By Bob Hertzel
Times West Virginian
The Big 12, as you may have read recently from those who would have you believe it is the second-toughest basketball league in the country, conceding that only the NBA is a step or two ahead of it, is loaded with talent.
Be it Marcus Smart at Oklahoma State or Andrew Wiggins at Kansas, who may be the nation’s two top players, or any of a dozen more 5-star recruits spread throughout the conference that went through non-league competition with the highest RPI, it is an NBA scout’s heaven.
Yet, as league play began and you looked at the league’s statistics, the highest scorer in the conference was none other than one Eron Harris of West Virginia University, a player who did not figure to contend for the scoring title any more than his team figures to contend for the conference title.
“No one could foresee him leading the team in scoring,” said his coach, Bob Huggins. “I didn’t.”
But Harris, then a true freshman, did lead the Mountaineers in scoring last season, although it was hardly a fact noticed across America, considering he failed even to average double figures, finishing with a team-high 9.8 average.
So, you can understand why his early season scoring outburst is surprising everyone but one person – himself.
“It doesn’t surprise me. It’s just the way it happened so far. I don’t know how it will end,” he said.
The truth is, Harris never has really been a prolific scorer.
At Lawrence North High in Indianapolis, a team that was loaded, he averaged but 14 points per game as a senior.
“It was such a good team that he wasn’t one of the primary options,” Huggins recalled.
Harris doesn’t worry about his high school numbers.
“High school doesn’t mean anything to me now. It doesn’t mean anything to anyone after high school,” he said.
He was a team player, out to grab victories, not headlines, fully confident in what he could accomplish.
“I always knew in the back of my head that I was one of the best players in my state. I don’t know about in the rest of the country, but in my state … even though I didn’t get the respect.”
It didn’t take long for his teammates to realize he was special upon coming to WVU.
“Just playing through the summer we noticed he could really shoot the ball,” point guard Juwan Staten said. “We noticed he had a good feel for this system from Day 1. The things Coach Huggs asked him to do he was always willing to do and was enthusiastic about it.”
And, if he didn’t bring with him a reputation as a big scorer, it hardly mattered.
“Scoring, I guess, was just something he had down inside of him,” Staten said. “He really started scoring when he got his opportunity around the middle of the season last year. We hadn’t seen him score like that before.”
What Huggins saw was a kid who competed hard in practice and worked on things that needed improvement until he got them right.
“He’s definitely one of the most competitive players I’ve met or played against, just because he wants it so bad,” Staten said. “He really puts the work in, puts the time in and has a passion for the game. He’s not going to stop playing until he has some success.”
Harris says he inherits his competitive nature.
“I get it probably from my parents and my big brother, Eric” he said. “He always was more competitive than me but, it rubbed off on me and I grew into it. He doesn’t play anymore. He played his freshman year in college, but he enjoys watching me now.”
Harris still is discovering things about himself and his game and how it fits into what WVU is trying to accomplish. On Thursday, before practice he was asked if he had to go through the Big 12 season at or near the top in scoring for WVU to have a good year.
“I honestly just want to find my perfect point of production to benefit the team the best,” he said. “I don’t know if that’s scoring 18 points a game or scoring a little less. I’m searching for what’s best for me to help the team the most.”
See, as it was in high school, Harris isn’t making it about himself.
“It’s about whether the team is winning. Everybody produces and contributes something different. I contribute scoring,” he said. “I want to contribute a lot more, especially on the boards and to be a defensive leader.”
Follow Bob Hertzel on Twitter @bhertzel.