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Once cut from middle school team, Napoleon Harris now leading Monroe

Harris and the Tornadoes play Worth County tonight

Monroe’s Napoleon Harris has developed into a strong player for the Tornadoes. The 6-foot-5, 198-pound sophomore has helped Monroe to a 7-4 record heading into today’s game against Worth County. (Staff Photo: Tim Morse)

Monroe’s Napoleon Harris has developed into a strong player for the Tornadoes. The 6-foot-5, 198-pound sophomore has helped Monroe to a 7-4 record heading into today’s game against Worth County. (Staff Photo: Tim Morse)

ALBANY — In Napoleon Harris’ basketball world, an incident that happened three years ago forever scarred him.

The Monroe High School sophomore basketball standout was cut from the Radium Springs Middle School team as a seventh-grader. It devastated him so badly that he nearly quit the game he loves so much.

“I didn’t get picked for the team after I had worked so hard,” said Harris, who is emerging as a dominant player for the Tornadoes.

“It hurt me inside. After that day, I didn’t want to play basketball anymore. I had been working very hard for me not to get picked. I figured there was no purpose in me continuing to play.”

Harris’ father convinced him to keep playing. He told him countless stories of standout players who didn’t make their high school teams, such as NBA legend Michael Jordan, who didn’t make the varsity squad as a sophomore at Laney High School in North Carolina.

“My father told me that Michael Jordan was cut then came back to become the greatest basketball player of all time,” he said. “That shows you that hard work goes a long way.”

Harris hasn’t stopped working since. The 6-foot-5, 198-pound sophomore starts for the Tornadoes, helping them to a 7-4 record. His play will be heavily depended upon as Monroe contends for a berth in the state tournament.

Tornadoes coach Marquis Davis is one who is glad Harris didn’t quit.

“One of his top qualities is his leadership skills,” Davis said. “When things are not going well, he’ll tell the rest of the team to pick it up. At such a young age, he’s motivated. He’s a hard-working kid who comes from a good family. He’s got a great example at home.”

Guard Trentavious Jackson played with Harris at Radium Springs. He said when Harris didn’t make the team as a seventh-grader, it motivated him to become better.

“He’s a better athlete now, and he took (getting cut) as motivation to get to the next level,” Jackson said. “He asked me to help give him a few pointers, and he would always get up at 5 in the morning to work on his game. He believes in himself and he has a great spirit and attitude about him. He would like to learn more.”

Davis believes Harris could be a special player before he graduates in two years. He has quickness and he’s versatile, having played at all positions this season.

In addition, the sophomore has benefited from a growth spurt last summer when he grew some three inches.

“But he has handled that very well,” Davis said. “He’s coachable, makes good grades and has good character. He has all of those good things.”

Jackson said Harris has no problem stepping up in the clutch. Before the Christmas break, the Tornadoes were playing Americus-Sumter in a key region game and needed a spark. That’s when Harris sank a big basket, propelling Monroe to a 44-38 victory.

While Harris didn’t look favorably at not making the Radium Springs basketball team, he said it taught him a lesson he won’t ever forget.

“You have to work hard and get better … nothing is given to you in life,” he said. “You might be the best player in the gym, but there is always somebody who is going to be better. The same can be said in the classroom. You have to take those things into consideration.

“I don’t want to be sitting on the side. I want to do whatever it takes to help the team win.”