Jon Harris made a name for himself as a basketball player in the St. Louis metropolitan area. Now he will look to do the same as a coach.
After being announced as the eighth head men’s basketball coach for the SIUE Cougars on April 3, Harris was introduced in a press conference on campus Monday.
The 1998 Edwardsville High grad ranks No. 9 all-time on the Tigers’ scoring list with 1,269 points and was a Class AA all-state selection. He went on to play at Marquette University alongside Dwayne Wade under head coach Tom Crean.
He was part of some big games in the history of the Alton and Edwardsville rivalry. His junior year at EHS he was on the losing end of a six-overtime game in the 1997 sectional finals against the Redbirds played at SIUE, arguably the most dramatic win in AHS history.
Harris’ senior year saw him lose to Collinsville in sectional action 40-39. Kevin Asbrock of the Kahoks banked in a 68-foot shot as time expired, gaining national attention and leaving Harris with heartbreak at the Vadalabene Center again.
Now he looks to make good memories on the SIUE campus, where he grew up attending basketball camps under former Cougar coach Larry Graham.
Harris’ hire hopes to creates immediate buzz from local hoops fans. Monday Harris made a proclamation that should make local fans happy — a commitment to recruiting locally.
“To elaborate on our recruiting efforts, we will be absolutely relentless,” the 34-year-old Harris said. “We will have a staff of coaches tied to this area, tied to this region. There is a lot of talent in our immediate 20- to 30-minute radius and we need to keep all of it. We’ve got to put a fence up.”
Harris hopes to have some of his staff in place by week’s end. Alton High grad and current director of basketball operations at Evansville, Kavon Lacey, would be a nice pickup to add clout in local circles. Time will tell if that happens.
As for local players, Harris’ predecessor, Lennox Forrester, had Alton senior Carlos Anderson signed. Anderson now has to weigh his options if he wants to remain a Cougar.
“It’s a tough situation for me, but I know God has a plan for me,” Anderson said via telephone Monday. “We’re going to sit down and talk with my family. I’m pretty sure they will give me some extended time to think about it and give me an opportunity to build a relationship with coach Harris. I’m pretty sure I’ll stay, but if I don’t feel too comfortable then I’ll have to go somewhere else.”
Harris hopes Anderson stays.
“Our goal is to have him still come,” Harris said. “I’ve had good conversations with Carlos and his family.”
Having a local flavor is important to Harris because it helps build a fan base and there is plenty of talent in the area.
SIUE Director of Athletics Dr. Brad Hewitt, an Alton High grad and former football standout for the Redbirds in the 1970s, understands the dynamics of having talented local players.
“Look how it developed our last few years in Division II with J.B. Jones (Belleville West) and Anthony Jones (Centralia),” Hewitt said. “We had six or seven guys within the 30- to 50-mile radius that were players and we went to the Elite Eight.”
Players with local connections like Tre Harris, Deion Lavender and Chaz Glotta could be on SIUE’s radar. Harris, an EHS grad and Jon Harris’ nephew, was recently let go by Kansas State University, while Lavender (Marquette) and Glotta (Fort Zumwalt North) both transferred out of SIU Carbondale. All three have three years of eligibility remaining but would have to sit out next year due to NCAA transfer rules.
SWIC players Detae McMurray (Alton) and Hunter Reine (Roxana) could be possibilities, too. There are currently eight players on SIUE’s roster for next season. The next signing period begins on April 15.
Anderson even has high hopes down the road for one of his high school teammates from the Redbirds this season.
“I feel like it’s a huge advantage to play with players you are really familiar with,” Anderson said. “Like Darrius (Edwards), he’s going JUCO and I’m pretty sure he’ll have an opportunity to go there as a local guy. Then there’s people from the Southwestern Conference that we play and know what they bring to the table instead of going to some other college where you don’t know any of the players and what they bring to the table or what they are capable of. I feel like SIUE putting a fence around the area and having local guys come, that’s an advantage for the coaches.”
Hewitt’s gut tells him he made the right hire. Time will tell, but I think most people believe he made the right decision.
“He’s very articulate, he’s very engaging, very sincere and genuine and I think that’s going to play well in every constituent base, in every marketplace and with every type of potential supporter. I couldn’t have made a bad decision (with Harris or Alabama assistant John Brannen), but I’m hoping in a few years it’s proven that I made the best decision,” Hewitt said.
Brannen accepted the head coaching position at Northern Kentucky on Monday.
Harris’ résumé includes one year as a grad assistant at Marquette (‘02-03), an assistant at Green Bay (‘03-08), an assistant at Missouri State (‘08-11), an assistant at Tennessee (‘11-14) and an assistant at California (‘14-15). Harris assisted East St. Louis native Cuonzo Martin at MSU, Tennessee and Cal.
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