Harris expected to land at UTEP


Adam Minichino



Dave Telep has fond memories of Rashanti Harris. 


In December 2007, Telep, the national recruiting director for Scout.com, watched as Harris, then a senior at New Hope High School, held his own with some of the nation''s top post players at the City of Palms Classic in Fort Myers, Fla. 


Harris competed against University of Florida signee Eloy Vargas and was named to the all-tournament team with standouts like Samardo Samuels, Kenny Boynton, Larry Drew, Greg Monroe, and others. 


"For two nights, I am not sure if there was a better post player in the country," Telep said. 


Samuels went on to play at Louisville, while Monroe, Boynton and Drew played at Georgetown, the University of Florida and North Carolina, respectively. 


Harris is still waiting for his chance to shine in college. 


But the former New Hope High standout, who was named the 2008 Mr. Basketball in Mississippi, could get another chance to make that happen as early as today, when new University of Texas at El Paso men''s basketball coach Tim Floyd is expected to announce the signing of Harris. 


It''s a chance Telep believes Harris needs to capitalize on. 


"If I am Rashanti Harris, the decision I have to make because of my ability is I have to use this game for everything I can use it for to draw paychecks," Telep said. "Someday that has to be the decision he makes. As someone who watches guys and who watched Rashanti, I came away and I got the feeling that I wanted him to be a better player than and he did some days. This game can be great to him, but there is a commitment that comes with it and he has to make that commitment." 


UTEP spokesman Jeff Darby said last week that Floyd, the former men''s basketball coach with the NBA''s Chicago Bulls and at Southern California, was out of town and wasn''t able to comment. Darby said in an e-mail Wednesday that the school would make an announcement about Harris today.  


Repeated messages left on Harris'' cell phone in the past week weren''t returned. 


Former New Hope High School boys basketball coach Robert Byrd, who coached Harris and the Trojans to the Class 4A state title in 2008, couldn''t be reached for comment. 


UTEP''s expected announcement is part of a flurry of moves in the past few days that included the hiring of assistant coach William Small, who was an assistant coach at Georgia State. 


Small, who is from Winona, recruited Harris to play for coach Rod Barnes at Georgia State in 2009-10. But the NCAA Clearinghouse never cleared Harris academically to play at Georgia State, and he didn''t play at the school. 


Harris was the highest regarded recruit to sign with Georgia State. 


Barnes declined last week to comment about Harris. 


Earlier this month, KTSM News Channel 9 in El Paso, Texas, reported Harris was one of several recruits that had signed to play at UTEP.  


KTSM confirmed Harris would have four years of eligibility at UTEP, but that it wasn''t clear if Harris would have to sit out next season, per NCAA transfer rules. 


Harris still has not qualified academically but one source told NewsChannel 9, "they would not take a chance on signing him if they did not believe he was going to be eligible." 


Memphis Commercial Appeal writer Dan Wolken first reported, via Twitter, that Harris had decided to play for Floyd at UTEP. 


Harris also spent time at The Patterson School, a prep school in North Carolina before this apparent latest opportunity. The Patterson School closed for 2009-10 school year. 


Before that, though, Harris was regarded as one of the nation''s top prep prospects, and he proved it at The City of Palms Classic is considered one of the nation''s top boys high school basketball tournaments. HoopScoop Magazine''s national recruiting guru Clark Francis called the field of teams at the event "the best in the history of high school basketball." 


Harris, a 6-foot-8, 238-pound forward, scored 32 points and had 25 rebounds to lead New Hope to an 82-78 overtime victory against American heritage (Fla.) in its opening game at the City of Palms Classic. 


Byrd called the victory "the biggest win in New Hope history" in part because it came against a team that was ranked No. 8 in the South by USA Today and featured future University of Florida signees Kenny Boynton, a guard, and Eloy Vargas, a center. 


The next night, Harris had 28 points and 12 rebounds in a 75-62 loss to Monroe and Helen Cox. He had nine points and 15 rebounds and 20 points and 10 rebounds in the Trojans'' final two games -- both losses --at the tournament. 


Harris averaged 19.7 points, 15 rebounds, and 4.5 blocked shots and shot 65 percent from the field for the season. 


Telep said he was so impressed with Harris because he "crushed everything at the rim" when he played against Vargas and Monroe and that he didn''t back down from either player. He said Harris needs to "flip the switch" from prospect to player and make a concerted effort to realize his potential. 


Telep said he didn''t think Harris took his time at The Patterson School very seriously and didn''t think he played very well. He felt a player with Harris'' ability should have done a better job setting the tone. 


"He kind of went through the motions at Patterson that year," Telep said. "He didn''t have the same kind of fire as he did in high school." 


Chris Chaney, who coached Harris at The Patterson School, couldn''t be reached for comment. 


Telep said Small and Floyd will help Harris regain that fire and will do what they can to help him if he is able to gain his eligibility. But he said that''s where it comes down to how much Harris wants it for himself and how badly he wants to prove to people that he still has the potential to be a dominating post presence. 


"At the end of the day it is going to take extra work in gym and watching film. That is on him. That''s the commitment he has to make to be a really, really good player," Telep said. "If ever in a guy''s life there comes the time to have to make a decision about how badly do you want this, that time is right now."


Adam Minichino is the former Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.


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