Harrison's basketball journey culminates in first career start for UGA

Kathryn Skeean/The Red & Black

Georgia redshirt senior Christian Harrison (11) watches the net as a South Carolina player shoots a free throw on Feb. 2. The seldom-used Harrison made a surprise start in Georgia's loss to LSU this past Saturday.

ATHENS — Christian Harrison played only three minutes during the 2017-2018 season for the Georgia men’s basketball team.

His teammates knew him as an athletic player with a strong ability to dunk, but he rarely saw the floor.

Fast forward to this season, and Harrison has immensely exceeded his past playing time. As the season wore on, Harrison received more and more minutes, culminating in the first start of his career on Saturday against No. 19 LSU. He played 19 minutes and hit a reverse layup, grabbed a pair of steals and a few rebounds to keep the Bulldogs in the game late.

Harrison didn’t know until a couple minutes before the game that he was starting, but he said his demeanor and approach, which focused on providing energy, didn’t change.

“He plays extremely hard ... he is tremendously competitive and we needed a jolt,” head coach Tom Crean said about the decision to give Harrison the start. “We needed a jolt defensively and moving without the ball."

Fans in Stegeman Coliseum were able to see a small glimpse of what Crean has begun to discover about Harrison this season. Georgia played one of its better games in a long time against the Tigers, and Harrison, especially on the defensive side, was certainly a factor.

“Tough, just tough,” Crean said of Harrison. “(He) hustles … he doesn’t try to do what’s not there. He’ll get on the glass, he’ll defend, he doesn’t need the ball to impact the game and brings an energy to his teammates.”

Harrison is listed as a redshirt senior this season and he’s been involved in basketball for four years in college. He’s only actually played for two years, his freshman season and this season. His sophomore year, at Troy University, he got injured. He transferred to Georgia his junior year and had to sit out the 2016-17 season.

“I don’t know if anybody else had a college career like I’ve had,” Harrison said. “It’s been kind of a unique experience, to say the least, but it’s been a good experience and I’ve learned a lot through it."

Although Harrison said he has no regrets, there were times he questioned whether or not he wanted to continue his basketball career.

The first time was when a hip impingement sidelined him his sophomore year. The second was the transfer, making the transition from scholarship player at Troy to walk-on at Georgia.

The transition, however, was made easy with support from family. Once he arrived at Georgia, teammate Tyree Crump invited him to shoot in the gym within the first couple days of him getting there. They played 1-on-1 and Crump won the series, 3-2.

“Last year, he came here and didn't play at all. This year, his minutes have been up and down,” sophomore Nicolas Claxton said. “Throughout all of that, he stayed persistent, he comes here every day and he doesn’t complain like some guys do. He just comes in and works, and you see the results today.”

Up until December, Harrison was on scout team in practice. But one day Crean wanted him to practice guarding the sets they would face in a game.

It all came together in a 70-59 victory over Georgia Tech when Harrison played the last six minutes of the game. He had an assist and a steal, but no points, but the game was representative of the first time he realized Crean had the trust in him to receive more minutes on the floor.

It was also the reason Crean said on Saturday after LSU he felt with his instinct to start him, pointing toward his growth in confidence when he’s out on the court.

“Coach Crean, he saw something in me,” Harrison said. “He uses me when he needs me (and) I’m just here to do my best and try to do anything that correlates to winning.”

Printed with permission from The Red & Black independent student media organization, based in Athens, Georgia. For more UGA sports news, visit www.redandblack.com/sports.

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