Getting physical

Little Rock native Alandise Harris is finally fulfilling his dream of playing basketball for the University of Arkansas.

Little Rock native Alandise Harris is finally fulfilling his dream of playing basketball for the University of Arkansas.
Oct 29
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Alandise Harris brings toughness to ‘The Hill.’

When Alandise Harris entered ninth grade at Little Rock Central High School, he dreamed of a successful football career at the historic school.

However, his prep football career was over before it started. Instead, the burly Harris became a basketball phenom. A four-year letter winner, four-year all-conference choice and three-year all state selection.

“My intention was to play both, but I came out too late, not knowing everything you have to do to play football,” he says. “I wasn’t out there in the summer and didn’t have a physical.”

Just as fate drew Harris to basketball, it’s drawn him and his bruising game to Fayetteville. After former Arkansas coach John Pelphrey spurned him during his initial college search, Harris excelled at the University of Houston for his first two years of school. But when his mother, Alberta Harris, died suddenly in November 2010, Harris wanted the comforts of home. That’s when new coach Mike Anderson welcomed him to Fayetteville.

“It’s a great feeling, and I think it’s worked out in the end,” Harris says. “I’ve doubled the competition and publicity level from [Houston], and I think it will help me with my future plans.”

Harris, 6-foot-6, 235 pounds, gives the Hogs a dominant inside presence they lacked a season ago.

“We are looking for Alandise to bring us some toughness — a physicality to the game,” Anderson says. “He is a guy [who] is going to get to the free-throw line a lot and play with a lot of confidence. He is a rugged guy who can bump and grind. He has a lot of battle scars on his head. That tells me he is in the mix where the action is. Our team needs a guy who can get in there and mix it up.”

Even as a ninth-grader, Harris’ physique was impressive. Central coach Oliver Fitzpatrick knew he’d be a significant contributor early.

“He was a big, athletic kid,” Fitzpatrick says. “But the first thing I did was pull his transcript because his mom said she wanted me to do two things: make sure he behaved himself and kept his grades up. So, we set off on that track first.”

Fitzpatrick served as a father figure for Harris, mentoring him on and off the court. The bond is one the two share today more than ever, as Harris copes with the losses of his mother, who was only 45 when she died, and his grandmother — two of the bigger influences in his life.

With his path set, Harris dominated opponents, both in high school and on the summer circuit. Harris averaged 20.3 points, 10.7 rebounds, 4.5 assists and 2.7 blocks as a senior at Central.

Harris started hearing from college coaches early, including Pelphrey. Harris and Fitzpatrick both claim Pelphrey offered Harris a scholarship his sophomore year, but it never materialized.

“[Pelphrey] says there was a scholarship there, but he would never go public with the offer,” Harris says. “He says it was because of my grades, but I don’t think [Pelphrey] ever wanted me. He picked Marvell Waithe over me. I don’t think he was going to pick me, no way.”

The snub left Harris in a bit of a lurch. Initially, programs like the University of Kansas were interested, Fitzpatrick says. Anderson, who was coaching the University of Missouri, called to inquire, but most coaches slacked off Harris, thinking he’d be a Razorback.

Harris landed at Houston at the urging of Cougars coach and Arkansas native James Dickey.

He averaged 9.5 points and 5.4 rebounds per game, while starting 17 of 27 games as a freshman in 2010-11. He accumulated two double-doubles, led the team in scoring three times and paced Houston in rebounding eight times.

Then it was fall 2010, when Harris’ mother died of a heart attack. Harris stayed in Houston and demonstrated a breakout season as a sophomore in 2011-12. He got revenge on Arkansas at North Little Rock’s Verizon Arena when Houston beat Arkansas 87-78, and scored 18 points and grabbed 6 rebounds in the win. “It wasn’t really a motivation,” Harris says. “It was a normal game. I live for playing games on the road, so I was ready for it. I got to play at home in front of my nieces and nephews, so that was nice.”

That game was a sign of things to come, as Harris finished his sophomore season averaging 13.3 points and 6.4 rebounds over 30 games. He made 29 starts, averaging 29.8 minutes. Harris scored in double figures 22 times and scored more than 20 points four times.

