ATLANTA In a Final Four notable for its lack of players and teams from North Carolina, there is at least one significant player with substantial roots in the state.
His name is Montrezl Harrell. He’s a freshman. Unless you closely follow college basketball, you haven’t heard of him yet. But Harrell, who is from Tarboro, is a key reserve on the Louisville team that plays Wichita State in one national semifinal Saturday and is favored to win the national championship.
The “L” in Harrell’s first name is silent. But his game is loud, built primarily on dunks and defense.
Harrell, who played three years of basketball at North Edgecombe and then his senior year at Hargrave Military Academy in Virginia, originally committed to Virginia Tech. North Carolina, 100 miles west of his hometown, was his dream school, but he said neither it nor Duke recruited him.
“I actually went up there and had a talk with Coach Roy Williams,” Harrell said, “but never had an offer from him.”
N.C. State offered him a scholarship “late,” Harrell said. Wake Forest offered him one, too. Harrell at first wanted to play in the ACC, and he connected most closely with Virginia Tech coach Seth Greenberg.
But when Virginia Tech fired Greenberg in April 2012, only months before Harrell was supposed to enter college, Harrell reconsidered. He obtained a release from his scholarship, re-opened his recruiting and ended up on one of the best teams in the nation.
Recruiting analyst Dave Telep said he had Harrell “in the 80s” of his Top 100 for the Class of 2012, which was similar to where Harrell ranked on other lists.
“When he was playing in high school in eastern North Carolina, he was like a video game,” Telep said. “He was just so much bigger and stronger than everyone else. Going to Hargrave really helped him in terms of level of competition.”
At 6-8, 235 pounds, Harrell doesn’t start but plays 16 minutes a game for Louisville and beefs up the team’s inside presence considerably. Of his 92 baskets this season, 43 have been on dunks. He averages 5.7 points and 3.7 rebounds per game.
That doesn’t compare to his high school numbers at Hargrave. In one 122-119 overtime win, he scored 51 points. In that game he also had 18 dunks, 17 rebounds and six blocked shots.
“He’ll have trouble buying suits,” Telep said. “His arms are incredibly long.”
“He’s physical, strong and athletic,” said Chane Behanan, the sophomore who starts in front of Harrell at power forward. “And a tremendous guy. But he gets like a bull on the court sometimes – one of those bulls bred to be angry.”
Harrell’s best game this year came in the Big East title game. He scored 20 points and had seven rebounds in that win over Syracuse, which could have been a preview of the national championship.
Harrell gained some notoriety this week because he was the “road roommate” of Kevin Ware, the Louisville guard whose horrific leg injury has drawn national attention. Harrell was on the bench when Ware broke his leg Sunday right in front of his teammates.
“I just started crying,” Harrell said. “I knew how much Kevin wanted to play. But Chane was crying even worse – he could barely walk. So I ended up trying to get him focused and subbing in for him until he could get it together.”
With Harrell just two wins away from a national title in his first year in college, he said he has never regretted the way his recruiting worked out.
“I made a great choice,” Harrell said. And while fans in the ACC might not agree, it’s hard to argue with that.
Scott Fowler: email@example.com; Twitter: @Scott_Fowler
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