Return is triumphant for Harris

Tim Klobuchar

NEW YORK — Maybe Eric Harris’ performance in last week’s National Invitation Tournament final four wasn’t up to his standards. He made just five of his 21 field goal attempts in the two games, and missed all seven of his three-point shots after leading the team with 51 before traveling to Madison Square Garden.
But even Harris would have to admit that his erratic shooting had a nice symmetry to it. When he left St. Raymond’s High School in the Bronx for Minnesota four years ago, Harris was known for his ball-handling and defensive skills, but he had only a raw offensive game.
But Harris continually improved over his career, and this year scored 20 or more points seven times. When he made his long-awaited return to New York, however, his shot deserted him. Harris was home again.
Fortunately for the senior, that was the only thing that went awry for him during the Gophers’ stay in New York. He was able to play in front of family and friends, practice at his old high school, and finish his career with a championship in the Garden, a place in which he had always dreamed of playing.
All those perks seemed important to the other Gophers, too, who virtually turned “Bring Eric Home” into a team slogan. They were hoping to give their co-captain that chance in the preseason NIT this year, but lost in the first round.
“I thought it was good of his teammates to take him on their shoulders and see that he got home,” said Harris’ mother, Antoinette. “It’s a dream come true for him. I think he wanted it more before, so he was a little bit disappointed when it didn’t happen. I don’t think he put much into thinking it was really going to happen this time. When it did, he was very happy.”
And maybe a little nervous, too, though Harris said that had nothing to do with his sub-par games.
“I didn’t really have any nerves,” he said after his 4-for-13 shooting performance against Fresno State on Tuesday. “I just didn’t make my shots.”
Antoinette sensed otherwise.
“This is four years’ worth of holding that inside, so I think he’s still a little nervous,” she said. “But he’s just happy to get home and play in front of his home crowd.”
The crowd wasn’t as large as Harris would’ve liked. He was able to secure 20 tickets for the potpourri of aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews, cousins, his grandmother and a few friends.
“I could’ve used about 60 or 70 tickets,” he said.
Several Harris family members congregated in section 108 at the Garden, waving pompoms and holding signs with white lettering etched in a Big Apple-red background carrying messages like, “New York loves Eric Harris and the Minnesota Gophers.” The signs were in place thanks to Harris’ large local family. Antoinette’s sister, Robin, works for an advertising company in New York and was instrumental in getting the signs made.
Madison Square Garden turned out to be the best place for friends and relatives to see and talk to Harris. He was able to stop by his home in the Bronx only twice during his stay, both after practices at St. Raymond’s, a private boys-only school. In the summer, it’s in that area that Harris gets local attention, not in famous arenas like the Garden.
“In the summertime everybody’s out,” Antoinette said. “And when he comes home, for the little time he spends here, he’s like a hero out there, because he’s doing something and showing kids that it can happen for you.”
Harris has made things happen for the Gophers for three years as the starting point guard, contributing defense and assists more often than big scoring nights. This time, his teammates made it happen for him. The performance of players like Kevin Clark, Quincy Lewis and Sam Jacobson made it possible for Harris to be the happiest person on the floor during the Gophers’ postgame celebration after beating Penn State for the championship on Thursday.
A few hundred fans, mostly Gophers rooters, remained at the Garden to share the experience with the team. A few, though, didn’t have a rooting interest in the team — just one player.
One fan in his 20s, wearing a backwards New York Yankees cap and a navy blue Bernie Williams Yankees jersey, spotted Harris — one strand of the freshly cut net behind his right ear — walking across the floor a few yards in front of him.
The fan, with a smile on his face, turned to his buddy and said, “That’s a New Yorker right there.”