding the program. Yow, who died in January after a long fight against the disease, had hoped that the school would designate longtime assistant Stephanie Glance as her successor, but Fowler said the school had to conduct a thorough search for a replacement.
Glance served as the interim coach when Yow took leave from the team in January, guiding the team to a 13-17 record and keeping the players together through an emotionally wrenching stretch that included Yow’s funeral, burial and a campus tribute ceremony during the heart of the ACC season. She also guided the Wolfpack when Yow was forced to step away for health reasons during the 2004-05 and 2006-07 seasons.
Glance, an assistant to Yow for 15 seasons, interviewed with Fowler for several hours in late March. She did not immediately return a call for comment Wednesday.
Yow was first diagnosed with breast cancer in 1987, but coached the U.S. Olympic team to the gold medal the next year. She was 737-344 in 38 seasons as a coach — 34 with the Wolfpack and four with Elon — and won four ACC tournament titles, earned 20 NCAA tournament bids and reached the Final Four in 1998 at N.C. State.
She also was inducted into the Naismith Hall of Fame in 2002, while the school dedicated ‘‘Kay Yow Court’’ in Reynolds Coliseum in 2007.
But for many fans, Yow was best defined by her unwavering resolve while fighting cancer after it first recurred during the 2004-05 season. She raised awareness and money for research, and stayed with her team through the debilitating effects of the disease and chemotherapy treatments.