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Bucs hope Harris can strengthen backcourt

Kelly Hodge • Apr 18, 2012 at 10:01 PM

East Tennessee State basketball coach Murry Bartow has continued to beef up his frontcourt this spring with the signing of a second junior-college forward.

Bartow said Wednesday that Hunter Harris of Volunteer State has officially committed to the Bucs. The 6-7, 220-pound Nashville native averaged over 22 points and 13 rebounds at the school and was an NJCAA second-team All-American this season.

“He’s a big body with a great motor and great bounce,” said Bartow. “And he’s a really neat kid, a fun kid to be around. We like him a lot as a player because he can score the ball inside or outside, and he can really rebound. He gets them at both ends.

“The thing that jumps out stat-wise is that he averaged 22 points and 13 rebounds. When you look across the country, very few players are doing that.”

Harris is something of a late bloomer because he didn’t play basketball in high school at Hunter Lane. He was a football player.

Harris has caught on quickly to the roundball scene.

His junior-college coach, Rusty Melvin, recalls a 40-point, 20-rebound outburst he had as a freshman at the Gallatin school and says Harris is a more complete player now. He figures the Bucs got a steal.

“To me, I think ETSU got a big-time player,” said Melvin. “There were some highly ranked Division I programs showing interest in him, and I think that says a lot about coach Bartow and coach (Thomas) Johnson for the job they did recruiting him.

“The best thing about him is that even though he’s that good, he doesn’t show it. He is a really humble kid and just plays hard all the time.”

Harris was sold on ETSU during his campus visit last week.

“I just loved the campus, the gym, and the coaches were great,” he said. “Everyone was easy to talk to, and they wanted me. And that’s what I was looking for – a program that wanted me.”

Harris becomes ETSU’s second commitment since national signing day a week ago, following Kinard Gadsden-Gilliard, the 6-5, 250-pound forward from Roane State. The two could spend a lot of time together on the floor for the Bucs next season, considering the scarcity of frontcourt talent and muscle.

“We like both of them, but they’re very different types of players,” said Bartow. “They’re very different in the way they play and the way they look.

“With Hunter, we can play him a lot of different ways. He’s more of a 4. I really think Kinard is more of a 3-4. We think they’re a great complement in terms of playing together.”

Bartow said there wasn’t a priority on junior-college players heading into the spring recruiting season.

“We felt, based on the team in front of us, that we need some guys who can step in and be impact players immediately, whether they came from prep schools, high schools or junior colleges,” he said. “It just so happens that these two were junior-college kids.”

The two join early signees Lorenzo “Petey” McClain and Mario Stramaglia, a pair of high school guards out of Alabama, in the new recruiting class. ETSU still has two scholarships left to offer.

The signing deadline is May 16, and Bartow says the process could “drag out for awhile.” He isn’t necessarily looking for players at any particular position.

“We’re looking for the best two players we can get,” he said. “We’re probably actively recruiting eight or nine guys, and we need to get two of them. We’d like more length and size, and we still don’t have a true 3-man in the program. If we could find a 6-5, 6-6 athletic 3-man who’s a scorer, we’d like that.”

The coach says he’s comfortable with his point-guard situation. Actually, there’s only one true point guard on the roster, and that’s McClain, the incoming freshman from Mobile.

Sheldon Cooley, a rising senior and one of a handful of shooting guards, has also spent a fair amount of time running the offense when needed.

“We feel pretty good about that position,” said Bartow.

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