Evaluating oneself honestly in his or her endeavors is often a very hard thing to do. Denial and transference of blame are two common alternatives that sometimes curb the path to improvement. That, though, has not been a problem for Michigan's Dion Harris. The senior guard has always been willing to give the sort of piercing self-critiques that can be the precursor to change. He clearly has had a very solid three years in Ann Arbor, but the former Mr. Basketball in the state of Michigan has had bouts with inconsistency. To his credit, he readily admits as much. Harris has the kind of talent that should factor into games on a nightly basis. Now as he embarks upon final campaign as a Wolverine, he has a firm understanding how his team was impacted when he was not that factor.
"I feel that I haven't really played to my potential the past three years," Harris admitted. "I can look back on some games that I didn't do particularly well in and say, 'this is why we didn't win the right number of games to get to the tournament…this is why we didn't perform the way we should've as a team.' I look at a lot of those games where I didn't do what I was supposed to do. Going into this offseason that's how I looked at everything. I put it into perspective like that."
Many observers might read/hear that and ask why that perspective will lead to a different Dion Harris this year. The answer is twofold. First of all, the 6-3, 205-pounder has made a concerted effort to improve his physical conditioning this season. Fatigue was likely one of the biggest culprits for the up-down nature of his game in previous years. Looking at him now, his physical maturation is obvious.
The second aspect Harris' change comes to light if you talk to him for any extended period of time. That's when his mental maturation becomes just as evident. For Harris, it was a matter of slowing down and assessing the things that are most important. That kind of perspective is frequently something that simply comes with age, but Harris' epiphany was more complicated that that. Last season he was in the midst of experiencing a life-altering event…one that would change his priorities forever.
"With me, (maturity) came with a lot of experiences I had this past summer," said Harris. "It was just me putting things in perspective and knowing that I had to change as a person. Just being more mature. I think I was immature in past. There were a lot of things that that you won't necessarily hear about (laughing). I had a daughter this summer and that kind of put a lot of things in perspective for me as well. It was knowing that I had to change and become a man. I think that's what I'm transforming into now as the season comes along and as the school year starts."
As it turns out, the well-publicized foot injuries (an ankle sprain and plantar fasciitis) that limited Harris for much of last season only partly explain his inconsistency. Reflecting back on that time, he acknowledges that thoughts of fatherhood and the responsibility that comes with it weighed heavily on his mind.
"I don't think I told the coaches until a month before I was about to have her," Harris recalled. "I was scared and a lot of things suffered because of that. That was on my mind for the whole year. I just kept it in during the season and I think that had a little something to do with where my mind was at."
The fear that is present in every first time parent is even greater for someone so young, but once he informed his family and his coaches, much of it dissipated. The rest soon gave way to an overwhelming sense of purpose.
"When I'm out here and when I'm working hard on and off the court, I'm not just doing it for myself anymore," he said. "In the past when it was just me I was doing it for, I could say, 'I'm going to take this day off,' 'I'm going to not go so hard,' or 'I'll blow this meeting off.' Now everything counts. It's crunch time, really. Being that it's my senior year, I've got to make some things happen with the team."
Now less than a year old, daughter Ariyanna is a source of joy and motivation for her father. One thing that Harris has come to understand is that much of what makes a good father will also make him a good basketball player. Consistency. For a father, it's consistency with attention, consistency with love, and consistency with just being around. Being consistent on the basketball floor is easy by comparison.
Now the reason why fans will see a different Dion Harris in 2006 is all too clear. The young man wearing #5 is more dedicated…both on the floor and off of it.
"I'm having visions of senior day with her being down on the court and just her being here watching me while she is young," Harris said. "That's all that has been a part of my mind frame during the whole offseason…just thinking about those things. I'm not even really thinking about what I'm going to do on the court. I know what I'm going to do when I'm out there and that's one thing….play as hard as I can."
For rest of our feature on Dion Harris, be sure to check out GoBlueWolverine's Basketball Preview, which is set to mail next month.