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UVa’s Harris quietly makes a big impact
Virginia guard Joe Harris (12) tangles with Virginia Tech forward Marshall Wood (33) under the basket during the second half in UVa's 73-55 win.
Wednesday, February 13, 2013
CHARLOTTESVILLE — Maybe it’s time for the college basketball world to start embracing Joe Harris.
Not embracing him as in holding or hugging him, although that wouldn’t have been a bad idea for Virginia Tech on Thursday night.
Harris hit 3-pointers on three consecutive early possessions, went 5-for-5 from beyond the arc in the first half and finished with a career-high 26 points as the Cavaliers coasted past the Hokies 73-55 at John Paul Jones Arena.
Moreover, this has been going on for a while. He had a game-high 22 points Sunday in Virginia’s 80-69 victory at Maryland, where he was 7-for-8 from the field, including 5-for-6 on 3-pointers.
So, if you do the math, that’s 10-for-11 on 3-pointers over the span of three halves over two games.
“What a great player!” Maryland coach Mark Turgeon said Monday on the weekly ACC coaches teleconference. “He’s probably one of the smartest players that I’ve ever coached against. He’s like a security blanket for them.”
Every week, you’ll hear a different opposing coach raving about Harris. A couple of weeks back, Boston College’s Steve Donahue said Harris is one of the three or four best players in the league.
Yet Harris, a 6-foot-6 junior from Chelan, Wash., has never made first-, second- or third-team All-ACC. He did not make the ACC All-Freshman team in 2010-2011, nor has he ever been the ACC player of the week.
Yet, going into this week, he was leading the ACC in 3-point percentage and was the only ACC player ranked in the top 10 in all three shooting categories, including seventh in field-goal percentage and 10th in free-throw percentage.
He was kicking himself for missing a late one-and-one in a 66-60 loss at Georgia Tech, the Cavaliers’ lone setback in the past eight games and said there was no excuse for his 72.6-percent free-throw shooting at the time.
He’s gone 17-for-19 on free throws in three subsequent games, including a 7-for-7 night Tuesday.
Virginia has had some great shooters over the years, most notably Roanoke-bred Curtis Staples, who held the NCAA record for 3-point field goals before it was broken by another Roanoker, J.J. Redick.
Harris, with 173 3-pointers in his career to date, isn’t likely to break Staples’ school record of 413, but as of Tuesday night, Harris has the best career 3-point field-goal percentage of any Virginia player with as many as 100 made 3-pointers.
Keith Friel, who spent two years at Virginia after transferring from Notre Dame, connected on 42.1 percent of his 3-point tries between 2000-2001. Harris was at 42 percent before Tuesday night’s barrage took him to 48.4 percent.
He’s barely under .500 on 3-point attempts (59-for-122) for the season, but he’s far from one-dimensional.
“He’ll post up a little,” Virginia Tech coach James Johnson said earlier in the week. “He shoots the three, [but] he’s a very good passer. He rebounds the ball really well. He’s an all-around player.”
Harris, a high school quarterback, also has a toughness about him. He played for his father in high school, an arrangement with which UVa coach Tony Bennett is more than familiar, having played for his father at Wisconsin-Green Bay.
“The thing I know about his father and [Joe] playing for him was, he was demanding, very tough on Joe,” Bennett said. “That to me is great because that’s what you want. You want a kid who is battle-tested, pushed hard beyond his comfort zone and he’s not going to fold.”
And, if he’s not getting a whole lot of respect nationally, or even regionally, all that does is help the Cavaliers. Harris and fellow junior Akil Mitchell (17 points, eight rebounds) are both playing at a very high level and they are a coach’s dream in that they almost certainly will be four-year college players.
At this point, they’ve also put the Cavaliers into the conversation for an NCAA tournament bid, a notion that few would have taken seriously when UVa lost to three Colonial Athletic Association teams.
After 24 games last year, UVa was 19-5 and considered a lock for the ACC tournament. They’re 18-6 this year going into Saturday’s date at North Carolina, where Harris suffered a broken left (non-shooting) hand last Feb. 11.
You can say that Harris was not the same player in UVa’s final nine games, but what you can’t say is that he stopped playing. Slowly but surely, his story is getting out.
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