The Times West Virginian

WVU Sports

March 25, 2014

HERTZEL COLUMN- Signs of Harris’ departure were evident

MORGANTOWN — Those of us in the media had hung a nickname on Eron Harris as he emerged as a mid-season star of the West Virginia basketball team.

“Harristotle” we called him, for he had become the team’s in-house philosopher.

Unlike most athletes, who give answers with X’s and O’s in them, and we are not talking about eXOtic answers, Harris’ would be thoughtful and deep. They would have meaning that went beyond the kind of answers that have become part of the athletic landscape since television reporters were willing to accept 15 seconds of sportspeak.

One example was perhaps the best at how introspective he could be, for this was a sensitive kid who didn’t just want to be known as a basketball player.

“Basketball is a sport. I’m not going to have basketball forever. This is for fun. Some people take it more seriously than they should, probably because they have nothing else to worry about but basketball,” he said.

“Sometimes my dad has to remind me that it’s not as big as I make it sometimes. When you don’t succeed all the time—when you get down on yourself, and you think that the world’s over and I’m not a good basketball player and I’m not getting as much hype as this other guy, my team isn’t winning—I’m not worth anything. Sometimes you think that.

“It’s about learning how to live life. That’s why I’m here in Morgantown, W.Va., of all places.”

Perhaps when he said that we all should have seen the surprise coming that he sprung on us Monday … although one suspects Bob Huggins was aware it was coming at least for a couple of days.

In fact, the night before Huggins announced that Harris, his 3-point shooting threat who averaged 17.2 points a game during this, his sophomore year, was transferring, it came out that Huggins had offered a scholarship for 2015 to Brandon Childress of Baldwin, Mich., a kid who averaged 19 points a game as a sophomore and 23 as a junior.

There were hints that something was amiss, not just Harris’ aim on his 3-point shot. Certainly, something was bothering him down the stretch as he scored just 5, 28, 3 and 10 points in his final four games.

Even his actions on court were not him, seeming moody and irritable.

But to guess he was thinking of leaving, transferring somewhere back home, that just wasn’t on the menu, unless … The other night I spent some time with someone who was close to Huggins outside of basketball and he dropped any number of hints. We talked about the parade of transfers out of WVU and he said he expected more would come.

He offered, too, that Huggins was almost as bummed out and low over the finish this year’s team had – losing seven of nine games and being bounced badly in all of them, including the first game it played in the Big 12 Tournament – as he was in last season’s dysfunctional 14-18 team.

Certainly, something was wrong internally, just as there had been the year before when Huggins ran of Aaric Murray and Jabarie Hinds among others.

This, though, was different for Huggins had actually rescued Harris out of basketball oblivion. He had been an overlooked high school player, a player whose potential not even his high school coaches in Indiana appreciated.

“My freshman year (at Lawrence North High School) I played on the freshman team. My sophomore year I played on the JV and I got moved up to varsity for one game. I wasn’t too confident, but I was trying to find my way. I was trying to find what my game was, how athletic I was, what was my niche specialty. Everybody else was getting ranked, everybody else was getting recruited, but I really wasn’t,” he explained after scoring 28 points against Kansas.

“I have never been that guy. And now that there’s a suggestion that I am the guy or that I could be one of the guys, it’s crazy for me mentally.”

Huggins saw more in him his junior and senior season, saw some who actually could walk in and play as a freshman and be the go-to scorer when he was hitting as a senior.

Oh, there were infuriating moments on defense … how many times would Huggins tell him to go under a screen only to have him go over it time and again or vice-versa? But you score 28 points and you can put up with some of that.

But there was more wrong, something deeper.

Right there at the end of the year, as Huggins talked about how his team had to get stronger, he pointed out that Harris had started the season at 195 pounds but ended it at 180.

Yes, he played hard, but that is not normal, considering that at 195 he was hardly what you would call a specimen.

This changes a lot for Huggins next year, with Staten’s holding the future of next season hostage with his decision on the NBA. If he goes it makes the Mountaineer backcourt Terry Henderson at the shooting guard and Gary Browne at the point, but if he stays Huggins has some options … none of them being setting Harris up for a long 3.

Follow Bob Hertzel on Twitter @bhertzel

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