Losing is no fun. Being the recognized star (and sole) talent on your losing high school team is less fun. Being the only shooter on a team unable to find the basket - now Friday evenings start to feel like an audio tape tour led by Virgil through warm concentric circles. Such, unfortunately, was the 2005-06 basketball season for Ryan Harp at Abilene (Tex.) Cooper High School. The talented junior endured a downward spiral for the Cougars, surviving on an island.
"We started off really well before district started. We were 12-4," Harp begins. "We kind of went downhill from there. All of a sudden, we were 0-4 to start the district. After that, we couldn't get it together."
"We couldn't put the ball in the basket. Nobody could score. People didn't try to get to the basket any more, and they relied too much on jump shots," he analyzes. "I was able to score, but it was hard. I can't remember any games where I didn't see some kind of crazy defense. A 'box and one' or a 'triangle and two.' In a typical game, I would get five good looks and hit maybe four of them. I would get to the free throw line a lot and get out and run whenever I could."
The Cooper Cougars finished dead last in their district. Yet Harp incredibly was voted as the Offensive Most Valuable Player in the district. The 6'4" scorer averaged 22.5 points, nine rebounds, three assists and two steals per game. Harp shot 48% from the field, 74% from the free throw line, and a sizzling 43% from three-point range.
"It was really good for me because there wasn't one time where I didn't have to work for it," he says of his scoring.
Harp played predominately at the point for his high school team, though he would also move off the ball at times to play one of the two wing positions. Unless you are one of the college coaches who made the trek to Abilene this winter, you are more likely to see Harp with his AAU team, the Texas Top Prospects. There he plays at the shooting guard position where most believe he will play at the next level.
"We have a pretty good point guard. He sets people up," Harp says of AAU teammate Brent Stanton.
The Texas Top Prospects played three events in April during the evaluation period. One trip brought them to Georgetown (Tex.) for the Tops in Texas tournament, where Harp helped his team defeat the well-known Houston Swoosh squad before losing in the championship game. They also attended an event in Pearland. But the king of all spring events remains the Kingwood Classic, where Harp played before a national audience of college coaches and put on a show.
His team went 2-0 in their pool on Saturday and by a scheduling quirk had to play a third game that same day, which they lost to the hallowed Dallas Mustangs - down to the wire with a three-point loss. But the second game of that day for Harp saw his squad upend the Illinois Fire. The Prospects' point guard was out of commission, forcing Harp to take primary ballhandling responsibilities. While that arguably curtailed his opportunities to score, the Abilene man made the best of the situation.
He scored 18 points, grabbed eight rebounds and dished four assists in the upset win. The gym was buzzing. Coaches afterward laid a bevy of flattering comparisons upon Harp, ranging from "a better Matt Carroll" to "a carbon copy of Rex Walters" to "a poor man's Jason Kidd." Take your pick, but those are each ringing endorsements for the relative unknown from Abilene.
"Virginia - I had never gotten any mail from them before, and all of a sudden they started calling after Kingwood," the recruit relates.
"Kansas State, Iowa State, Wake Forest, SMU and Virginia all indicated after Kingwood that they 'loved his game' and wanted to know if it was too late to get involved," adds father and former Hardin-Simmons University men's basketball head coach Dennis Harp. "They seem to indicate they would all offer him a scholarship."
Harp's firm offers have come from TCU, Northwestern, Valparaiso and William & Mary. It is debatable, depending on how you follow semantics from the coaches, whether a number of Big XII schools like Texas Tech and Texas A&M have offered. At the very least, Bobby Knight has made three-hour drives from Lubbock to watch Harp's high school games in person.
In the ACC, Florida State and North Carolina State have both been involved with Harp, though the departure of Herb Sendek from Raleigh has carried those recruiting efforts now to Tempe, adding Arizona State to Stanford in the list of Pac-10 suitors.
"It's kind of hard to choose," says Harp of his favorites. "But one that kind of stands out is Stanford. They are an elite school, and the location is great. One of my AAU teammates, Chris McClain, his sister plays lacrosse at Stanford and says it's incredible."
The Cardinal have been recruiting Harp since before his junior season, and they have made a handful of trips to Abilene in the fall, winter and spring. With a GPA in the 3.6-3.7 range and a pair of AP classes on his junior transcript, Harp has promising academics to go with his shooting ability, court savvy and perimeter defense. Last weekend he took an important step for Stanford by sitting down for the SAT for the first time.
"It was real, real long," he exhales. "But it wasn't that bad. If I can get a 1200 on the old scale, that would be great. We'll have to see."
Harp has his eye on a college commitment by the end of the summer, which would mean a strict diet of unofficial visits now that the NCAA no longer allows official visits before a prospective student-athlete starts his senior year. No trip is yet on the books to take him to The Farm, but Harp says he plans on seeing Stanford "sometime this summer."
"By the middle or end of the summer, I will have a decision probably," he forecasts. "After I make some unofficial visits and talk to my parents, I should have a pretty good idea."
We have a pretty good idea that Ryan Harp is a recruit worth watching closely in the next few months. Stay tuned for his all the latest on his recruiting story as it develops.
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