Harris Improving In All Areas

A storybook season for Niagara Falls could hinge on a recent injury to star Paul Harris. Regardless of the how season plays out, Harris has grown both on and off the court.

Until he broke his thumb earlier this week, it would have been hard to imagine the 2004-05 season going a whole lot better personally for Paul Harris. His Niagara Falls team is one of the best in the nation and he's never been more highly regarded as a player than he is right now.

The 6-foot-4 utility wingman has turned a whole bunch of people from skeptics to believers in relatively short period of time. See, everybody knew Paul Harris could play, that was never in question. However, they worried that the young man might be a little hot headed and questioned whether or not he'd ever outgrow the phase.

Well, from the looks and sounds of it, Paul Harris is turning the corner.

"He is, with us, a leader," Niagara Falls assistant Sal Constantino said. "He's not just a leader on our team; he's a leader in the school. He's still got a little way to go to mature, but he's come a long way."

To understand just where Harris is, you need to know where he came from. Last fall, Harris was charged with 3rd degree assault on his girlfriend. The questions about him started up again but Constantino said things aren't what they seemed.

"It all stems from our local newspaper. We're in a small town and it was so blown out of proportion. Every charge was dropped. He had to go through some stuff that probably wasn't necessary but it didn't hurt. It was really unfair to him. Some people took the ball and ran with it and they probably went a little too far. You have to see."

Harris benefited from the incident. Anger management classes helped. So did surrounding himself with a different group of people. In short, Harris began a transformation.

A few weeks ago at the Prime Time Shootout we saw the transformation first hand. Niagara Falls was battling a tough Vashon team out of St. Louis. Late in the game, an official made a tough call right in front of Harris that didn't go his way. The old Paul Harris might have reacted differently but his evolution as a person could be summed up in his reaction to the event.

Harris didn't as much as shoot the official a dirty look. He merely played on and his subtle response to a tough situation answers a lot of questions about where he is emotionally and how his attitude has improved.

"I just know that I let the call go and that was a big game too," Harris said. "I was upset but you have to live through it."

Harris recently turned 18. He's been enrolled in high school for four years but didn't play two seasons as a 9th and 10th grader when he didn't have the grades to participate. He'll need a prep school next season but Constantino said he's made strides in the classroom.

"He's done tremendous in the last two years as far as getting his grades and everything better."

As Harris works on rounding himself out off the court, his basketball exploits this season have been quite impressive. Basically, Harris is a 6-foot-4 wrecking ball. Play him at the point and drives and scores. Slide him over to the small forward and he rebounds the position with integrity and athleticism. Frankly, he could play three positions and have an impact on the game.

"I like to have the ball in my hands, I'll say that much," Harris said. "I feel like I can make plays for other people and not just myself."

Harris makes plays and creates chances because he's tough. How tough you say? On Monday night, he way trying to block a shot and his hand hit the backboard. He broke the thumb on his shooting hand. He then proceeded to play 3 ½ quarters with the injury, scored 16 points, grabbed 18 boards and put up his 1,000th career point.

The prognosis for the injury has him out 4-to-6 weeks. Anyone who has ever seen the kid play understands that it's unlikely he'll sit out that long and miss what could be a state championship run.

It's Harris' toughness that elicited an offer from Syracuse head coach Jim Boeheim last summer. Now, Harris is building a relationship with assistant coach Mike Hopkins and the Orangemen are in there strong with the Niagara star.

"I'm cooler with him and he's at a lot of my games and stuff," Harris said. "That's kind of where my interest is right now, in Syracuse."

Harris, who once said Pittsburgh was his leader, seems intent on finding out more about Syracuse and seeing where it leads, though he's not ready to make a commitment. "I'm going to let this year go on and a little summer," Harris said. "Before I decide on a prep school I'll make a commitment but Syracuse is definitely in the lead."

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