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Harris made a roundabout trip to Hilltoppers

March 14, 2012
By SHAWN RINE - For The Weirton Daily Times , The Intelligencer

WEST LIBERTY - Mapquest tells us it's only a little less than 83 miles from Zanesville to West Liberty University. In actuality though, Cedric Harris is worlds apart from where he was at this time last year.

A season after earning West Virginia Conference Player of the Year at Wheeling Jesuit in 2009, Harris transferred to Ohio State. More than a year removed from playing competitive basketball, the 6-foot guard landed on his feet with the Hilltoppers, hoping to be another spoke in a fast-turning wheel.

''I think it was last year that I (saw) that they went to the Final Four and had something real special,'' Harris said Tuesday night. ''I knew Coach Crutchfield had a great program and I knew being a part of this was going to be something really special.''

Harris was named Atlantic Regional Most Valuable Player following West Liberty's 89-78 victory against Shaw that sends it back to the Elite Eight, this time on the campus of Northern Kentucky University. The Hilltoppers kick off their quest at noon a week from today against Stonehill (Mass.)

''Last year I didn't have a home, but now I've found a home,'' Harris said. ''Coach Crutchfield just kept believing in me - he was the only guy that believed in me.

''This is a very special moment and I'm trying to take it all in right now.

''This is a dream come true to me.''

It's more like a shared dream.

After losing nearly 6,000 career points from last season's Final Four team, the Hilltoppers were expected by most to suffer some type of a dropoff, perhaps even a sizeable one.

But teams that stick around for more than one shot at glory reload, rather than rebuild.

And let's face it, being able to insert a guy like Harris into the mix is just this side of unfair. With him aboard, suddenly West Liberty was again blessed with what amounts to an embarrassment of riches.

''The secret is, he fits in personality-wise,'' Crutchfield said. ''The playing part, it's been a developing process for him since Day 1.

''He's getting more and more adapted to our system, but he never looked like he was more comfortable than (Tuesday). Right now we're obviously glad he's here.''

Harris connected on 12 of 17 shots Tuesday night against the Bears. First it was a tear drop along the baseline. Then a 3-pointer, followed by a blow-by.

Oh, and Harris makes the 15-foot pull-up look a lot like most other guys' layups.

''I know that I am a hard worker and this program is based on hard-working players,'' Harris, a Zanesville High grad, said. ''I knew I would fit in real well with the system.

''We're all hustling, and we all just want to win.''

The Hilltoppers have already won 32 times in 34 tries. If they can get three more they'll own the first NCAA Division II men's basketball championship in school history.

Chances are, the guy who was taking shots by himself - the guy that had a first team All-WVC season- will have a lot to say about it.

Perhaps another MVP award would be the capper?

''We're all MVPs,'' Harris said. ''Every night we go out there and it might not show up on the stat sheet, but we all know who brings what to the table. Our guys, we don't care if we score two points or 22 points. This is a total team effort.''

 
 

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