UMBC's Harris does muscling with assists Size no shortcoming to career leader

February 03, 1993|By Paul McMullen | Paul McMullen,Staff Writer

The UMBC shorts are baggy on the big men, too, but on Dana Harris, who has a waist a runway model would envy, they're a reminder of just how thin he is. The senior has struggled through knee, hip and ankle injuries, but Harris has a message for those who still think he's too slight to play Division I basketball: You should have seen him as a high school junior.

Harris learned long ago that he couldn't afford to let his point-guard battles become a matter of muscle. Bethesda-Chevy Chase had one of the better teams in Montgomery County in 1987-88, and the ball-handler was hard to catch, let alone find, because Harris was all of 5 feet 2 1/2 .

"I went through a growth spurt the following summer and was 5-7 or 5-8 when I was a senior, but I still weighed only 120," Harris said. "I learned early I had to use my quickness and out-think other people. My build was a definite hindrance when I first got here, but now, I use it to my advantage. I've got to slither and slash through bigger players."

Harris will be slithering and slashing at the Towson Center tonight (7:30) when UMBC meets Towson State in a Big South Conference game. At 6 feet, 150 pounds, he'll be giving up a couple of inches and more than 40 pounds to the Tigers' Devin Boyd, but he's accustomed to the challenge.

He appeared in only 13 games as a freshman, but since his sophomore season, Harris has been a UMBC starter. Last Saturday in Buies Creek, N.C., he became the Retrievers' all-time assist leader. He takes 433 career assists and a 6.3-point average into tonight's game.

Not bad for a walk-on who drew inspiration from Muggsy Bogues and had as much success as a tennis player in high school. Harris' options, however, hardly were limited by his size.

Duke and Rutgers came calling when Harris was a senior at Bethesda-Chevy Chase, but for his background in science, not basketball. Harris was a National Merit Scholar with a 1,320 SAT score. He would have been welcomed at Cornell practices, but the invitation to walk on with the Retrievers and an academic scholarship kept him in Maryland.

"I guess he had to convince us he could play," coach Earl Hawkins said. "When he was a freshman, you could see he was a pretty good point guard, and before his sophomore season, we had Dana listed as No. 1 at the position. He knows the game of basketball. Dana could be a great coach if that's what he wants."

It isn't. A 21-year-old biology major with a 2.9 cumulative grade-point average, Harris plans to stay in Baltimore next year and go after a graduate degree in medical technology research at the University of Maryland at Baltimore.

"When I was in the sixth grade, I asked Santa to bring me a microscope," Harris said. "I was in awe of the instrument. From then on, I was interested in biology."

Harris also is acquainted with sports medicine. He missed or didn't start in five games because of injury last season, one reason the Retrievers were 10-19. Preseason preparation for 1991-92 began without Harris, who was suffering tendinitis in his right knee, a chronic condition. A third of the way through the season, he severely sprained his left ankle, and later injured a hip.

On Jan. 14 of this year, Harris hurt his left knee at Coastal Carolina, and missed the next two games of an 0-3 road trip. The losing streak reached four games, but UMBC since has won three of its last four. The Retrievers (7-10, 4-4 in the Big South) are coming off their biggest win of the season, an 85-79 victory at Winthrop on Monday that featured nine assists by Harris.

The ailments are affecting Harris' shooting. A 49.8-percent shooter from the field the past two years, he's made 36.0 percent since the Coastal Carolina game and is down to 40.8 percent this season. He is averaging a career-high 9.3 points anyway, since Hawkins has asked him to put it up more.

"It's the first time I've ever been asked to shoot more," Harris said. "If the other team respects me as an offensive threat, we're going to be a better team."

Dana Harris at UMBC

Season ... Games ... Pts. .. Avg. .. Ast. .. Avg.

1989-90 .... 13 ..... 8 .... 0.6 ... 18 .... 1.4

1990-91 .... 29 ... 135 .... 4.7 .. 144 .... 5.0

1991-92 .... 26 ... 196 .... 7.5 .. 177* ... 6.8

1992-93 .... 15 ... 139 .... 9.3 ... 94 .... 6.3

Totals ..... 83 ... 478 .... 5.8 .. 433* ... 5.2

* - UMBC records

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