U of L hoops feature: Montrezl Harrell

The tenth in a series of stories published by Cardinal Authority on individual members of the University of Louisville basketball team. The latest installment looks at sophomore Montrezl Harrell.

Montrezl Harrell arrived at the University of Louisville as a quiet newcomer, but as he begins his sophomore season, the forward has developed into a vocal leader that provides a powerful presence on the floor for Rick Pitino's defending national champions.

However, if all went as planned, Harrell wouldn't be a Cardinal. After signing with Virginia Tech following a stellar year at Hargrave Military Academy in Chatham, Va., the Top 100 prospect changed his course when the Hokies fired head coach Seth Greenberg.

Harrell chose Louisville after collecting scholarship offers from Cincinnati, Connecticut, Florida, Kentucky, NC State, Providence and others when he reopened his recruitment late in the process.

At Hargrave, Harrell, who has a seven foot, four-inch wingspan, guided his team to a 38-1 record and the national prep championship game. While his time at the prep school, where he averaged 25 points and 14 rebounds, allowed him to further develop his game, it also provided a structure for off the court development.

"The Hargrave year was a tough year," he explained. "Being away from home and leaving my family and friends and going to a military environment, and having to wear that suit every day, getting up at 6:45 every morning, it was a grind. That's dedication that I put towards something that is going to better me as a person. Going to Hargrave really got me disciplined and ready for the real world."

He made an immediate impression on the Cardinal faithful when he led the team in scoring during both preseason exhibitions and quickly became a solid contributor.

With 43 of his 97 field goals coming via a dunk, Harrell's play often filled the game highlights. His most notable dunk capped off an 11-1 first half run that sparked the Cardinals in the NCAA Championship game against Michigan.

Following the Cardinals third national title, Harrell was selected to USA Basketball 2013 Men's U-19 World Championship team. Playing under the direction of Florida head coach Billy Donovan, Harrell's development continued while helping the U.S. claim the gold medal at the championships held in Prague, Czech Republic. He started all nine games and averaged 10.6 points and 3.7 rebounds during the event.

"Having the opportunity to represent your country and wear U.S.A. across your chest was a great accomplishment in my eyes," he said.

He also became more of a vocal team leader while playing the national team. The collection of college all-stars excelled on the floor, but lacked player leadership while overseas. After a few players were tardy for a team meeting, the coaches addressed the group.

"After they got done talking, I raised my hand and asked if I could say something," said Harrell, who has his gold medal hanging in his room at Minardi Hall. "I just got on everybody. I didn't single one person out. I told them that it was unacceptable."

His leadership continued when he returned to Louisville.

"I would say it has. I'm just looking to show leadership on the court. If somebody is down or trying to beat themselves up, I try to give them motivational words about keep playing and move on to the next play."

Last week Rick Pitino named Harrell as one of three team captains, joining seniors Russ Smith and Luke Hancock.

"He has without question been the best worker on the court, the most vocal leader on the court, so without question, he has ignited our team in practice to work harder," said Pitino, adding that "he's a totally different person than he was his freshman season."

"He's not only more vocal, but he's a much improved basketball player," continued the Hall of Fame coach. "I've seen probably as much improvement in him as any player I've ever coached in terms of freshman to sophomore season."

Only in his second season, Harrell realizes that, "it's a great honor to carry that responsibility."

Sparked by his 20 point, 7 rebound performance in the Big East title game, he's also become a hot name among NBA scouts. Multiple draft projections already have Harrell listed as a likely lottery pick in the 2014 NBA Draft.

Harrell, who played tight end and defensive end in high school, admits that he peaks at such projections, but doesn't spend much time thinking about his professional potential.

"Sometimes I do, but I don't really try to dwell on it to long. I don't try to look at the NBA scouting web sites because none of that matters. If the time comes, and I get a chance to get drafted then that's a blessing, but right now I'm just working on things that will make me a better player and help my team."

Instead, Harrell's focus remains on improving his play and the team's performance as they prepare to for the upcoming season.

"I'm going to keep playing with the same effort and same intensity that I have in every game, but try to take that to another level."

"I try to have the mindset that nobody is going to outwork me."

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