It started with a missed phone call. Velaida Harris was unable to answer a call from Weber State athletic director Jerry Bovee in mid-July.
When Harris called the Weber State University athletic director back, she was unsure what he wanted to speak to her about.
“He asked me a few questions and we shot the breeze for a little while,” Harris said. “Internally, I was like ‘what is going on here’?”
Eventually, the motive became clear. Bovee phoned to offer Harris the head coaching position of the women’s basketball team at Weber State. Harris accepted the job, making her the sixth head coach in Wildcats history. She is also the first black woman to be the head coach of a Division I team in the state of Utah.
“I am genuinely excited,” Harris said. “I think this is a great place. In the time I spent here during my interview process, I could tell there was camaraderie between the people.”
Harris comes to Ogden with significant coaching experience under her belt. She first became an assistant coach at the collegiate level in 2007, after spending a decade in the high school ranks.
Harris assisted on the staff at the University of Utah from 2009–15 before holding the same position with the University of Rhode Island last season. Prior to taking over for Bethann Ord at WSU, Harris planned to stay in Rhode Island.
“I enjoyed my time there,” Harris said. “It was my first east coast experience. Just getting the opportunity to recruit in a different region was great.”
Although Harris will make the transition to being a head coach, she said she is not going to let her new role define her as a person.
“I am going to try to be the same human that I have always been,” Harris said. “I am going to be deliberate and intentional about the things I do with these young women and this program.”
Harris has a clear goal in mind from the jump, and it does not involve three-pointers or blocked shots. Instead, she wants to make her new squad well-known in the community.
Harris believes the city of Ogden will benefit from her team venturing out and making themselves part of the community from schools to hospitals.
In terms of the on-court product, Harris is making progress learning about the roster she will inherit.
“I have spoken to all of the players on the phone,” Harris said. “I have watched a ton of film and will continue to do so. I want to see what we’ve done and what our individual skill sets are.”
From her interactions over the phone, Harris said she has begun to tell what kind of characters her new players are.
“I can tell Jai (Welch-Coleman) has a great personality,” Harris said. “Emily (Drake) is competitive and wants to be better.”
Harris will be coaching a new-look Wildcats program as the team graduated four seniors last season and has announced four new recruits for the upcoming year. The coaching staff also underwent change, with assistants Matt Thune and Skyler Young leaving for Boston College and Portland State.
“We are not going to get players just to say we have new kids,” Harris said. “We are going to get players who we think can fit the standards we are trying to set with this program.”
Harris said she expects her two seniors, Welch-Coleman and Drake, to be leaders on and off the court.
Harris said, “They both have a lot of experience, not only on the court, but as student-athletes. They are going to lead by example.”
The Wildcats have taken full advantage of home-court advantage at the Dee Events Center over the last three seasons, going 31–14 at home during the span. Harris said she thinks her team can continue to use the arena to their advantage.
“For one, the fan base here is wonderful,” Harris said. “Second, the altitude is definitely a factor that can work out for us.”
Harris said being back in Utah is meaningful to her. She coached in the Beehive State for six years and resided for eight, before moving to the east coast.
“I love this state,” Harris said. “I fell in love with it when I was here before.”
Harris and her husband Jerry have three children, who now all have the opportunity to return to Utah and reunite with old friends.
“I have a son who has already been here and a daughter who goes to San Diego State,” Harris said. “For her to be able to come back and see her high school friends is a big deal.”
Harris’ youngest daughter, a senior, is excited to be returning to Utah to finish her high school education.
Harris said she has simple expectations for her team on a day-to-day basis. At this point, results are not at the forefront of her decision making.
“I want to see energy,” Harris said. “We need to be excited about what we are doing and give our best effort. We are getting to do something that we absolutely love, so we need to show gratitude.”
In 2017–18, the Wildcats won their final three games of the regular season before a first-round exit in the Big Sky Conference tournament. Harris said she hopes her team will take the next step in 2018–19.
“We have lost five key players from last season, so new people will have to step up,” Harris said. “The goal absolutely is to win the Big Sky championship and get to the NCAA Tournament.”
Harris said she is eager for the new season to begin, along with her Weber State career.
Harris said. “I hope the fan base is excited. I look forward to getting out there and meeting everybody. At some point, I think we are going to do a meet and greet with the community and I am looking forward to that.”