That Jo. Harris spells his first name with a period and pronounces it with a period makes the Coastal Carolina senior forward one of the more unique players in college basketball.
“My uncle’s name is Joe Harris and my grandfather’s name is Joe Harris,” Jo. Harris explained. “When I was in middle school, the teacher asked if I had a nickname or wanted to be called Joseph. I thought it was time to be different, to do something to distinguish myself from the other Joe Harrises so I told her I wanted to be known as Jo. Harris with a period. The name caught on with everyone at school and I’ve been Jo. Harris ever since. Everyone on campus calls get a kick out of calling me Joe Period Harris.”
The student body at the Conway, S.C., school is also getting a kick out of the Chanticleers this winter as they are 17-3 overall and leading the Big South Conference with a 7-1 record. It is quite a turnaround for a program coming off back-to-back losing seasons, including an 11-20 mark a year ago, and that hasn’t been to the NCAA Tournament since 1993.
“It’s been such an exciting season so far,” Harris said. “A lot of good things have happened to this point.”
It is safe to say Harris has enjoyed Coastal Carolina’s turnaround more than anyone and not because he is one of just two seniors on the roster and the only one to play all four years. The energetic Harris might be the happiest and most relieved player in America.
Harris is not only having an outstanding season but his father is there to watch him play. John Harris is a gunnery sergeant in the United States Mariners and has missed most of his son’s college career while serving a year-long tour of duty in Iraq and a eight-month tour in Afghanistan.
Instead of being able to sit in the stands at Coastal Carolina’s cozy 1,039-seat Kimbel Arena, John Harris was forced to follow Jo.’s first three seasons over the internet and to communicate via e-mail while being stationed in the middle of military conflict.
“It’s hard from a personal standpoint because you wish your dad could be around to see you play,” Jo. Harris said. “But the basketball is nothing compared to other difficult parts of it. You know he is in a dangerous situation and you worry about his safety constantly. Then you see how tough it is on my mother to have her husband fighting in a war and that makes it even harder.”
John Harris’ tour in Afghanistan was supposed to last 14 months until March, which would have been rotten timing as he would have returned home to Camp Lejeune in North Carolina just as his son’s career had ended. However, the elder Harris’ unit accomplished their mission last September and he got back home in time for Jo.’s senior season.
“I don’t even have the words to describe what if felt like when I found out he was coming home early,” Harris said. “Life is so much better. I’m sleeping better. I’m not waking up at night wondering if he’s going to be OK and worrying about my mother and if she’s going to be OK. It’s been such a relief and it’s been great to go out on the basketball court without any worries.”
Harris has certainly filled up the stat sheet as he is averaging 15.3 points, 10.1 rebounds, 1.5 assists and 30.3 minutes a game. He is also 55th in the nation in defensive rebounding percentage (24.0), 144th in offensive rebounding percentage (12.4), 151st in steal percentage (3.5) and 198th in offensive rating (117.3).
Harris has combined with junior forward Chad Gray (15.5/5.1/0.9/23.9) and senior guard Mario Edwards (11.7/4.4/2.4/28.8) to provide Coastal Carolina with a strong veteran nucleus. Gray is 40th in the nation in percentage of shots (32.8) and 49th in percentage of possessions (30.3).
“We have a good group of experienced of players who have been together for a while and a good freshman class that has brought a lot of energy,” Harris said. “We knew the pieces were all here when the season started. All those pieces have come together to form the puzzle and it’s been great to be a part of it. We’re not satisfied, though, because we want to keep going as far as the momentum we’ve built will take us.”
Ideally, it would all end with a berth in the NCAA Tournament.
“That would be great and I know how proud my father would be,” Harris said. “He’s the type of guy who is low-key and stays in the background but he’s a great man, someone you can always go to for advice. It’s been great to have been back and I feel very blessed to have him as a father.”
It certainly seems as though Jo. Harris has taken after his father. While John Harris serves his country, Jo. Harris works toward his degree in nursing, a rarity for a male college basketball player.
“I want to do something with my life where I can help people,” Jo Period said. “I want to make a difference.”
