Nate Olson: Shiloh’s Darian Harris Takes Leap with Creighton

Creighton is taking a big leap, and Darian Harris is going along for the ride.The Shiloh Christian hoops star planned to play conference games in places like Terre Haute, Ind., Cedar Falls, Iowa and Springfield, Mo. Now, he’ll be venturing to South Bend, Ind., Queens, Washington, D.C. and Milwaukee.Instead of playing a conference tournament in a hockey arena in St. Louis, the Blue Jays shift to historic basketball Mecca Madison Square Arena in New York City.

Creighton announced last month it’s leaving the mighty mid-major Missouri Valley Conference to join the new Catholic 7, which begins play next season. The core of the league is comprised of former Big East programs — Georgetown, DePaul, Providence, Marquette, Seton Hall, St. Johns and Villanova — as well as former Atlantic 10 members Butler and Xavier. The league hopes Dayton and St. Louis join in 2014-2015.

“I’m extremely excited about the change. I think it is a big step for the Creighton athletic program,” said Harris, who earned All-NWA Media Boys Player of the Year honors this season. “It will without a doubt be tough, but we are going to work our hardest to be the best we can be individually and as a team.”

Harris moves to Omaha after an impressive prep career. The 6-foot-6, 185-pounder averaged 23 points, 10.4 rebounds and 3.7 blocks per game in 2013-2014. Harris, a three-year starter, also became the Saints’ all-time leading scorer with 1,667 points. One of the more underrated Arkansas prep players, Harris burst onto the scene as a sophomore scoring 39 points against Tulsa (Okla.) Metro Christian in his varsity debut. Mainly, a catch-and-shoot threat early in his career, Harris got stronger and made his way to the basket. He gained major experience and exposure playing the prestigious Arkansas Wings AAU program over the summers.

Harris graduates from Shiloh May 16. Creighton coach Greg McDermott wants Harris on campus a week later with 15 more pounds of muscle.

“I am working out and eating a lot to get bigger,” said Harris, who is only one of two Division I boys basketball signees in Shiloh Christian history. “I need to gain quite a bit of weight and strength. Also, I am putting up a lot of shots and skills development with my dad.”

Harris insists, though, his regimen hasn’t changed despite the step up in competition from the MVC to the Catholic 7.

“I will not prepare any differently. I am going to work my hardest every time I step in the gym to be the best I can be to help Creighton basketball as best I can in whatever way they need me,” he said.

Creighton, a member of the MVC since 1977-78, moves after establishing itself as one of the top mid-major programs in the nation. The Blue Jays won the regular-season MVC title this year and won MVC tournament titles the past two seasons and McDermott has guided CU to back-to-back NCAA Tournament appearances. Duke bounced Creighton in the third round last month.

“I’m very proud of the team and they had a great season,” Harris said. “I was sad to see it end, but they lost to a very good team and gave it their all.”

The MVC has bolstered its reputation recently with Northern Iowa’s upset win over No. 1 seed Kansas in the 2010 tournament and Wichita State’s unexpected run to the Final 4 this season. Earlier this year UNI coach Ben Jacobson called it one of the “toughest conferences from top to bottom.” However, as good as it has become, the new league features four teams that earned NCAA Tournament bids this year, and other programs who have a more storied hoops history than the ’Jays.

McDermott’s one foray into BCS Conference hoops didn’t go well. After leading his alma mater UNI to a 90-63 record and three NCAA Tournament appearances from 2001-2002 to 2005-06, he moved to Iowa State. McDermott’s Cyclone teams struggled. In four seasons in Ames, McDermott’s best finish in the Big 12 was a tie for seventh in his debut season. ISU then finished 11th, 10th, and 11th, respectively. It seemed like McDermott (a 59-68 record at Iowa State and 18-46 Big 12 mark) may be fired if a drastic improvement wasn’t made in 2010-2011.

However, after Dana Altman left Creighton for Oregon in April of 2010, McDermott had a spot back in his comfort zone in the MVC where he owns a 86-58-career record. Creighton backers are optimistic McDermott won’t revert back to his ways of the Big 12.

“I think we will be competitive and play at the highest level,” Harris said. “I know from speaking to the coaching staff that they are confident but know we have a lot of work to do.”

Creighton has a chance to be much more competitive if McDermott’s son, Doug, sticks around for one more season. The two-time All-American, who had committed to UNI out of Ames High, followed his dad to Omaha and is a three-year starter. He is a sure-fire NBA first-round pick if he declares this month, but he may see his father through the first year in the new league.

“I’m not sure what Doug will be doing, but I’m sure he will do what is best for him,” Harris said.

As for Darian Harris, he was overshadowed this season by the likes of Hall’s Bobby Portis (Arkansas) and Parkview’s I.J. Ready (Mississippi State). He now has a chance in a major conference to prove he can play with the NCAA’s best.

Tags: , , , ,