Shelby Harper joined the University of Louisville women’s basketball program four years ago to prove a point.
Harper came to U of L as a small but feisty point guard who wasn’t even listed on the school’s roster when she entered her first game as a freshman.
”A lot of people didn’t think I could do it,” Harper said. “I came to prove everybody wrong, that I could play at Louisville.”
Even Harper admits she wasn’t sure she would play meaningful minutes. But she has not only done that, she’s become a key player in the program.
The 5-foot-4 former walk-on started 17 games as a freshman and on Wednesday night will play in her 114th career game on U of L’s Senior Night. She will join Monique Reid as the two seniors in the starting lineup.
”It has gone by really fast,” Harper said. “I really can’t believe it’s almost over.”
Harper, who will start her 20th career game against Seton Hall, has 199 career points, 145 career rebounds and 132 career assists. She’s averaging 12.7 minutes a game and has hit 30 career three-point field goals.
”Shelby has meant a lot to this program and we are going to miss her,” U of L coach Jeff Walz said. “She’s one of the hardest workers out there. She’s been a really good player for us all four years.”
But that’s not how she started out her career.
A member of the All-Fourth Region team as a senior at Allen County High School in Scottsville, Ky., Harper had a chance to go to smaller schools.
But she wanted to make it at U of L.
”I just imagined me being the on the end of the bench and going in at the end of games that we are winning by 20,” Harper said with a smile. “But then in second half of the season (as a freshman), I ended up starting because everybody was hurt.”
Walz had his roster rocked by injuries during the 2009-10 season and Harper had to start 17 games at the point guard spot. She played in 29 games that season, averaging 22.8 minutes and 3.8 points a game.
”That was such a good experience for me,” Harper recalls.
It was during that first season with the team struggling because of the injuries that Harper became a huge fan favorite. She would get a loud ovation anytime she came into or left a game at home.
And she’s remained a crowd favorite to this day.
”I didn’t really notice it until coach pointed it out,” Harper said. “And then I started listening for it a little. It gets me going.
”I think it just gets me excited. Everybody loves people cheering for you. I am very fortunate to have the support that I have had behind me.”
Walz said her tenacity and all-out effort makes it easy for Harper to be a fan favorite. He expects a huge ovation on Wednesday.
”Everybody loves her,” Walz said. “She’s meant a lot to our program and I think you can see the fans really know how hard she plays and how tough she is.”
Harper knows this won’t be her last time to play in front of the home fans. U of L will host the first two rounds of the NCAA Tournament next month, but she’s also aware that her career is coming to an end.
”It’s been so awesome,” Harper said. “I don’t think it’s going to hit me until a week after we are done and then it’s going to hit me that I am really done. But as far as I am concerned, I couldn’t have asked for anything more.”