8B - The Michigan Daily -- Tipoff 2005 - Thursday, November 10, 2005
Bapttsm by Ftre
Dion Harris suffered through trials and tribulations, and now he's ready to win.
By Kevin Wright U Daily Sports Writer
He's got the smile back. And he has a reason
When junior guard Dion Harris
sprints out onto the court this season for the
Michigan men's basketball team, he can look
around and see Daniel Horton and Lester
Abram in the backcourt with him.
"I'm almost smiling every day when I come in
the gym, knowing that I got everybody back, the
seniors and captains," Harris said. "It makes you
more comfortable out on the court knowing that
you have help. It makes 100 percent difference."
But the 6-foot-3 guard didn't always have a
4 reason to smile, especially last season. Abram
and Horton played together with Harris in just
three games. Harris suddenly needed to fill the
void left by the two stars and carry the load
for the 2004-05 Wolverines. And it didn't take
Harris long to realize that he wasn't ready.
"I told (Michigan) coach (Tommy) Amaker
before the season started that I wanted to be
the best player and really the go-to guy," Har-
ris said. "Then the season came around, and we
had injuries. Everybody found out that I wasn't
able to do that - like produce wins for us. We
were losing, so it didn't matter if I was the go-to
guy or not. I was just frustrated that I couldn't
get us wins out there on the court."
Although Harris struggled with the leader-
ship role last season, the position of the star was
not unfamiliar to him.
The Detroit native won the 2003 Michigan's
Mr. Basketball award while playing for Detroit
Redford High School. In his freshman cam-
paign for the Wolverines, he was named to the
Big Ten All-Freshman team and helped Michi-
gan capture the NIT championship.
Harris may not have been ready for the
increased pressure of moving to point guard
last season, but now he has developed a habit of
looking to what will be, instead of what was.
"I learned so much through the tough times
of last year," Harris said. "I learned to put stuff
behind me and don't dwell on the past."
A season to forget
Michigan looked as though it could reach
great heights going into November of last year.
In the Preseason NIT, Harris built on his suc-
cessful freshman campaign and was named to
the All-Tournament team, as the Wolverines
barely fell in a closegame to Arizona - who
eventually lost to Illinois in the Elite Eight.
"Before the season I came in like, 'All right
this is my season, and I'm going to come out
and be even better than last year,' " Har-
ris said. "My freshman year, I kind of took
r a back seat because we had Bernard, Daniel
and Lester. Going into my sophomore season,
I was saying to myself to just show it all - my
talents and everything."
But the success was short-lived, and Mich-
igan fell on hard times. Soon after the Pre-
season NIT, Abram had shoulder surgery and
was lost for the year. Then Horton suffered
a knee injury in practice that sidelined him
on-and-off during the season. Following legal
troubles, Horton was suspended for the last 12
games of the season.
With Horton and Abram out of the lineup,
the Wolverines had to rely on Harris not only to
play his game, but also to take on the responsi-
bilities of the point guard - creating shots for
other players. The sophomore had always been
an unselfish player - thinking pass first, score
second - but now he had to create opportuni-
ties for his teammates.
In a two-game span in Febru-
ary, Harris had difficulty find-
ing a medium between scorer
and point guard.
Against Minnesota on Feb.
2, Harris came out flat,r
missing all seven
of his shots as
just worn out," Abram said. "If it was possible
for him to play 40 minutes a game, then he had
to play those 40 minutes because there was no
one to sub for him. He was just worn down.
Plus, when you lose like that, it takes a mental
effect too. I felt bad for him and what he had to
Although the 2004-05 season did not pan
out as planned for Harris, his love for the
game - stemming from his childhood
- remained passionate.
He wasn't looking for future stardom
or fame; he just loved to go shoot around.
During Harris's time at Nolan Middle
School, he would go to the gym to play
basketball with his sister. The junior
high basketball team noticed his skill
and asked him if he wanted to
join them. Harris was unsure
at first if he wanted to
play organized basket-
ball, but he
RODRIGO GAYA/Daily finally
rolled to a 17-
verines lost the
following game to Ohio
State by a 26-point
up the score-
board. He reg- \
istered just nine
points on 4-for-li
shooting. But hidden
in the stat sheet, Harris
accounted for three of
Michigan's four assists.
Even when he took the team
on his shoulders, the Wolverines still
couldn't notch wins.
On Feb. 8, No. 1 Illinois strolled into Ann
Arbor, and Harris stepped into the limelight. He
led the team with 24 points and contributed to
Michigan's effort with eight rebounds as well.
But the sophomore's stand-out performance
couldn't carry the Wolverines, who fell 57-51.
