Harrison gives Coppin winning attitude, record

March 02, 1993|By Milton Kent | Milton Kent,Staff Writer

Ten years ago, Tori Harrison was earning her place in Baltimore-area girls high school basketball history as a 6-foot-4 All-America center on one of the great Towson Catholic teams.

Yet, when Harrison took over as coach of the Coppin State women's basketball team this season, her Baltimore-area players didn't know her from Rex Harrison.

"I had never heard of her," said senior forward Tarese Hatch, a Walbrook High graduate. "A few of my old teammates told me about her. They said she was a good player, an all-around player, that she had good post moves on the inside and that she set a couple of Baltimore records. But I didn't know who she was."

After a brilliant high school career, in which she was Player of the Year in 1983, she spent four seasons at Louisiana Tech that included two Final Four appearances.

Harrison has wasted no time making a name for herself in her first season as a head coach.

She was named Coach of the Year in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference after guiding the Eagles to an 18-8 overall mark and a 12-4 league record, good for a three-way share of first place with South Carolina State and Florida A&M.

Coppin State lost the tiebreaker and is the third seed in this weekend's MEAC tournament in Norfolk, Va., facing Howard at 2 p.m. Thursday in the quarterfinals.

"When we first met her and we found out this was her first time as a head coach, we were wondering about her coaching abilities," said reserve center Tina Lockett, who attended Dunbar High.

"But, right from the first day of practice, we knew she knew what she was talking about. She had a game plan and a setup. She was like: 'I want this. I want the big girls to do this. I want the guards to do that.' She knows what she's doing, and we're winning."

That Harrison is a head coach at all comes as a bit of a surprise to Leon Barmore, her coach at Louisiana Tech.

Barmore, whose Tech teams have won one national championship and made five other Final Four appearances, said he thought Harrison wanted to be a recruiter.

"Tori was one of the most pleasant, most polite players I've ever had here," Barmore said. "She had good rapport with people; she's a beautiful young woman with good people skills. That's why it makes it so special that she's having so much success."

Harrison said: "Those [years at Tech] were the best four years of my life. When we were playing, Coach Barmore would say: 'These are the best four years of your life, and you better enjoy them while you're here.' We would think that if these are the best, we'd hate to see the worst. But they definitely were the best, and if I had it to do all over again, I'd do the exact same thing at the exact same school."

One of the things that has helped Harrison succeed so quickly is that she has borrowed liberally from Barmore's training regimen and playbook.

"His teams exemplify discipline and what it takes to be a national championship team," she said. "We're not anywhere on that level, but the more it's instilled, the more it helps."

Harrison, who had been an assistant at Wake Forest, Clemson andAlabama, inherited an experienced team with seven seniors. She immediately instituted a conditioning plan that has the Eagles constantly on the run.

That system has had tangible results, especially on defense, where the Eagles are ranked 13th, holding opponents to 36.8 percent field-goal accuracy.

In an attempt to move closer to the level of Louisiana Tech, Harrison scheduled games in a tournament this season with Louisville, which won the Metro Conference regular-season title last season, and Houston, which received an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament last year.

The Eagles were, by Harrison's reckoning, "annihilated." Those two losses are the kind that will make them a long shot for a bid to this year's NCAA tournament, even if they win the MEAC tournament, because the league doesn't have an automatic bid.

But those games helped advance the attitude Harrison is trying to instill.

"The girls got to see what that type of athlete is like and the atmosphere she plays in. That's the kind of thing players need to see," said Harrison.

Harrison, who at 27 is one of the youngest head coaches in Division I, says she hadn't expected to get a head coaching job before she was 30.

Harrison has found that her age and relative lack of head coaching experience have been bonuses for her and her players.

"It [age] hasn't been a problem yet, because I think they understand that I've been there and there's not too much they can get over on me, like, 'I don't feel good today.' I've been able to relate to them," said Harrison.

Hatch, who was named to the second-team All-MEAC squad along with guard LaShawn Scott, said: "I look at Coach as a mentor or sister because we're basically the same age. I think we're close to her because we all get along and we're in the same age group. She looks at me to do a lot of the things that she did. I guess I'm following in her footsteps. Maybe someday I'll get a coaching job and make her kind of money."

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