January 20, 2010 9:38:00 AM
Give Mark White a chance and he could talk about John Harris all day.
The East Mississippi Community College men''s basketball coach has nothing but good things to say about the sophomore guard from Starkville.
White said Harris has been instrumental in helping the Lions to a 14-3 record this season.
"John Harris is the best defender in my 21 years of coaching in all aspects," White said. "He can guard anybody. He gets down so low on defense. Not only on the ball, but his help-side defense is just remarkable."
White compares Harris defensively to former Colorado State player Andre McKanstry, who he coached at North Idaho Junior College.
Harris, a 2008 graduate of Starkville High School, is third on the team with 21 steals. He takes pride in contributing to the team on defense.
The 6-foot-2, 200-pound Harris isn''t flashy on offense. He averages just 5.9 points per game, which is eighth on the team, but EMCC sports information director David Rosinski calls him the glue on the team because of his defensive play.
Harris does the things that don''t show up in the boxscores like play defense and scrap for loose balls.
"I feel like defense wins games," Harris said. "I try to be a vocal leader on the defensive end of the court. I tell them to get their hands up and things like that.
"I''m the type who knows my role on the team. We''ve got enough scorers for us to be a great team, so I try to be a vocal leader on defense. Hopefully being a defensive leader makes us that much better."
White recalls a game when the Lions beat Bevill State, of Fayette, Ala., by 45 points and Harris was upset because they allowed 62 points.
"I''m telling you, when they got 62 points, he was mad, mad, mad as can be after the game because they got 62 points," White said. "He doesn''t want anybody to score. That''s his mind-set on the floor. I mean, you''re not going to score. If his man scores a basket, he''ll look right at me and say, ''Coach, I''ve got him, I''ve got him.''"
EMCC is allowing 66.3 points per game this season. During a six-game winning streak prior to a loss Monday at Mississippi Delta the Lions allowed just 57.2 points per game.
Harris is healthy this season after missing 10 games his freshman season. He was frustrated he couldn''t help his team when he missed seven games from Jan. 20 to Feb. 16 because of an ankle injury.
He injured his ankle during a shootaround when he landed on another player''s foot.
"I was worried because I wanted to be out there on the court so bad," Harris said. "When there were games we didn''t have enough energy, I felt I could have been an extra spark for them."
White attributes EMCC''s play on the defense to a change he made following a loss to Jones County Junior College on Nov. 30, 2009. The Lions switched from playing a full-court defense to a man-to-man half-court defense.
Harris'' tenacity on defense has attracted the attention of Division I and II coaches. Harris said he''s being recruited by Belhaven in Jackson, while White said Delta State and Central Missouri have shown interest.
But Harris'' first business at hand is to help EMCC finish this season strong.
The good start to the season has created excitement at EMCC and has the Lions striving for state and region championships and making it to the national tournament.