Patience pays off for C of C’s Harris

Nick Harris dunks at TD Arena where the Cougars upset the LSU Tigers on Nov. 30. (Spees/Staff)

There were moments last season when College of Charleston coach Earl Grant would looked down at the end of his bench and think about getting Nick Harris on the court.

With then senior Adjehi Baru already an established post player, the 6-10 Harris was in the midst of a redshirt season and Grant knew that it would be silly to burn that extra year of development for some instant gratification. By redshirting Harris, Grant was thinking about the future.

With the Cougars suffering through a 9-24 season, Grant admitted that the temptation to put Harris in the lineup last season was strong nonetheless.

Harris had proven during practices that he could be a viable option for the Cougars in the post, which made the lure of having him on the floor that much more powerful for Grant.

“I’d look down at Nick and you could tell he wanted to play,” Grant said. “About midseason, he was practicing really well and we were not having a great year and we could have used him to help the team. I just kept thinking that, it’ll be his time soon enough.”

That time arrived this season.

The redshirt freshman finds himself in the starting lineup, averaging nearly 20 minutes of playing time per game.

“It’s obvious that Nick is a very talented big guy for us,” Grant said. “I think he’s done a great job this year. He’s got a ton of upside, a lot of potential, so I think we’re only scratching the surface right now. His best basketball is still ahead of him.”

After sitting out a full season, Harris couldn’t wait to get back on the court this fall. But a shoulder injury forced the Dacula, Ga., native to wait a little longer. Harris underwent shoulder surgery in July and had to wait four months until he could start practicing again.

“I think that might have been the toughest part,” Harris said. “I knew I’d probably redshirt last year, so sitting out wasn’t that big of a deal. I think it was the right decision. I spent last year trying to get bigger and stronger and learn the system. But having shoulder surgery set me back even further when I was really starting to feel better about where my game was going.”

Harris played sparingly in the Cougars’ first two games — against South Carolina State and Navy — and didn’t get on the floor at all against Davidson in the third game.

But in a home game against LSU, Harris came off the bench and played 25 minutes, providing the Cougars with a spark in the paint against Tigers freshman Ben Simmons, who is widely considered the best player in college basketball. Harris finished with six points, eight rebounds, two assists and two blocks in the Cougars’ 70-58 upset of LSU. His thunderous dunk in the first half highlighted the effort.

“I think the LSU game gave me a lot of confidence,” Harris said. “It was really loud that night, our fans came out and supported us. The adrenaline was really pumping. That was the first time I played double-digit minutes and I was tired after the game.”

The following game against The Citadel he made his first career start and responded by scoring a team-high 13 points. He’s been in the starting lineup ever since.

“It’s a process, so when I wasn’t getting much playing time early in the season I didn’t worry about it,” Harris said. “I knew if I just kept working on my game things would eventually turn out OK for me.”

Grant sees a bright future for Harris.

“He’s already a good player and he’s getting better every day,” Grant said. “The strides he made during his redshirt season were impressive. He missed a lot of last summer with his shoulder, so he’ll get even better this summer with our skill development workouts. I think Nick is going to be a great player for us down the road.”

Drexel at College of Charleston

WHEN: 4 p.m.

WHERE: TD Arena

TV/RADIO: MyTV/WTMZ 910-AM

RECORDS: College of Charleston 14-8, 6-5 in CAA; Drexel 3-19, 1-10