MICHAEL MAROT,AP Sports Writer
FISHERS, Ind. (AP) — Right in the middle of the Walk of Fame at Hamilton Southeastern High School — not far from the championship honors for mock trials, swimming and girl’s golf — are two 8-by-13-inch photos. One shows a smiling two-time, all-state football player and the other an unassuming two-time, all-state basketball player.
Same kid, smiling or not. And it has been quite a ride for Gary Harris these past few years.
In just 12 months, Harris has gone from a 17-year-old, two-sport preps standout to a bona fide college basketball star. The former Indiana Mr. Basketball is the Big Ten freshman of the year, and he will play a big role this week in determining whether Michigan State will advance to the Final Four.
It’s hard for anyone in this northern Indianapolis suburb, including the Harrises, to fathom. There is also talk of the June NBA draft floating around, too.
“Surreal,” said Harris’ father, Gary. “A lot has transpired in the last 12 months and it’s just so exciting to be living the dream at this level. To receive all of those awards and with a nice crop of talented Big Ten freshman this year, it was (quite) an accomplishment. That last part (the draft), obviously, people have their opinions, but I think it’s still early for that process.”
Good things always seem to come early for Harris, who made his varsity team as a freshman and one year later had his coach, Brian Satterfield, convinced he had a special player. This transition has come with such speed that school officials haven’t even found a suitable place to hang Harris’ coveted No. 1 jersey, the one Mr. Basketball wears in the Indiana-Kentucky All-Star Game.
For Harris’ parents, they’ve been too busy working out logistics to worry about honors and trophy presentations.
The elder Gary Harris spends time traveling extensively throughout the northern part of Indiana for his job. He and his wife, Joy, a Purdue alum and former WNBA player, have taken turns making regular drives to East Lansing, Mich., and a few nearby schools — Indiana, Michigan, Ohio State and Purdue — while the other parent stays home with Harris’ two younger siblings.
On Friday, everyone will hop in the family car, drive 30 minutes to downtown Indianapolis and see the third-seeded Spartans (27-8) face second-seeded Duke (29-5) in the Midwest Regional semifinals.
On Thursday, Harris will be practicing in front of a crowd that is sure to include some of his closest high school friends and mentors and then playing the biggest game of his life in front of a crowd that is expected to be close to the roughly 36,000-seat capacity. The Spartans’ practice is open to the public.
“I think you’ll see some Royals blue in the stands down there,” Hamilton Southeastern co-athletic director Jim Self said. “He’s had a big impact on this school. I think you see more Michigan State stuff in the hallways now than I noticed before because of Gary. So I don’t know if it’s that there are more Michigan State fans or more Gary Harris fans.”
Harris’ third trip back to Indiana might be his warmest homecoming yet.
He’s found a way to play through the shoulder and back injuries that plagued him earlier this season, and he probably won’t have to contend with the angry, boisterous crowds that booed him relentlessly at Indiana and Purdue. The Spartans lost in Bloomington, but won in West Lafayette.
Harris, his dad and those at Hamilton Southeastern understood why people were upset.
“Look, you’ve got your faithful fans who are there every day and a kid from Indiana who decided to go elsewhere. To me, that shows a lot of respect. They’re booing him because they wanted him to be part of their program,” Satterfield said. “But if they knew Gary, they wouldn’t boo him.”
This time, everyone expects more cheers.
For one, Michigan State is the only Big Ten team in town this weekend. Plus, they’re facing the same Blue Devils that local fans haven’t forgiven for taking down hometown favorite Butler in the 2010 national championship game — Duke’s last trip to Indy.
If the Spartans beat Duke, they would again be the underdog against top-seeded Louisville, the team Indiana fans believe stole the Hoosiers ticket to Indianapolis.
Harris can’t wait.
“It’s good. I get to go back to Lucas Oil, Indianapolis, real close to home, right in my backyard,” he said. “I mean it feels good to go home, but we’ve just got to go down there and get a win. I’ll feel better even if I get two wins.”
Harris isn’t the only coming home this weekend.
Duke’s roster includes Indiana natives Mason and Marshall Plumlee. They’re originally from Warsaw, a small community near South Bend.
Louisville has forward Stephan Van Treese, who graduated from Lawrence North in Indy, and assistant coach Kareem Richardson, who played college ball at Evansville. He also has coached at Evansville, Indiana State and the University of Indianapolis.
Oregon, the Cardinals’ opponent Friday, has former Indiana State coach Kevin McKenna on its staff and Ducks assistant coach Brian Fish grew up in Seymour, Ind., about 55 miles north of Louisville.
Then there’s Michigan State, which has Harris and backcourt mate Branden Dawson, who is from Gary, Ind., near Chicago. They might have to lead the charge if injured guard Keith Appling isn’t 100 percent.
Spartans coach Tom Izzo has been impressed with Harris’ emergence and appreciated the passion he showed by pumping his fist and screaming to the rafters after making his fourth 3-pointer in four minutes during the win over Memphis.
“You’ve got to be a little demonstrative,” Izzo said. “You have to show your emotion. The flat-line thing, some people want to talk about, that’s cool. What’s cool about it? Why should you have to guess if a guy is feeling good or feeling bad? I believe that passion is a motivator. It drives you, and some people can hold it in, they say. I’m not a big believer in that. So I say if it’s important to you, you’re going to see that it’s important. Gary is learning how to do that.”
Those at Hamilton Southeastern have seen it all before.
While Harris has been Michigan State’s second-leading scorer at 13.1 points, Izzo, one of college basketball’s most established and successful coaches, has routinely praised Harris’ toughness, his defense and his ability to make adjustments on the fly. Just like Satterfield did the previous four years.
“The main thing is that he’s got a great work ethic and he’s always been a team player. You know, he could have done more with us, but he always played within the system,” Satterfield said. “What separates him from most players is what he does on the defensive end of the floor.”
NBA teams have taken note.
Some analysts now see Harris as a top 10 pick in June’s draft, though the family has given no indication the Big Ten’s top freshman will go that route.
“I’m sure that’s his goal to get there one day,” Harris’ dad said. “But really, it’s not something that we’ve even discussed or thought about any further. We want to support this ride and see how far we can get.”
The wild 12-month continues Friday and, if all goes well, Sunday, in front of a hometown crowd.
“To think he was playing in this gymnasium 12 months ago and this year he’s already playing to try and get to the Final Four,” Self said, “it’s just amazing.”
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