Utah's Unique One

We have known for some time about three Stanford recruits who were invited to the elite USA Women's Youth Development Festival in June. Those same three Cardinal recruits are in Scout.com's Top 50 national rankings for the 2006 class. Two have already committed to Tara VanDerveer. The third, Michelle Harrison, is ranked #31 in the country, and her game and home are both unique among her peers...

When you are the most successful and most highly recruited player in the history of your state, you are going to be a busy girl.  Such has been the case for Utah superstar Michelle Harrison, darting around the country for months.  Since the end of her junior season at Mountain View High School, she has played in Las Vegas, Atlanta, Colorado, California, Virginia, Oregon and more.  On the AAU circuit, she has played most of her travel basketball with the Utah Sky, though you may have seen her at a couple events with West Coast Elite.

You undoubtedly heard about Harrison at the 2005 USA Women's Youth Development Festival, where 34 of the nation's best girls in the 2006 class convened for a week in Colorado Springs (Colo.).  She also participated in the adidas Top Ten Camp.  Those two individual events speak to Harrison's talent and national recognition, though many fans have become accustomed to seeing these accolades on the résumés of many a blue chip recruit.  Why are they noteworthy for the 6'2" Harrison?  Because in the shallow talent waters of the Beehive State, these honors are less than commonplace.  To be precise, they are unprecedented.

"I was the first girl from Utah to be invited to the Youth Development Festival.  I was the first at the adidas Top Ten.  And maybe - fingers crossed - I will be the first McDonald's All-American," Harrison says.  "I do think that Utah is behind a lot of places in basketball."

Growing up, Harrison played for eight years in an all-boys league, which was as important to her development as any competitive environment she has enjoyed.

"I think that's why people say that I play like a boy," she laughs.

Truthfully, Harrison does plays like few you have seen in today's world of women's basketball.  Listed at 6'3" some places, she is more conservatively 6'2", but regardless of that inch has the size to play with an impact in the low post.  It is her perimeter skills, however, which set her apart.  Harrison's favorite play is to take her defender off the dribble and attack the basket.  If that defender sags off in anticipation of the drive, Harrison can drain the three-point shot.

She shot better than 50% from outside the arc this past season at Mountain View High School, in fact.  Put that together with a growing post game and already the second most blocked shots in the history of the state (she will smash that record in her senior season), and you have the picture of a uniquely versatile weapon.

"I'm a taller guard - a lot of [college] coaches say that," Harrison describes.  "I'm a longer guard.  I can play the post but know that I will play guard in college.  I can take three's, take the midrange shot or post up."

"I love to drive to the basket around my defender," she adds.  "A lot of people say it's my trademark to drive to the basket, but I can also post up and get an easy lay-up."

When you ask Harrison about her basketball influences, one name from today's WNBA spotlight and the recent Stanford past is of course Nicole Powell.  She also cites Diana Taurasi, Sheryl Swoopes and Michael Jordan, with the last her all-time favorite player.  But you will not hear Harrison say that she patterns herself after anybody.

"I've always been the person where I want to be the best I can be.  I don't want to emulate somebody else," she explains.  "I've always liked watching college basketball and the WNBA.  But I want to go out there and make a name for myself.  I want people to say, 'There goes Michelle Harrison' and not 'the next somebody-or-other.'"

The one thing she does want to hear herself called is a state champion.  A big bump in the road toward that dream came a year ago, while she was starting her junior year at Lehi High School.  Harrison was fresh off a sensational first two seasons of varsity basketball.  In 2002-03, she averaged 18 points, 12 rebounds and seven blocks per game as a mere frosh, topping herself as a sophomore with a sophomore campaign in 2003-04 that averaged 20 points and 10 boards and earned her state MVP honors for Class 3A.

But her wunderkind abilities and success engendered bitter and petty jealousy from a number of girls and parents at the school, unable to swallow that a younger talent was sweeping through and playing ahead of veteran players.  Harrison's coach was fired amid the complaints, and she transferred just after the start of her junior year.

With a fresh start, amidst a group of girls who accept and embrace this once-in-a-generation Utah talent, Harrison can again say that she loves playing high school basketball.  Transitioning so quickly with a new coach, new teammates and a new system was not easy last year, but she still managed 16 points and 11 boards per game.  For the third straight year, Harrison was a cinch for First Team All-State honors.  Now that she has a season and some comfort under her belt at Mountain View, she is ready to shoot for the stars in 2005-06.

"With everything I had to adjust to last year, I was not going to tell people that, 'I'm going to get 20 points and this or that.'  It's not a goal of mine," Harrison maintains.  "I just want to win.  I would trade everything I have to get a state championship."

Fortunately for her, Michelle Harrison does not need to trade away her accomplishments.  She earned the 30 scholarship offers she received, and all the hype and hoopla that has come with her recruitment.  By now, Harrison has moved into the final stages of her college decision process.  The list of 30 was trimmed to 20.  Then 15, 10 and five.  Not long ago she let USC go and winnowed her way to her current list of four schools.  She has official visits scheduled to three, with a fourth contingent upon a process familiar to Cardinalmaniacs™.

She traveled to Texas Tech two weekends ago (Sept. 9), and tonight she flies to Kansas State to start her second official visit tomorrow.  A third trip will bring her to Cal on September 30.

"I will visit Stanford sometime after that," Harrison shares.  "I don't know when.  I'm still waiting to see if I get accepted.  It's just something where I've got to be patient.  I've sent everything in and been waiting three weeks.  It would be easy to not go through what Stanford makes you go through, but I've worked hard to keep my grades up."

With a 3.7 GPA and a 25 on the ACT (she initially scored a 20 but studied hard and had a big bump in her retake), Harrison has all her fingers and toes crossed for a kind call from Cardinal head coach Tara VanDerveer.

"I've always thought very highly of Stanford," the recruit reveals.  "Stanford has a lot of things going for it, in both basketball and academics.  I would love just to know that I have been accepted.  Right now, it's tough.  How do I evaluate Stanford when I don't know if it is a real option for me?  It would be a huge relief to get admitted and have the chance."

"It would be a lot of momentum for Stanford if I could get accepted," she adds.  "But I don't want to say what will happen if I get that.  I don't want to screen out all my other options."

While the Cardinal would be tough to beat here, we know all too well the unpredictable nature of the admissions application process.  Harrison meanwhile is taking the prudent approach in her exploration, and she finds herself pleased and at peace with her choices.

"I've gotten to know the coaches really well and done a lot of research.  I've gotten to the point where I feel I can't go wrong," she shares.  "It's just going to be hard to choose just one school.  I'm excited, yet I'm really scared."

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