[Premium Article] Ontario Harper is known on Mississippi State's basketball team for his ear-to-ear smile stretching across his face. There is hardly a time when Harper is caught without his big grin, but the saying on the back of the Bulldog practice jersey might describe Harper better than anyone else on the team."> [Premium Article] Ontario Harper is known on Mississippi State's basketball team for his ear-to-ear smile stretching across his face. There is hardly a time when Harper is caught without his big grin, but the saying on the back of the Bulldog practice jersey might describe Harper better than anyone else on the team.">

Ontario Harper: Competing With Toughness

<img src="http://www.genespage.com/images/01players/basketball/ontarioharper.jpg" align="left" width="120" height="162"> [Premium Article] Ontario Harper is known on Mississippi State's basketball team for his ear-to-ear smile stretching across his face. There is hardly a time when Harper is caught without his big grin, but the saying on the back of the Bulldog practice jersey might describe Harper better than anyone else on the team.

The Logo on the jersey reads, "Compete With Toughness." A simple saying, describing the way every fan or coach wants to see his or her team play. But for Harper, his toughness started when he graduated from Clinton High School.

"I wasn't able to come straight here when I left high school, I had some things holding me back," said Harper. "While I was in prep school, my parents and coach Stansbury really stuck by my side. They helped me get through that, and that is why I knew I wanted to come to State. I knew that he (Stansbury) cared about me."

Even after making it to MSU the trials did not end for Harper. Harper took his fair share of criticism for coming to MSU every time he went home.

"We did not play very well my first few years down here, so when I went home everyone was saying I should have gone somewhere else," said Harper. "But I knew that we would turn everything around.

"Last year was sweet, but it is amazing how everyone switches bandwagons when you are winning. After we won the SEC (Tournament) Championship everyone wanted to be a Bulldog fan."

Harper does not take any credit for the turnaround that occurred at MSU last season; actually he gives credit to the man that brought him to State.

"The first year I was here everyone was hard on coach (Stansbury)," said Harper describing the turnaround of the Bulldogs. "That season he just did everything his way, and did not listen to anything we had to say. But last year he changed that, and he let us make some of the decisions. We worked together more with him."

With a year of the new system under their belts, everyone is beginning to feel more comfortable. Harper says that will really help this year's team.

"We are like a big family out there," said Harper. "We will go to battle for each other everyday. We respect the coaches and each other. That really helps us to be a great team."

Respect for his coaches came easy for Harper. Since he has been at MSU, Stansbury has made it a point to stay on him.

"When I first got here he (Stansbury) stayed on me all the time about making eye contact," said Harper with his customary grin. "He had to tell me all the time that first year. He wanted to know that I was listening. That really let me know that he was trying to help me. This past year he did not have to tell me but once."

Now that Harper has taken care of making eye contact and paying attention, he is working on being the player that he knows he can be.

"Coach Kirby is always on me about playing hard and stepping up," said Harper. "He tells me I need to speak up and be more of a leader. He tells me I need to come off of screens harder. He is always on me about something, but I know that he is just trying to help me."

And that pushing just might be the thing that he needs to step in and really contribute this season. Harper will be asked to replace one of the leaders off last year's team, Michael Gholar.

"You can't replace a guy like him. He always played hard and left everything on the court," said Harper. "I know that I will have to step up and play in his spot, but I think that I am ready.

"One thing that Gholar brought everyday was toughness. That is the one thing that I want to bring to this team. I want to play with the toughness he brought."

Harper being able to replace Gholar might be the key to this Bulldog team, and he thinks that this could be a big year for MSU.

"I think that we will go a lot further than we went last year," said Harper with his prediction for the upcoming season. "We have a lot of guys that have experience and are great players, and we have some new guys that are really good. We just have to have everyone step up and play.

"Guys like Z (Derrick Zimmerman), Timmy (Bowers) and Mario (Austin) are great players and will have a really big year. We just have to get everybody ready to play, and to leave everything on the court."


Grant Alford is a free-lance correspondent for Gene's Page. He is a student at Mississippi State University. You can contact him by email at sportswriterdawg@yahoo.com.

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