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With the departure of David Lee and Zach Anderson, the latter being last year’s Northwest Conference scoring leader, the 2012-13 Wildcats desperately needed a leader to emerge. Andrew Batiuk, an honorable mention all-NWC selection last season as a freshman, has filled that role thus far as was expected. But Batiuk isn’t the only player provoking rampant discussion amongst coaches and fans alike on the subject of young leadership.
It appears there may be a second solution to the imminent unknown: Brandon Harris.
The McMinnville native admits the effect of the loss of senior leaders rippled through the entire program, but believes this year’s team has the ability to progress forward. “We knew that most of us would have to step up, and Batiuk and I have some experience,” Harris said. “My goal is to get us going and do the best I can to help the team succeed.”
After starting just one game last season, Harris has become an inspirational and well-respected figure amongst the ‘Cats so far in 2012-13. “His learning curve was huge,” Batiuk said to illustrate how Harris was thrust into the ever-crucial point guard position. “Not only has he had to step into those shoes, he has done it really well.”
In addition to running an efficient and effective point, Harris has done so to the tune of 11.5 points per game while shooting 47 percent from the field. “Brandon is a very dedicated student athlete, and puts a lot of time into his game,” head coach Larry Doty said of Harris’ work ethic.
The results Harris has posted thus far indicate Doty’s praise is heartfelt and genuine. Earlier in the season, Harris set a career high with 20 points against Lewis & Clark on Nov. 30, and then repeated the feat less than a week later in a gut-wrenching loss to Willamette in which he contributed 23. “I would say I am more offensively minded, so developing my defensive game is definitely a top priority,” Harris replied when asked about his mentality. “I don’t really have a set pregame routine, I just go through plays and think positively about how I can get my teammates involved.”
Harris, who also participated in football and track growing up, had his sights set on Linfield from the beginning of his college search. “Academics were a huge thing and Linfield had the program I wanted,” Harris explained, adding, “I knew coach (Doty) growing up, and I knew I would have the opportunity to play basketball here at the college level.”
While Linfield’s 2012-13 record (2-9, 1-8 NWC) is far from glamorous, it hardly paints an accurate portrait of the true nature of the season. Only two of the Wildcats’ games have been decided by more than 10 points, and five matchups - all losses - resulted in a spread of five points or less. This eye-opening figure, along with the fact that the ‘Cats have faced overtime twice, suggests numerous down-to-the-wire and intense situations, times when teams look to their leaders the most. “Brandon has led through example a lot, and by virtue of that, other guys naturally look up to him,” Doty said of Harris’ leadership. “I expect him to keep doing what he’s doing, and he will continue to pick other guys up.”
Within the automatic yet precise awareness Harris possesses to beat the referee’s 10-count to midcourt, he holds more in his hands than a leather official NCAA men’s basketball. Rather, he has the reins of the entire program at his fingertips, adjusting them with a profound maturity that seems to be in high demand at the college level.
Unfortunately for the Wildcats, within the promise of this talented young player also lies a harsh reality.
Just as Harris completes his first season as a full-time starter, he will depart from the basketball program in order to pursue his academic study of nursing at Linfield’s Portland campus. When asked if Doty has ever had a player in Harris’ situation in the past, the 26th-year veteran replied, “not many. Maybe one or two, but never one who was playing a major role with the team like Brandon is.”
“I told coach from the start it was my plan, and he was always very supportive,” Harris said with regard to his course of study. His local roots have undoubtedly been a key factor in Harris’ internal connection to Linfield’s program, and he cites coach Doty as one of his key role models. “(Coach) has taught me a lot not only about basketball, but about life in general and has helped me become a better person,” said Harris. Dedication and support from his parents has been Harris’ backbone throughout his entire athletic career, as he said, “they have always been there for me and they come to every game.”
Harris has played basketball for as long as he can remember, recalling sometime around first grade to be when he first participated in an organized league. “I love the game and getting to compete with guys who you really like and care about,” Harris commented on where he finds his passion to play basketball.
With the intention of pursuing his options in the field of nursing, Harris hopes to one day return to the game as a coach. “I’d love to stay involved with Linfield basketball,” he said enthusiastically.
In many ways, this Linfield basketball season is a representation of perseverance and toughness. The ‘Cats have battled through both trying losses and well-deserved wins, and have dealt with the task of filling voids. While the loss of Harris after this season will be yet another obstacle for Linfield to overcome, the positive example he is setting will undoubtedly be instilled into the overall nature of the program.
-- Evan O'Kelly '13