UConn Rallies Without Calhoun
Most programs would be in disarray if it lost a Hall of Fame coach. However, Connecticut snapped a three-game losing streak in its first game without Jim Calhoun as the Huskies beat St. John’s 75-59 on Wednesday night with assistant coach George Blaney running the team.
Calhoun is away from the team indefinitely while being treated for a medical condition that the school will not disclose but says is not related to the 67-year-old’s three successful bouts with cancer. Blaney said it is likely Calhoun will miss Saturday’s game against Texas.
Blaney has been Calhoun’s top assistant for nine years and has served as the acting coach in eight games during that time, going 5-3.
“You need to still follow what Jim does,” Blaney said when asked how he approaches being the temporary head coach. “It’s Jim’s team, not my team. Whatever feelings I may have on the way things should be done aren't important. What’s important is to have continuity. Players have to adjust to what I do a little differently as far as maybe I don’t yell at them as much as Jim might. But the way we play the game shouldn’t change and I don’t think it does.”
Blaney spent 22 seasons as the head coach at Holy Cross and also had stints as the head man at Seton Hall, Dartmouth and Division II Stonehill. However, he said he hasn’t given any thought to possibly being Calhoun’s successor.
“I’m not a big history guy or a big futures guy,” Blaney said. “I take the days as they come along. That’s always a good way to approach basketball, just take care of business today and play the game in front of you. Really, I don’t think about it. Jim and I always kid that I have a day-to-day contract anyway.”
Youth, Injuries Trouble Tar Heels
North Carolina figured to have some growing pains after losing four starters from last season’s national championship team. However, coach Roy Williams believes physical pains are taking a toll on his Tar Heels and are part of the reason they are 12-7 overall and 1-3 in the ACC, where they are just a half-game out of last place and 11th in the 12-team league ahead of only Miami (Fla.).
“I feel like I’ve been putting my finger in the dike all season,” Williams said. “It seems like once we get one hole filled, another opens, then we get that one filled and another springs a leak.”
Currently on the injured list are sophomore centers Ed Davis and Tyler Zeller. Davis sat out Wednesday night’s 82-69 loss to visiting Wake Forest with a sprained ankle he suffered in a 73-71 home loss to Georgia Tech last Saturday. Zeller has missed the last three games with a stress fracture in his foot and could be out until the end of February. Meanwhile, sophomore point guard Larry Drew II is playing with a hyper-extended knee, which he suffered in the Georgia Tech game.
“We need to get guys healthy and playing better,” Williams said. “It’s been a different ballgame for me and our kids. We’re not used to losing like this. It’s been tough and I worry about our kids losing their confidence. You gain confidence by winning and there is no substitute for that. Right now, we’ve got to get back to winning but it’s tough. We’re just not playing well and we’re a young team with injuries.”
At least, North Carolina has the weekend off to try to heal up as the Tar Heels do not play again until next Tuesday at North Carolina State.
Less is More for Tennessee
Tennessee continues to defy the odds by winning in the wake of four players being suspended by coach Bruce Pearl after they were arrested on New Year’s Eve in Knoxville on weapons, drug and alcohol charges. The Volunteers are 6-0 in the 2010, raising their record to 15-2 overall and 3-0 in the SEC, where they are tied for first place with Kentucky and Vanderbilt in the East Division.
While senior forward Tyler Smith has been dismissed from the team, junior guard Melvin Goins and sophomore forward Cameron Tatum were reinstated last weekend but did not regain their spots in the starting lineup Tuesday night when Tennessee won 63-56 at Alabama. In fact, neither player got into the game and Pearl isn’t ready to say if either will play Saturday at Georgia as he seems quite happy with his current rotation.
“Sometimes, less is more,” Pearl said. “Now we have two or three guys on the court who don’t feel they need a lot of shots. They are just to be out there because they’ve gone from playing five or six minutes a game to playing 20 minutes a game. They’re happy to be defending, screening., cutting and taking shots only when they’re there. It also allows our best players remaining to have more freedom to be creative and do more things. When you put it all together, less is more.”
Junior center Brian Williams remains under suspension and Pearl isn’t saying if he will return this season.
John Perrotto is an author of Basketball Prospectus.
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