However, he felt like he needed to be closer to his sisters, nieces and nephews in the absence of his mother.

He reached out to Anderson, who had completed his first season, and decided to transfer. Arkansas petitioned the NCAA to gain immediate eligibility, but the appeal was denied.

He sat out last season but gave fans a taste of what to expect during last season’s Red-White game.

“He was one of the best players out there during the Red-White game,” Anderson says. “He has had some time to sit and analyze and take things in. When he had a chance to compete, he did. He pushed our guys around and challenged them. Now, he gets to go out there and play.”

After two years of Division I seasoning and banging on his teammates last season, Harris is ready to help Arkansas on the boards (they were out-rebounded by an average of 2.5 rebounds per game) and on the road (the Hogs finished 1-8 in SEC road games).

“I think I bring an overall game to this team,” Harris says. “I can score, rebound and block shots, and this [up-tempo] style gives you freedom. I love playing on the road. It’s a mental thing. You have to stay calm and not make mental mistakes. You have to want to play on the road and silence the crowd and have fun. I think that will rub off [on teammates].”

Anderson admitted that following last season, Harris would have helped the Hogs’ road woes.

“He’s been in the war,” Anderson says. “He’s been in the trenches, and he played at Houston in Conference USA, and we played against him. He is a man. You need men to go on the road and win.”

Fitzpatrick claims Harris is an even better player than he was a year ago. The Central coach put his former player through a series of offseason drills designed to promote versatility and road-game adaptability.

“You have to be a student of the game and know where the shot clock is at and if you are in the bonus and things like that,” Fitzpatrick says. “You have to try to eliminate those 8-0 and 9-0 runs.”

Harris also worked on his outside shooting and hopes to be more than an 80-percent free-throw shooter. “I think one of the reasons Alandise came here is because he wanted to become a complete player,” Anderson says. “He is one of those face-up forwards. He causes mismatches because he can get to the basket, and he has a nice touch from the outside as well. He rebounds the ball well and has a nose for the basketball.

“He is a very good player, and I think he has a chance to make an impact on our team and be a very good player in the SEC.”

While at one time, Harris may have envisioned himself in a Razorbacks football uniform, he’s happy to be in Fayetteville with the basketball team.

“I’ve always loved the Razorbacks,” Harris says. “I’m glad to get a chance to play here and be close to family.”

2013-14 ARKANSAS BASKETBALL AT A GLANCE

2012-13 Record/Finish: 19-13 (10-8 SEC)

Coach: Mike Anderson (37-27, third year)

Key returners: SR F Coty Clarke (7.6 ppg, 5.2 rpg), SR G Mardracus Wade (6.5 ppg), SO F Michael Qualls (4.6 ppg, 3.4 rpg), SR G Rickey Scott (4.3 ppg), SO G Anthlon Bell (4.4 ppg), JR G Rashad Madden (4.2 ppg, 2.4 rpg), SO F Jacorey Williams (3.4 ppg, 1.9 rpg), SR G Kikko Haydar (3.3 ppg), SR G Fred Gulley (1.5 ppg)

Key newcomers: FR F Bobby Portis (6-10), FR F Moses Kingsley (6-8), JR F Alandise Harris (6-6)

Key Losses: G B.J. Young, F Marshawn Powell, F Hunter Mickelson

Outlook: The Razorbacks were close to earning an NIT bid last year but fell short due to a 1-8 conference road mark. Arkansas returns a glut of experience. None of those players were dominant a season ago, but team chemistry may be better, and Anderson finally has some big men who can run the floor in junior Houston transfer Alandise Harris and freshmen Bobby Portis and Moses Kingsley.

The Hogs should be able to play an up-tempo style and fully employ Anderson’s “Fastest 40 Minutes” philosophy. If one of the returners can anchor the point guard spot and the outside shooting improves, Arkansas should have a good chance of postseason play. Whether it’s the NIT or NCAA Tournament is going to depend on how quickly the team can mesh in some tough nonconference games and how much the road record improves.

Reach Nate via email (nate@syncweekly.com) or tweet (@NateSyncEd) to share your thoughts.

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