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January 19, 2013

WVU’s Harris born to play basketball

MORGANTOWN — Sometimes field goals are tough to get, but for West Virginia University’s clutch-shooting freshman Eron Harris, they come far easier than tickets for his homecoming today.

Harris, you see, is an Indiana kid, which in terms of basketball is like saying a race horse is from Kentucky or a peach is from Georgia.

His roots lie in Indianapolis, his pedigree out of Lawrence North High School, which has turned out any number of college stars, not the least of which was Greg Oden, son of former Fairmont State player Joe Jones. Oden was recently picked by MaxPrep as the No. 2 high school basketball player of the last decade behind a guy named LeBron James.

Harris hasn’t reached those heights, but when WVU plays Purdue at 1:30 p.m. today, he’ll be back in Indiana, and there are quite a few people who want to see his return.

“I’ve got to get 15 plus tickets for family members. Friends will be more,” he said.

And where do those tickets come from?

“Nobody else on the team is using theirs,” he said.

If you are a basketball player in Indiana, you are royalty. Think of the players that have come out of the state.

You begin, of course, with Oscar Robertson, We’re half a century past his prime and he’s still on everyone’s all-time lists.

But there’s more, so much more. Check it out, in no particular order and not meaning to be all-inclusive:

• Larry Bird

• Kyle Macy

• Rick Mount

• Walt Bellamy

• The Van Arsdale twins

• Reggie Miller

• Austin Carr

• Isaiah Thomas

• Steve Alford

• Shawn Kemp

• Adrian Dantley

• George McGinnis

• Glenn Robinson

• A guy named John Wooden

Not to put young Eron Harris in this class, but this is what kids growing up in Indiana are shooting for, to etch their name there somewhere, and he’s off to a decent start, especially as a clutch player.

“That’s where it’s at, Indiana basketball; everybody knows that,” he said when the subject came up in advance of heading to Purdue. “It’s competition; it’s about the public schools. In Indiana you don’t have the private schools.”

Once upon a time you didn’t have divisions in the state tournament, which led to the movie “Hoosiers”.

And in that same category of famous schools is Lawrence North, which not only turned out Oden but Mike Conley and Eric Montross.

“I was happy to be part of that tradition,” Harris said. “I wanted to be an Indiana All-Star. It didn’t happen for me, but I’m still here, though, playing at the next level.”

The top Indiana colleges like Indiana, Purdue, Notre Dame, even Butler, were filled up before he showed off his best talent, averaging 14 points a game as a senior while shooting 85 percent from the free-throw line.

“I just wanted to find a comfortable place, a place that cared about the players,” he said.

And he felt comfortable with WVU and Bob Huggins.

One reason was Huggins reminds him of his high school coach, Jack Keefer.

“He’s a mini-version of Huggins. That’s how I’ve always described him. My dad taught me the same way, so I’m prepared,” he said.

Keefer, he said, focused on individual work with his players.

“He always had us in the gym working with an assistant coach. He always felt if we got better as individuals we would get better as a team, and he always preached toughness,” Harris said.

Harris had to admit that Keefer did not have a treadmill like Huggins.

“We didn’t have a treadmill, but we had a floor. We didn’t need a treadmill,” he said, inferring they ran baseline to baseline a whole lot.

And so he really did feel comfortable.

Of course, he had to impress Huggins and work his way into playing time, something he has done in the best way possible, by being maybe the one guy on the team who can shoot a little bit from the outside.

What’s more, he seems to do it at the most opportune moments.

A couple of Wednesdays ago at Texas he calmly sank a 3-point shot with 16.4 seconds left that gave the Mountaineers a stunning 50-47 lead. It could have been the game-winner, but Texas tied in the final seconds to force overtime.

Sunday it was more of the same, WVU was staring at defeat against No. 18 Kansas State when he went to the baseline and hit an off-balance, falling-away shot that put WVU up 64-63. But 25.8 seconds were left, and the Mountaineers blew this lead and lost.

Then, on this past Wednesday at Iowa State he began pumping in long 3s in the second half as WVU outscored the Cyclones 31-13 down the stretch to erase an 18-point deficit only to lose in the final seconds again.

With this he went from being a big part of the WVU future to being a big part of the present.

He understands he’s still learning, still waiting for it all to come together for him.

That’s the hard part, having been a high school star and then spending a lot of time sitting and waiting for chances as a freshman.

“I think it helps to keep talking to people who have already been through it,” he said. “We have a perfect person in Da’Sean Butler. He’s always talking to us about being patient; your time will come.”

Harris’ is coming faster than anyone realized it would.

“He comes in with a great attitude, and he gives us a shot of athleticism we really need out on the court,” Huggins said.

Email Bob Hertzel at bhertzel@hotmail.com or follow him on Twitter @bhertzel.

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