Lady Vols coach Kellie Harper is no stranger to postseason tournaments. In her 18th season as a coach, Harper is one of two coaches in history to lead four different programs to the NCAA Tournament.
But winning in March takes more than just X's and O's.
Many coaches have superstitions, including the late Pat Summitt, who coached Harper at UT. Summitt was superstitious about ice cream sundaes and lucky coins, especially pennies, as detailed in Summitt's book "Raise the Roof." Summitt also always got her hair and nails done before a big game.
Harper's superstitious routine in March? Girl Scout cookies in her room.
"I don't know if they're out yet, but if they are, I'll probably try to find some in Nashville," Harper said. "I have the biggest sweet tooth ever, so I do not discriminate against any flavor of Girl Scout cookies. I think it all started years and years ago, when someone brought us some to the tournament, and then I felt like every year I needed to have Girl Scout cookies at the tournament. They're not in the players rooms. They're just in my room. So I'm going to be the one eating all the Girl Scout cookies."
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Harper's favorites include Tagalongs, Samoas and Thin Mints, but she'll take any flavor at the end of the day.
The NCAA Tournament field will be set for men and women next Sunday. Before then, the No. 3-seeded Lady Vols (22-7) will begin the SEC Tournament against either No. 11 Alabama or No. 6 Georgia in Friday's quarterfinals (8:30 p.m. CT, SEC Network) at Bridgestone Arena in Nashville.
Whether Harper gets her cookies or not, she loves everything about the postseason – from late bedtimes and early wakeup calls to scrambling to get scouting reports together for the next opponent.
Tennessee players have praised Harper's preparation all season, appreciating how articulate and thorough she is in preparing them. That preparation in March is only getting more thorough, and Harper said she's bringing all her scouting folders and every practice plan in her bag.
"I love the hustle and bustle of the tournament time, the competitiveness in figuring out what you got to do to get your team ready. I've always enjoyed that," Harper said. "I'll probably do a lot of things the same as I've done for near 20 years ... (there's) just a lot of things that I like to take with me, just to have on hand, because you never know what you're going to need."
Harper was unable to coach in the NCAA Tournament during her first season at UT because of the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. But two seasons later – and approaching the first postseason without strict testing and attendance protocols since 2020 – Harper said she appreciates that time even more.
"You never think that postseason is going to be taken away," Harper said. "The last two years and what's going on, it just makes you appreciate the opportunity that we have, to go out and play a game that we love on a huge stage with a lot of eyes on us and in the best league. So we have to be excited about that as an opportunity."
This article originally appeared on Knoxville News Sentinel: Why Lady Vols coach Kellie Harper has a sweet tooth superstition