The Times West Virginian

Sports

June 22, 2014

HERTZEL COLUMN: Will Harris find what he’s looking for?

MORGANTOWN — Something was missing back there a couple of months ago when Eron Harris announced he was going to leave West Virginia University’s basketball team, the one major college that had given him a chance when it appeared he might be overlooked, a chance he took advantage of to average 17 points a game as a sophomore.

Certainly, he wasn’t leaving looking for playing time. Certainly he wasn’t looking to find a place where his role was more important.

No, it was something else.

Most everyone focused in on Bob Huggins, the hard-driving coach who has had a stream of players leaving his program over the past few years, many believing his coaching style was behind Harris’ departure.

But it is dangerous to jump to judgment, especially at a time when no definitive problem had been offered from the player himself, and that is why we have waited all this time to try and make sense of Harris’ exit which led to Michigan State.

With the Spartans, he has gone to no less a taskmaster in Tom Izzo, but what he has gone to is a situation that would seem to be more likely to go to a Final Four.

This, it seems, is a big part of the equation, especially if you look at Harris’ recent history.

Harris had come to WVU and led the team in scoring as a freshman and was virtually the co-leader with Juwan Staten last season, yet each season the team struggled for .500, failing to reach it his freshman year. Post-season play consisted of one NIT game in a Georgetown gym not as good as many of the high school gyms in which he played.

During this past year, Harris offered some insight into himself following a truly dismal 0-for-7 shooting performance against Oklahoma, putting it as only he could, his philosophical post-game analyses having earned him the nickname of “Harristotle”.

“I missed shot after shot after shot after shot,” Harris said. “I never got going. It’s the most frustrating things. Two years ago, I probably would have started crying in the game and told the coach, ‘Take me out of the game. I don’t want to go back in.’”

That was in high school, where he was just beginning to develop as a top-line player.

“We had the most talented team in the state, by far, and we were under .500,” he said. “We don’t know what the answer was for that. Maybe we weren’t playing hard enough. Maybe we weren’t doing this or that.

“I know I was being a leader on and off the court and trying my hardest every game, but for that to be the outcome makes me so much more motivated going forward now.”

Only things didn’t change. The Mountaineers continued to struggle, and the frustrations grew with Harris.

In a way what occurred was destiny, for his high school coach, Jack Keefer, saw it happening a year earlier, analyzing the ups and downs of Harris’ play during his freshman year to Mike Casazza of the Charleston Daily Mail.

“Eron plays better with good players,” Keefer said. “If Eron thinks he’s far superior to the people around him, he’s probably going to shoot too much and drive into a crowd where there isn’t room and be very impatient on offense. It’s not hard to get mad at him for things like that.”

How many times this past year had Harris done exactly that, trying to take charge on a team that just didn’t have much of an offensive presence beyond Staten. He would take too many shots, some bad due to impatience, drive into crowds of defenders trying to make something good happen where only bad could be the result.

Jack Keefer knew his stuff. He should have. He was called “the Dean of Marion County coaches” – no, not this Marion County, the one in Indiana where he has coached for 40 years and won more than 700 games.

He understood Harris, who is a different kind of kid than you normally come across in big-time college sports. He was sensitive and thoughtful, confident yet obviously unfulfilled when you look back on it.

Was it Huggins?

Maybe part of it.

Eron’s father, Eric Harris, told The Detroit News the family respects Huggins but “the coaching style at West Virginia wasn’t a match for Eron.”

But it was something more than just the coaching style.

It was more the life style, something he pointed to after the transfer was in place.

“At West Virginia, I just didn’t feel like my life was whole,” he said. “The basketball part was going pretty well, but I felt stressed in some other areas.”

When you hear this, and remember that this is a sensitive kid who may have been looking for different things than many of the athletes who come to town look for, you can assume this was more something out of style of life than style of play.

“I came through (Morgantown) and learned some things. There were some good things that happened to me and some bad things that happened. And I appreciate all the fans that showed me love, I really do,” is the way he put it the other night on the MetroNews Statewide Sports Line.

Will he find what he’s looking for in East Lansing, Mich.?

That remains to be seen, but what we do know is that what he had here wasn’t what he wanted or needed at this point in his college career.

Follow Bob Hertzel on Twitter @bhertzel.

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