Harris raising game in sophomore season

By Eli Rosenswaike, Collegian Staff

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Ricky Harris has missed a lot of shots this season.

But that’s fine with him and Massachusetts men’s basketball coach Travis Ford, because his struggles from the floor have enabled him to become a more versatile offensive player – rather than a prototypical shooter.

UMass’s upset victory over Syracuse on Nov. 28 displayed the variety that Harris has to his game. In the first half he settled for jump shots and couldn’t find the net, missing all but two of his nine shots (1-for-6 from 3-point range), while scoring just five points. During halftime, teammate Gary Forbes provided Harris with some words of encouragement.

“Early on obviously my shot wasn’t falling like I wanted it to, so Gary turned to me and told me to go to the basket, get yourself banged up a little bit, get fouled and get into the flow of the game,” Harris said after beating the Orange. “I just got comfortable after that.”

With an improved mindset, Harris went about breaking down the Syracuse defense in a different way. Instead of spotting up for the three, he made a concerted effort to get to the rim – resulting in a 20-point scoring outburst after halftime. His nine free-throw attempts helped him get comfortable with his jump shot, and he proceeded to knock down two of his five 3-point attempts. Harris led all scorers with 25 points.

That game is a good example of what he can do offensively, but his entire season has essentially been that way. Harris has struggled with his 3-point shot all year long (16-for-52, 30.8 percent) but he still ranks second on the Minutemen in scoring behind Forbes with a 19.9 scoring average. Forbes (22nd) and Harris (38th) are the only pair of teammates in the entire country that each rank in the top 40 in scoring.

“He’s a scorer, I wouldn’t necessarily categorize him as a great shooter, he’s a scorer who can get hot,” Ford said. “He can miss five [shots] and make five in a row. He can score in a variety of ways; he can go under the 3-point line, beyond the 3-point line, drive to the basket or go to the foul line. He goes to the foul line a lot for someone his size.”

In seven games this season, Harris has nearly made as many baskets (43) as he did all of last year (45). He spent the majority of the 2006-07 season on the bench, learning from veteran guards James Life and Brandon Thomas. This year, he has both the opportunity and responsibility to be a player the Minutemen can rely upon to score.

The 6-foot-2 sophomore shooting guard from Baltimore, Md., averaged just 4.5 points per game last year but his limited playing time then has helped him prepare for now.

“I got to watch older guys in front of me, so I learned from what I’ve seen them do by watching a lot last year,” Harris said. “I think I’ve grown a lot as a player, as an individual and as a person. My maturity level has gone up; I’ve accepted a bigger role on the team so it was basically a matter of having to grow up.”

The huge jump in production and maturity from Harris isn’t surprising to Ford.

“He’s grown a lot and it’s something we expected from him,” Ford said. “He didn’t get a chance last year because of who he was playing behind, but he’s always had this ability. We knew he would score, he’s a competitor, and he’s got great emotion for the game. But what he’s doing now is what I expected.”

Harris will continue to miss shots. That’s not a problem for Ford, because he expects his sophomore guard will find ways to score anyway.

Eli Rosenswaike can be reached at [email protected]