What offensive mentality will Lady Vols have under Kellie Harper?

Kellie Harper had to laugh because she realized that every first-year coach says the same thing when asked to describe an offensive philosophy.

“No coach in the country is going to say they’re going to walk the ball up the floor. I get that,” the Lady Vols coach said last week during an exclusive interview with the News Sentinel. “We’re not going to walk the ball up the floor, either. We’re going to push the tempo.”

Harper took the reins of a Tennessee team that ranked third in the SEC in scoring last season, but much of that firepower will not return next season.

Rennia Davis (14.9 points per game) and Zaay Green (9.6 ppg) are the only players set to return who averaged at least five points per contest.

Harper said her team’s approach will be summed up in a single word: aggressive.

“We’re going to be aggressive getting the ball into the paint," she said. "We’re going to be aggressive defensively, as well. I think we can utilize our length defensively, whether that be in a half-court (defense) or a full-court or in our traps. I just think we can utilize that and our athleticism quite a bit there. We’re going to be aggressive on the boards.”

What were the hallmarks of Kellie Harper’s Missouri State teams?

Harper coached six seasons at Missouri State before Tennessee hired her in April to replace Holly Warlick. The Lady Bears had varying rates of success under Harper, making the NCAA Tournament twice and the Women’s National Invitation Tournament three times.

But there were a couple of constants.

Missouri State ranked in the top half of the Missouri Valley Conference in scoring average and rebounding margin in each of Harper’s six seasons. That included MSU ranking second or third in scoring average in all but one season and ranking in the top three in rebounding margin in all but one season.

“We’re going to be aggressive on the boards,” Harper said. “That’s been a hallmark of my teams in the past, and that will not change here. We probably want to even amp it up even more.”

What to expect from Lady Vols on offense

The Lady Vols will have a three-pronged approach on offense.

They’ll look to score in transition. In the half court, they’ll emphasize a free-flowing motion “where the players don’t have to be so robotic,” Harper said. But there also will be structured set pieces.

“I think that style of play is fun for our team,” Harper said. “They get to do some things on their own. They get to see the court. … I can rein them in when I need to.”

Harper especially likes the length and athleticism on the roster she takes over, but she’d like to “diversify our strengths a little bit” as she gets her thumbprints on the program.

She wants players who can shoot, plus those who can penetrate, rebound and defend.

“Having versatile players is really important,” Harper said. “For me, looking back at some of the recent – and, some 20 years ago – national champions, you saw a lot of diverse athletes. They could do a lot of different things. I want to make sure that we’re moving in that direction.”

Blake Toppmeyer covers University of Tennessee athletics. Email him at blake.toppmeyer@knoxnews.com and follow him on Twitter @btoppmeyer. If you enjoy Blake’s coverage, consider a digital subscription that will allow you access to all of it.

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