When Michigan played Iowa on March 5 in
the Big Ten season finale, the Detroit native
came out on fire. Harris faced numerous double
teams but managed to hit six 3-pointers, score
24 points, create open looks for his teammates
and dish six assists. Then-freshman Ron Cole-
man benefited from Harris's dribble-drives,
scoring a career-high 16 points. But Harris's
effort was all for naught; the Wolverines lost
in overtime 74-72. The sophomore played 42
out of a possible 45 minutes, but couldn't do
enough for Michigan to earn a win.
Last season was a no-win situation for Har-
ris. Though he averaged a team-leading 36 min-
utes per game, he couldn't do everything that the
team needed him to do. Harris struggled with
the position change to point guard, and Michigan
mirrored his inconsistency - losing 10 games in
a row and 13 of its last 14.
"It was hard for him because he was basically
relented and start-
ed practicing with
"He wasn't sure that
he wanted to play," Dion's mother,
Rischon Harris, said. "But he fit in so good that
you just knew it was waiting for him."
When Derrick McDowell, his future high
school coach, first saw Harris play at the age
of 11, he knew that the young man had a natu-
"Right away, I saw his talent," McDowell
said. "When he got to Redford, it was just a
matter of how he would respond to the coach-
Harris entered the Detroit Redford basket-
ball program already in stride. During his
freshman season, he averaged 15 points per
game and led the Huskies to a 16-7 record
v and a runner-up finish in the Detroit Public
But Harris didn't begin to truly stand out
until his junior year, when he led Redford all
the way to the Class A state championship
finals, where they lost to future-Wolverine
Lester Abram and Pontiac Northern High
School. Harris averaged 22 points per game
and guided the Huskies to a 24-3 record that
year, but McDowell believed that Harris was
capable of far greater achievements.
"I had to teach him to reach his potential,"
McDowell said. "He played at such a high level,
and I told him that people's perception was to
attack his weakness. They attack the weakness
to prove that he's not as great as he is."
McDowell saw Harris take bounds toward
excellence during his senior season, especially the
regional final game against Detroit Mackenzie.
Harris scored 39 points and took the team on
his shoulders, attempting to carry them to the
victory. Though the senior played brilliantly,
the Huskies lost on a buzzer-beater.
Although Harris could never help Detroit
Redford take home the coveted state champi-
onship, he did bring recognition to his school.
He compiled a cumulative record of 82-16 and
played in either a Public School League cham-
pionship or state championship in each of his
"Dion helped bring publicity and did a lot
more for Detroit Redford," McDowell said.
"Now Redford has an identity, and the kids
have a connection to him."
Near the end of his freshman year, Harris
needed a boost of confidence, and Abram knew
exactly what to do.
In a shocking move, Abram decided to come
off the bench, rendering his starting spot to
Harris. He hoped that the move would jump-
start the freshman's season.
"He was struggling, struggling big time,"
Abram said. "When you come out of high
school, you're used to being the guy on your
team. You start and get that comfort level.
He was here and sitting on the bench, and he
needed to get into the groove of the game. I
just thought that if he started he would prob-
ably do better."
The move immediately paid dividends.
Following Abram's decision, Harris took
off running in the game against Northwest-
ern. He drained two 3-pointers and scored 10
points in the first half as Michigan rolled to a
The freshman didn't stop there. Building
on his newfound confidence, Harris started
the final eight games of the season. Har-
ris played a crucial role in Michigan's NIT
championship run, scoring 13 points in the
final against Rutgers.
The bitter taste remains
"I'm looking to really avenge the season
that we had last year," Harris said. "I just want
to come out and have a better year overall, as
far as the record, as far as performance indi-
vidually and just the whole team. We need
to be racing, making everybody really forget
about last year."
Harris knows that, while last season may have
been a statistical disaster for the Wolverines, he
needs to retain the lessons that he learned. The
junior quietly anticipates employing his new-
found leadership this season, especially now
that he won't have to do it alone.
"I've always looked at myself as a confident
player, but right now I've got Lester and Daniel
back in the backcourt to help me out," Harris
said. "And that's going to boost my confidence
even more when I'm out there."
Harris will also enjoy a return to his natu-
ral position at shooting guard, with Horton and
freshman Jerret Smith taking much of the point
guard responsibilities. During last year's cam-
paign, Harris had to bring the ball up the court,
read the defense and work the ball around. The
added responsibility took away from his natural
ability to create scoring opportunities.
"I won't have to work so much of the offense
this season," Harris said. "I'll be able to do
more things in the half-court with my scoring
and playmaking ability."
While Harris and the Wolverines start their
reclamation project this season, the junior's
mother knows what it will take from him to
maintain the elite level of play which he has
shown flashes of in the past.
"He has a strong will and love of the game,"
Rischon Harris said. "And that will take him a
long way as long as he stays focused."
With a renewed focus and talented returning
backcourt, Harris should be showing off his
pearly whites all year long.
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