D’Angelo Harrison Should Probably Be Getting More National Shine

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People really do like new and shiny things; so much so that the older, perhaps more practical options get overlooked since the proverbial new-car-smell has worn off.

That doesn’t mean the familiar has fallen out of favor. Rather, it’s dependability is expected. In other words, it’s taken for granted, which brings us to St. John’s Red Storm guard, D’Angelo Harrison.

Harrison, now a senior, has been the longstanding face of St. John’s basketball. Four years at a college basketball program of some relevance tends to do that.

The thing about 3’Angelo (patent pending) is that he has always been attributed with many positive characteristics. Harrison has been the backbone for the Red Storm in all four years he has been with the program, in any number of ways: as the heart-and-soul, as a very solid volume-shooter, even as the very reason St. John’s wins or loses games.

The face of St. John’s, naturally.

 

On the other hand, D’Angelo Harrison has also been mired in a somewhat star-crossed career. There was the time he was suspended from the team for violation of rules, small murmurs that he might transfer out, even to the point that some people — from the outside looking in — would question what Harrison’s motives were.

This season started off much the same way for Harrison. Coming in the Red Storm had another set of high expectations put on them, with all the burden of success squarely put on the senior’s shoulders, with some people still claiming Harrison was things he was not.

Example: despite St. John’s starting the season as well as they could have, winning 11 of their first 12 games, above-mentioned ESPN CBB personality Dan Dakich refered to Harrison “selfish” on a national broadcast, and as a “player who takes shots when he thinks it’s his turn.”

He even went as far to question his heart, which is something that nobody could ever actually question about the talented guard.

People in the know, those who have long covered Harrison, already knew that not a single player has played harder than Harrison in each of his four years with the program.

Big East folks also knew that Harrison’s sometimes iffy shot selection was a result of the Johnnies needing him to score, as the team does have guys who can put it in the bucket, but not a sole who does so as consistently as Harrison.

Regardless, some people are going to continue to bash D’Angelo Harrison for usually uneducated reasons. That is part of the game and, to be honest, large portions of the country can’t be expected to watch every single game on every night, so the reliance upon third-party accounts is important, which is why the Dakich broadcast was so disheartening.

Nevertheless, most people took what he said with a grain of salt.

The important topic here is Harrison, who is probably the most controlled volume-shooter in recent memory.

Typically, when most people think of a volume-shooter their brains to “ball hog,” invoking memories of former Ole Miss bird-flipper Marshall Henderson. Maybe you think of that guy in pick-up who hurls the ball at the backboard 20 straight possessions.

But in describing Harrison as a volume-shooter, it’s not to paint him as a ball hog — he is anything but. He shoots frequently not because he’s out of control, but rather because he plays so in control.

Harrison has never averaged under 16.8 ppg for a season since he’s been with the program. That’s a really impressive stat, especially considering that most freshmen averaging opt to go to the NBA after one year.

Unfortunately for Harrison, though, his perceived limitations — and likely accurately so — can’t be fixed. The NBA is not clamoring for 6’4″ two-guards who are not extremely athletic.

Yes, Harrison can create his own shot in college and set up teammates when defenses collapse on him, but NBA experts just don’t see that translating at the next level. They didn’t see it during his outstanding freshman season, nor during his tremendous sophomore and junior campaigns, and they don’t see it now.

This isn’t about D’Angelo Harrison and his pro aspirations, however. It is about D’Angelo Harrison the college basketball player. A man — with much hyperbole and a mix of negative as well as burden always surrounding him, put there by others — who has been playing some of the best basketball in the entire nation.

Almost all of his numbers are up from last season. A career .388 shooter, Harrison has been making jumpers and contested layups with incredible efficiency, shooting over 46 percent from the floor on the year.

His 3-point shooting, never his trademark (despite me trying get the nickname 3’Angelo to stick), has also improved, up .12 percentage points from last year’s number. He’s just below the all-important 40-percent mark from behind the arc.

Add that he’s averaging 5.9 rebounds per game for the Red Storm, which is amazing, since, you know, he is a 6’4″ guard.

Detractors like Dakich are right about one, though. Harrison is kind of evil. Just like the devil, is what I am trying to say.

You see, the greatest trick the devil ever pulled was convincing the world he never existed — or so I have been told by every bad horror movie I have ever seen. The similarity to Harrison is that somehow, someone — who knows, really — has convinced the nation at some point or another that Harrison is good, but just not National Player of the Year good.

I just don’t know. Certainly not about that. Harrison is definitely mentioned while folks are talking about Big East Player of the Year candidates, so I don’t want people to think I am creating a straw man. I am talking about real life, deserved national attention for D’Angelo Harrison. The kind that should have him mentioned as one of the 10 or so best players in the entire country — because that is what he is.

Which brings us back to the new and shiny theory. Since Harrison isn’t an underclassmen — specifically an underclassmen who is projected to be an NBA Draft lottery pick — he is rarely mentioned by those outside of people who follow, cover or love the Big East. At most, at least so far, national media seems to be able to only go as far as claiming Harrison as a dark horse NPOY candidate, which is better than nothing — I guess.

The thing is, well, there isn’t a singular player more important to his team than Harrison. Yes, I can admit if you take any really tremendous player off any roster that the said team will likely falter, but none of them are likely to implode. Yet, the Red Storm would if Harrison were magically swiped from the lineup.

Harrison has spent all these years tricking folks into thinking the lacking in size and depth, and just above-average in talent Red Storm are a really good team. In theory it is.

However, six-man rotations, only one competent big, and a slew of secondary players who play less consistent than a brewery who changes their formula monthly, is not a path to team success. And yet, here we are 16 games into the season and St. John’s is 12-4 (only 1-3 in-conference, mind you).

That’s no knock on the rest of the Red Storm. There is talent in that lineup: Guys like Chris Obekpa, one of the best off-the-ball defenders in the entire nation; a do-it-all athletic marvel, Sir’Dominic Pointer; a streaky shooter who can play some defense with Phil Greene IV; No. 2 scoring option (and St. John’s other star-crossed player) Rysheed Jordan; tempo-controlling Jamal Branch.

But that’s it. Those are the only other five competent players St. John’s has.

If you were to take Harrison off this roster, then what is it? It’s bunch of guys who would be unlikely to score 60 ppg combined, turn the ball over at (an even more) alarming rate and certainly be lacking the leadership that Harrison provides.

All of that could be true for many other teams without their top player, but none more so than St. John’s.

It is Harrison’s leadership though — that quality which does not show up on a box score and can only be conveyed through third-person parties’ anecdotes and analysis — is what separates him from so many other players in the nation.

Harrison has his entire legacy now directly tied to the program, and he has his critics over things that are simply no longer true (or never were). And yet, without even batting his eyes, Harrison has been the leader on a team with only two other guys who have realistic pro aspirations; a program which plays in the spotlight of Madison Square Garden; and he continues to lead them into battle in the treacherous Big East.

Is D’Angelo Harrison the very best basketball player in college hoops? I don’t know about that. What he is, though, is the most important player on any team in the entire country. He also happens to be wildly entertaining. Oh, and a leader. And so many other things that adjectives yet to exist to describe.

All of that has to count for something while discussing possible Wooden Award winners, right?