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Kellie Harper Expects to See Many Lady Vol Fans in Road Opener

Photo by Caitlyn Jordan/RTI

It’s not every year that the Lady Vols basketball program begins their season on the road. Especially in Johnson City, Tennessee — home of the East Tennessee State Buccaneers

“At this point, I’m just excited to get started,” first-year head coach Kellie Harper said during her media availability on Monday afternoon. “I am going to be partial towards Thompson-Boling Arena, so I am going to want to play here as much as we can, but it will be good for us to get a road trip under our belts early in the season.

“I totally expect to see orange in the gym when we walk in Tuesday night for the game. I think there are a lot of people that have high expectations and anticipation for what this team is going to look like. I know we have a lot of Tennessee fans up in the Tri-Cities area.”

Tuesday night’s contest between the Lady Vols and Lady Bucs will serve as Harper’s first official game as head coach. When the two teams tip-off, she’ll be looking to do something that even Pat Summit never did: win her very first game as the head coach of the Lady Vols.

That feat hasn’t been done since 1971 when Margaret Hutson defeated Middle Tennessee State. With a win, Harper would be the First Lady Vols head coach since Hutson to win her coaching debut. She would also become the first coach to win her debut on the road since Mabel Miller did so in 1922.

In order to come out with the win, Harper knows that the offense has to get better.

“I think right now our spacing, timing, and passing – all of those things – can improve, and that would improve our offense,” Harper stated. “When those things get a little bit better, I think our shooting percentage will go up.”

Tennessee won its lone exhibition game of the preseason last week, defeating Carson-Newman 70-44 last Wednesday behind 20 points and eight rebounds from junior forward Rennia Davis. Sophomore Rae Burrell chipped in 14 points and nine rebounds.

Three-point shooting was a concern, however, as was the team’s overall ability to shoot the basketball. Tennessee was just 2-of-15 from behind the 3-point line, and they shot just 35.4 percent from the field.

“I think if you pull the stats on this program from last year moving into this year, I think it’s a concern on our three-point shooting percentage,” Harper responded when asked if it’s too early to be concerned about the team’s shooting woes. “We have players that can make shots. I don’t know yet what that percentage is going to be. We hope to continue to improve it. We have players in the gym getting extra shots up. Our staff has really been diligent on making sure that happens.”

“When our players shoot it, I want them to have great confidence. I don’t want them hesitating, and hopefully we can continue to give them that confidence as they get into the gym.”

ETSU will serve as somewhat of a surprise to the Lady Vols. There isn’t any current film to watch on the Bucs because they didn’t play in an exhibition game. In Brittney Ezell’s seventh season as head coach at ETSU, the Bucs return nine players and welcome six newcomers. Only two starters return.

Erica Haynes-Overton (16.8 PPG) and Micah Scheetz (11.2 PPG) were ETSU’s top two scorers last season, and both are back this year. Haynes-Overton is the Bucs’ returning leader in rebounding, steals, blocks, assists, and minutes played.

“For us, it is a little bit of a guessing game in terms of what the personnel will look like, other than we feel like we know their go-to players,” Harper said. “We can watch film from last year and get an idea of what their system is and the style in what they like to do. For us, I think they are running a lot of sets. We anticipate we can see both a two-three zone, a press, and man-to-man. We are trying to prepare for everything at this point. And at the end, we know we have to key in on a couple of their perimeter players.”

The Lady Bucaneers usually play their home games in Brooks Gym, a 3,500-seat gym on campus. With the Lady Vols coming to town, the game was moved to Freedom Hall, which seats 6,149 fans and plays host to ETSU’s men’s team.

Harper’s coaching debut as the Lady Vols’ head coach is scheduled for a 7 p.m. ET tip-off.

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