(Photo – USA Today)
Though his path to ultimately end up in Louisville wasn’t exactly without a series of twists and turns, Montrezl Harrell has made a home and a name for himself in the Derby City. Fans and media alike have swooned over the 6’7, 230 lb, monster due to his rapid acceleration as a player (and person) in just over a year’s time. If you remember, Rick Pitino’s program wasn’t his first choice. Harrell originally committed to Virgina Tech as a fringe top-100 player out of Tarboro, North Carolina. But after the Hokies fired head coach Seth Greenburg, he decommitted and needed to find a new landing place. Pitino ultimately won his heart, but the truth of the matter is, neither Virginia Tech or Louisville were the places he dreamed about playing as a child. Nope, that distinction belongs to the North Carolina Tar Heels, whom he admired and followed throughout his youth. CL Brown (ya know, formerly of the Courier Journal) just dropped a great piece on ESPN.com about Harrell’s love of North Carolina and how his basketball life has come full circle.
Harrell had sat down with his brothers and father, Sam, to watch North Carolina defeat Illinois for coach Roy Williams’ first title. He inherited his dad’s love of the Tar Heels, which is why Sam Harrell didn’t really think twice upon hearing his son’s declaration in the celebration that followed the Heels’ victory.
“He said, ‘Dad, I’m going to win a national championship at Carolina one day,’” Sam Harrell recalled. The statement simply provoked a response that fittingly should have been accompanied by a condescending, yet encouraging pat on the head, “I just said, ‘That would be nice if you did.’”
UNC has to beat Richmond and Louisvillehas to beat Fairfield — or both teams have to lose — in order to face each other on Sunday.
“It’s going to be really sweet to play a team from my home state,” Harrell said. “I’m going to go out there and play extremely hard and show them what they missed out on.”
Harrell is considered by many scouts to be the Cardinals’ best NBA prospect. Some observers even project him as a first-round pick if he enters the draft after this season. Pitino said the two haven’t talked specifically about turning pro after this season, although he believes it is a possibility.
“I tell him what he needs to be a good pro,” Pitino said. “I don’t necessarily say about leaving this year, next year. Both of us have an understanding that if he’s good enough to move on, he will, but we haven’t talked about it.”
When asked about the NBA, Harrell said he’s not worried about it right now. He said he wants the Cardinals to be in a position to compete for another national title. Besides, the attention really throws of his entire motif.
Harrell has spent most of his basketball playing career using slights — perceived and real — for motivation. But having his name mentioned in NBA circles and being named a captain has in no way made him feel that he’s arrived.
“People who don’t know my name will by the time I’m done playing,” Harrell said. “That’s just how I look at every game I go into.”
Life-long Tar Heel fan Sam Harrell called it a “life-changing moment” when he first met Roy Williams on a visit his son made.
The family was disappointed when no offer came from the school, but they weren’t devastated. Montrezl Harrell could still get his chance to play in the ACC by signing with Virginia Tech. When Tech coach Seth Greenburg was let go, it paved the way for Harrell to reopen his recruitment and he ended up in Louisville.
“We thought he had a chance to really be a good player,” Williams said. “I can’t remember the timing but I think – and I emphasize the word think – I think he wanted to make a decision a little earlier.”