June 13, 2010 12:17:00 AM
David Miller -
STARKVILLE -- John Harris and Rodricko "CoCo" Ware went to East Mississippi Community College hoping rebuild the men''s basketball program and move on to the next level.
Mission accomplished on both accounts.
After helping EMCC make it to the National Junior College Athletic Association Tournament this past March, Harris and Ware signed scholarships with four-year colleges this past week.
But Harris and Ware signed with different colleges, ending a partnership after playing together at Starkville High School and EMCC.
Ware, a National Junior College Athletic Association All-American, signed with Mississippi Valley State, while Harris inked with Our Lady of the Lake University in San Antonio, Texas.
Teammates for the last six-plus years, Harris and Ware leave EMCC with a tremendous sense of fulfillment and pride. This past season, the Lions (27-7) won the Mississippi Association of Community and Junior Colleges North Division tournament. The Lions finished as runner-ups in the state tournament and went on to win the NJCAA Region 23 championship to earn the school''s first-ever appearance in the NJCAA Men''s Basketball Tournament.
"Being named an All-American was good, but I wouldn''t take anything back from winning the region championship," Ware said.
After helping EMCC go 44-18 the last two seasons, Harris and Ware are looking to break into starting lineups at their respective schools.
Ware, who averaged 19.4 points, 5.9 rebounds and 2.5 steals per game, enters a MVSU program that went 8-21 last season and lost just one senior. He''ll join former EMCC teammate Darian Donald.
Ware chose MVSU over Howard and Alcorn State, and his scoring prowess will give the Delta Devils a boost in returning to their Southwest Athletic Conference Tournament winning form of 2008.
That includes a gamut of top-tier non-SWAC opponents to open the season. MVSU played Oregon, Oregon State, Gonzaga and Arkansas last season, but the team''s annual trip to Mississippi State is the most anticipated matchup for Ware.
"Being an underdog, I''m looking to knock off some big schools," Ware said. "It''s a challenge and I love a challenge. I would love to play Mississippi State and I couldn''t tell you how many people would be at that game. I believe everybody I know in Starkville would be there."
For MVSU coach Sean Woods, the potent scoring and winning pedigree he gets in signing Ware should bode well for a program that finished in the middle of the SWAC standings last season.
"[CoCo] Ware is a great addition to the MVSU program," Woods said. " He brings a wealth of basketball experience and athleticism that will fit in well with our style of basketball."
Mark White''s up-tempo system at EMCC mirrors that of Starkville High''s defend-and-run style, giving Ware and Harris an advantage while transitioning into a new league and new level, Harris said.
Meanwhile, Our Lady led the NAIA in scoring last season and returns four All-Conference players. While pushing for starting minutes is a priority, Harris is keen to use his skills for the Saints the same we he did for the Lions. He was an all-around performer for the Lions, averaging 6.2 points and 5.2 rebounds per game and providing lockdown defense on the wing.
"John comes to us from a very successful junior college program where he has been a proven winner," Our Lady coach Russell Vanlandingham said. "He will be one of the top defensive players in the Red River Athletic Conference next year and will fit in great in our system. He understands what it takes to win and I expect him to be a big factor next year in our quest to win a conference championship."
The Saints began their inaugural season in 2009 and were co-champions in the Red River Athletic Conference with a 16-4 conference record and an overall record of 20-11.
Harris cites the program''s immediate success and the sprawling landscape of San Antonio as his reasons for choosing the Saints over Belhaven and MVSU.
He said he was surprised to hear from Our Lady as he''d never heard of the program before. Moving to Texas, however, presents challenges Harris hasn''t faced before.
"I think about the move everyday," Harris said. "I think about the financial stuff and I''ll have to be more mature about controlling my money better. But it''s going to be fun. I get to meet a lot of new friends, too."
Harris and Ware join Class of 2010 Yellow Jackets Rashad Perkins (Southern Miss) and Edward Townsel (Arkansas State) as former Greg Carter pupils who will play at the four-year level next season.
Following Starkville''s Class 6A and Grand Slam state titles, Harris and Ware are proud to cap the basketball news by inking four-year scholarships.
"I was happy they won because we always brag about our high schools (at EMCC)," Ware said. "I don''t think there''s anyone who talks more about it than Starkville players."