It's been a long four years for D`Angelo Harrison, pockmarked with drama, years of personal growth and a scoring consistency that has led him to be the third all-time leading scorer in St. John's history, and a man that this generation of St. John's fans will remember fondly.
Playing on a St. John's team that badly needed his scoring, Harrison - he of the nearly-full-body tattoos and swagger - often looked like a no-conscience gunner in his St. John's career, taking an average of 13 shots per game and looking for contact.
But one look at the offensive options on some of the teams, at the lack of depth, and one sees why Harrison was leaned on so heavily.
Harrison came from the Houston area with a reputation as a confident scorer; and he came in to college with a class of newcomers, eager to shoot. Those newcomers were mostly non-offensive players; Moe Harkless put up points as well, but Harrison was needed to score for Steve Lavin's first real recruiting class, a squad of nine that was winnowed for five (and then six as Amir Garrett came midseason).
It was a frustrating year for those freshman, hoping to make a splash like Kentucky's recruits did. But in the old and rugged Big East, wins were hard to come by, even if Harrison looked like a star... one with a really mean mug on his face.
In that 2011-12 season, as in his second and third years, he was the team's best offensive option and most efficient scorer. Not because his shot was falling, mind you - conference play saw Harrison experience serious dips in his shooting percentages, particularly inside the arc. But Harrison's relentless energy drew fouls at a strong rate, looking for physical contact with his dribble and craftiness.
Last season, Harrison had scoring help. Sir`Dominic Pointer emerged as an option at forward, while Phil Greene IV finally crossed the 1-point-per-possession threshold once he spotted up for threes instead of taking long two-pointers. As a team, St. John's took 30% of their shots from outside the arc - not a huge amount, only 267th in the nation - but it was far better than the 24% of shots the previous year.
With the lane less clogged, perhaps, or with increased maturity, Harrison increased his scoring inside the arc to 45% on the season, 43% in conference play. Not sexy, but when compared to the 39% the previous season or 35% in conference play? Those percentages are downright scalding.
In terms of maturity, Harrison earned a reputation as a hothead early on, earning a suspension to end the season in 2013 and missing the team's final six games after on-and off-court attitude related incidents and an inability to listen.
Talking to the NY Post's Steve Serby, Harrison tied it to his emotions, and realized he needed to think of how his actions affected others.
Knowing that when I used to talk crazy to a ref, or look crazy at a call or make a face or something, it’s not just D’Angelo Harrison, it’s St. John’s basketball. And I didn’t know that. Like when I would get a foul called on me, I’d go sit on the bench, the camera’s still on me. And you could literally read my lips. I didn’t know that. But now, since I’m different, I just look at things in a whole nother different perspective.
Harrison was an intriguing character - foul-mouthed and volatile on the court (& apparently in practice), but always, always, respectful and insightful to reporters. It is hard to rationalize, but between the lines, Harrison's competitiveness, his desire to win, became a distraction, a cudgel that was swung at everything in between him and the basket.
That energy needed better direction, and after a sting with John Lucas in Houston in 2013, Harrison learned ways of channeling that energy positively, becoming a leader, while keeping the on-court skill and feistiness that made him a star.
Some of Harrison's best moments, from our readers (collected a month or so ago):
Sean J: "The 2nd Providence game this year when we needed a win and Providence went on a run with about 5 minutes left and after D'Angelo hit 2 crazy 3's and had the look that we're winning this game no matter what...sweep!"
Chris: "Hitting a shot next to the sideline against Cincinnati when he was a freshman."
Louis M.: "His sophomore year against Notre Dame when he had a major block to seal the win even though offensively he struggled."
Michael B.: "3 from long distance against Marquette to send game to another overtime his Jr year." (also mentioned by Chris M.)
And the most remembered moment: where he, according to Jack, "saved the ball from going out of bounds, got up, made the 3 and was fouled. 4 point play. boom."
D`Angelo Harrison, at 6'3" and 202 or so pounds, isn't highly rated on Chad Ford's draft board (he's #98 of 100).
He's not particularly tall for a shooting guard. He's not great going to his left. He doesn't have crazy hops to get free for shots. But he has a motor most can't match, a level of effort and willingness that some other players can't access, even for the fame and the contracts.
Positive: Versatile scorer
Energetic, with some skill (that may have been obscured by his role as the main scorer for St. John's, but more on that shortly), and a sneaky ability to do more than score on the court. He can rebound. He can pass. At the Portsmouth Invitational Tournament for seniors, Harrison was named to the All-Tournament team, scoring 17 points, dishing out six assists and grabbing eight rebounds per game.
Positive: Free throw generator
He's a strong free throw shooter, connecting on 86% as a junior and 80% of his free throws as a senior. Harrison's crafty hesitation moves shift and bump opponents into drawing contact, and he cashes in at the line.
In the NBA, Harrison's size says "point guard" more than "shooting guard", though he could fit as a scoring point guard in the right system. Still, he doesn't bring the size to see over other guards or defend them with length.
Negative: scoring against length
D`Angelo Harrison's game is energetic and crafty, but he hasn't been quick enough to always get a clean look. He can shoot while being bumped and isn't afraid of contact. But when playing against Georgetown's length, Harrison struggled badly, forcing shots and unable to make an impact, except in his junior year in a win over the Hoyas, where he scored 24 points. (If you were wondering, Harrison shot 0/9 and scored six points against the Georgetown this season.)
The NBA has many, many players taller than Harrison, of course. And many are quicker, more consistent in their scoring. But Harrison does have a level of heart and has taken on a huge role for St. John's. If he can prove that he can make shots with some consistency, maybe he can catch on as a second-round surprise.
D`Angelo Harrison's versatile play and scoring acumen - along with a physicality - would be a great fit in Europe. I wouldn't be surprised to see him become a star overseas.