Rewind the clock to the first few days following the University of Louisville's final game in the 2014 NCAA tournament. It was a time that most expected to be watching Montrezl Harrell play as a rookie in the NBA by this time of year. Instead, the forward from Tarboro, North Carolina chose to return for a third year to further improve his game.
A preseason All-American and All-ACC selection, Harrell spent his off season focused on becoming an even better leader and improving his overall game. He used the example of his former teammates for guidance.
“Being around so many great leaders ahead of me, I picked up a lot of things from them and it carries over into my game,” Harrell explained.
Following two seasons at Louisville, the product of Hargrave (Va.) Military Academy had solidified himself as one of the college games dominating inside players. It was almost expected that if Harrell had the ball near the rim that a powerful dunk would soon follow. His lone basket in the Cardinals NCAA title winning game over Michigan will never be forgotten. Capping off four straight three-pointers by Luke Hancock, Harrell's thunderous slam gave U of L it's first lead of the game.
Playing for a program that has had the nickname 'Doctors of Dunk' since the early days of the Denny Crum era, Harrell has already cemented his place among the best in program history. His 141 career dunks ranks third in the school's career list, while his 97 from last season set a new U of L mark.
It was his outside game that he would spend hours working on during the off season. He wanted to improve his ability to hit the outside shot, including becoming a threat beyond the three-point arc.
“He's added a very accurate 16-foot jump shot,” head coach Rick Pitino said. “He's handling the ball better, bending his knees better.”
While he displayed flashes of his improved game during the preseason scrimmages and exhibitions, it wasn't until the season officially tipped off that the nation would see the results from his work.
Facing Minnesota in the Armed Forces Classic in Puerto Rico on Friday night, Harrell was the dominating presence from start to finish. He opened the game by showing off his new range by hitting a three-pointer. He'd finished 3 of 4 beyond the arc and a stunning 9 of 10 from the free throw line to help him finish with a career-high 30 points.
“I feel like we can be another Final Four team,” he said after the win.
He received multiple weekly honors for his opening-game performance, including ACC Player of the Week.
Check out the video below for more from Harrell on Media Day.