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Harris making an impact at Valparaiso

Updated: September 24, 2012 6:25AM



An enthusiastic Homer Drew emerged from the Valparaiso locker room after the Crusaders’ 68-66 overtime win at UIC Thursday. With a big smile on his face, the legendary coach said, “His basket was huge.”

The “he” in this case was guard Jay Harris, the former Oswego East basketball star and lone non-redshirt freshman on Valpo’s roster. The basket Drew spoke of was Harris’ layup with 3:23 remaining in regulation that reduced the Flames’ lead to 62-57. The Crusaders eventually tied the game at 62 and ended up winning in overtime in the Horizon League opener at the UIC Pavilion in Chicago.

Harris, the third sub off the bench, ended up with four points, three rebounds and one assist in 18 minutes of play in front of many of his local supporters, including his parents and former teammates.

“I was so nervous,” Harris said after the game. “It’s a lot different wearing a different jersey, but I want to thank everyone who came out to support us. I really appreciate it.”

Harris still wears jersey No. 22, just like he did when he was at Oswego East. He has played in all seven games for Valpo (5-2 overall), averaging 21.1 minutes, 6.6 points, 2.0 assists and 1.4 rebounds per contest. Sure, these aren’t the numbers he posted while on the Wolves, but for a rookie, he’s doing whatever it takes to help the Crusaders win.

“Whatever coach needs ... I don’t even care if I play, if coach needs me, I’m there,” the baby-faced Harris said. “I like being the freshman. They take care of me, but I do have to carry (the upperclassmen’s) bags.”

Harris left Oswego East last year as the single-season and career scoring record holder. He still keeps in touch with his former teammates and coach Jason Buckley, who watches the Crusaders’ games online.

The Wolves took a bus to Valpo to see Harris and the Crusaders take on Aurora University — Buckley’s former college team — in an exhibition game in early November. In 28 minutes, Harris had 11 points, three assists and two steals in Valpo’s 98-66 win.

“I make sure we keep in touch, because without them, I wouldn’t be here,” Harris said.

Harris wasn’t the only local native at the Pavilion Thursday night. On the other side of the court was former Aurora Central Catholic star guard Anthony Kelley, who is in his second year at UIC. The sophomore did not clock in against Valpo, but he has made an appearance in four games this year for the Flames (4-4 overall).

Harris and Kelley were the stars of their respective teams when they played against each other in high school. Kelley was a senior and Harris was a junior the year Oswego East beat ACC at a Christmas tournament hosted by Waubonsie Valley. It was one of just four losses the Chargers had that season when Kelley averaged 20 points per game and was the Suburban Catholic Conference’s Most Valuable Player.

Former UIC coach Jimmy Collins recruited Kelley. As a freshman, he made an appearance in 21 games. Collins called it quits earlier this year and was replaced by Howard Moore.

Kelley said college life is good. He’s getting used to the new coach and system. His parents, Anita and Avis, come to every home game. Two of his best friends and former ACC standouts, Mike Adams and Nick Czaja, showed up at Thursday’s game to see their former teammate.

“It’s nice,” said Kelley, who has bulked up since his high school days (he’s listed at 188 pounds). “It makes me appreciate that they are here and supporting the team.”

After Thursday’s game, Kelley approached Harris in the concourse. Handshakes and half-hugs were exchanged, as well as a few friendly words. Kelley said he told Harris he played well and asked him how things were going.

By the looks of it, things are going well for both Harris and Kelley, who both are living their dreams as Division-I college basketball players.



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