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    Basketball: A Harper Family Affair
    Kellie Harper
    Kellie Harper

    Nov. 13, 2012

    For NC State head coach Kellie Jolly Harper, basketball has always been a family affair.

    “My parents always liked to tell the story that when I came home from the hospital after I was born, they put a basketball in my hand,” the State mentor said recently.

    And from that point forward, it was basketball, basketball, and more basketball not only for Kellie, but also eventually for her two brothers Brent and Ross.

    In order to put things into proper perspective, one has to examine the Jolly family from the get-go. Kellie’s Dad was one of 13 children and her mom was one of six.

    Both parents played college basketball at Tennessee Tech and her father, Kenneth Ray, who passed away suddenly last January at the age of 72, was a long-time legendary coach at White County High School in Sparta, Tennessee.

    Brother Brent came along three years after Kellie and the two literally grew up in the White County High gym.

    “Dad would take Brent and I to the gym everyday,” Kellie remembered.

    Brent agreed. “We were in the gym all the time, at night and on weekends.”

    Kellie recalled, “I must have taken a million shots and Dad rebounded a million. I would work at one end and Brent would shoot at the other end.

    “Since I was the oldest, he (Dad) would work with me first and then go to the other end and work with Brent.”

    According to Kellie, those sessions almost always ended up in one-on-one pick-up games -- sister against brother.  And the competitiveness of both plus the sibling rivalry surfaced.

    Pushing and shoving and with tempers flaring, Kellie remembered:  “They almost always ended up in a fight and Dad had to break them up. We were very competitive.  And Dad loved every minute of it.

    “Dad was tough on me, but that was not a bad thing. If I had chosen to do something differently, Dad would have still wanted me to have that competitive edge. He was patient and pushed me. Mom just sat on the sidelines, watching.”

    Kellie said both brothers also had the same competitiveness. “We didn’t want to lose at anything.”

    Baby brother Ross came along eight years after Brent. That separation didn’t keep him away from Kellie and Ross’s playing days.

    “Ross grew up in the gym, following us around,” Kellie said. “He’d go to games as a toddler, go to basketball camps, team camps and on AAU trips.”

    Ross remembers those years vividly. “I can remember being picked up at elementary school and then going to games. It was a fun time at that age. I stayed pretty glued to the court (instead of being distracted by other activities at that young age).”

    While Kellie was leading a spectacular prep career including three AAU national championships en route to playing for coach Pat Summit’s Tennessee Lady Vols and three more national titles, Brent was keeping the family affair going  by building his own basketball resume.

    He played for two state prep championship teams prior to a successful collegiate career at Tennessee Tech under coach Jeff Lebo, a former UNC standout. For the past 10 years, the accountant major has been at Chattanooga as a graduate assistant, director of basketball operations and now as an assistant coach.

    After serving as Chattanooga Moc’s women’s basketball team manager for four years, Ross took an assistant’s position at Tusculum College (Tennessee). He is now in his first year as an assistant on the University of North Carolina at Wilmington’s women’s team.

    “Ross has a really good understanding of basketball,” Kellie noted. “No doubt, he’s heard the family’s talk – Dad drawing up plays and picking things up. He’s going to be a really good coach.”

    Kellie uses Brent as a major resource, confiding that most college coaches have one or two knowledgeable basketball people they can call upon if they have issues and situations they need to talk to someone about.

    “Men’s and women’s games are different and Brent knows the differences,” Kellie said. “He coached AAU girls and knows women’s basketball.”

    With the life of the Jolly family wrapped up in basketball, it has been impossible for the parents to see all of their children’s games because they often have overlapped.

    “My junior year in college, we (Tennessee) played at Vandy in the regionals and 30 minutes down the road Brent’s team was playing for the state high school championship,” Kellie recalled.

    “As soon as we won and were headed to the Final Four, I talked to Brent on the phone after he had won the state championship…And once my parents and my uncle drove 27 hours to see me play in Ogden, Utah.”

    No matter what the occasion in which the myriad of aunts and uncles and other relatives of the Jolly family get together at holidays or reunions, Kellie, Brent and Ross all say that the conversation eventually turns to basketball.

    Brent says it’s natural and “every conversation ends up about basketball, or about this guy or offensive and defensive plays or basketball on TV.”

    “A lot of my aunts also played basketball,” Kellie noted. “The entire extended family lives and breathes basketball.”

    Nowadays, Kellie’s mom has plenty to look forward to -- seeing her three children coaching Division I college basketball.

    “She can come to Raleigh and see us (Wolfpack) play and Ross is only two hours down the road at UNC Wilmington. She’s an hour and 15 minutes from seeing Brent. What a unique situation.”

    And what a unique family.

    George Cox,



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