(Guru's note: Here is the full Associated Press coverage of Thursday's press conference in Raleigh introducing Kellie Harper as the new coach at N.C. State)
RALEIGH, N.C. — Kellie Harper didn't need anyone to remind her about the pressure of following Kay Yow at North Carolina State. There were reminders everywhere she looked Thursday, from the banners hanging in Reynolds Coliseum to Yow's name on the court.
But she's not going to shy away from the Hall of Famer's legacy.
"Kay Yow is and will always be a legend," Harper said shortly after being introduced as the Wolfpack's new women's basketball coach. "You obviously know that when you step foot on this campus. I respect what she has meant to this university, to this program. I can't be her. I wish I could. She's been tremendous.
"I have to be me. And that is, in my opinion, the best way that I can honor her."
The hiring of Harper represents a significant change in direction for the program Yow led for more than three decades before her death in January after a long fight against cancer. Yow had hoped for longtime assistant coach Stephanie Glance to get the job. The school conducted a search that ultimately focused on the 31-year-old Harper, who has spent the past five years at Western Carolina and was part of Tennessee's three straight national championship teams from 1996-98.
Harper compiled a 97-65 record while leading the Catamounts to two NCAA tournament bids and a pair of Southern Conference championships. N.C. State gave her a five-year contract with a base salary of $247,000.
Harper takes over one of the Atlantic Coast Conference's most traditionally successful programs, but one that has slid in recent years while nearby rivals Duke and North Carolina have become powerhouses.
"This team and staff has got to work hard to get where we want to go," Harper said. "But we are accepting that challenge. We want to consistently compete for and win championships. We want to beat our neighbors who wear various shades of blue. The bottom line: we want to win and make you proud."
Harper met with her players shortly before the news conference. The team immediately asked to see her Tennessee national championship rings.
Nikitta Gartrell, who will be a senior next year, said the team is ready to give Harper a chance even though they spent the past few weeks hoping Glance would get the job.
"We can't control anything that happens in the offices," Gartrell said. "We just take what we're given. We're just taking this thing day by day and welcoming coach Harper as one of our own."
Athletics director Lee Fowler said Yow's wish for Glance to follow her made the search a sensitive issue for some, but ultimately it was about finding the best coach for the job. He said he interviewed about a half-dozen candidates.
"We told (Yow) exactly what was going to happen — that (Glance) would be considered and we promised her she'd be in it until the finals," Fowler said after the news conference. "But she would have to compete like everybody else and the best coach would be hired. So she knew that. Whether she was happy with that, I don't know, but that was two years out ... She was the only assistant that we interviewed.
"Stephanie and I were very open with each other throughout the whole process. She knew that her not being a head coach was not a good thing for her because other people had been head coaches."
Glance issued a statement Thursday afternoon thanking the school and Wolfpack fans for their support.
"I am saddened today that I will not have the opportunity to be the next head coach for the women's basketball," she said. "I am most grateful for the lessons learned from the legendary Coach Kay Yow! These will stay with me for a lifetime! I wish her successor the best."