For R. Island, Valpo, success is all relative Family ties liven up meeting of long shots

Midwest Regional

March 20, 1998|By Jerry Bembry | Jerry Bembry,SUN STAFF

ST. LOUIS -- At the home of Jim Harrick, it had been a constant occurrence ever since his Rhode Island team upset top-seeded Kansas Sunday -- setting up tonight's NCAA Midwest Regional semifinal against Valparaiso. The phone would ring about 11: 30 p.m. and the voice on the other end, in almost mocking tone, would chant: "We're coming after youuuu. Our guys are soooo fired up."

For most coaches, it might be cause to request a phone number change. Harrick didn't bother: The caller was his son, Jim Harrick Jr.

Tonight's Valparaiso-Rhode Island game would be interesting enough, matching the lowest remaining seed in the NCAA tournament (the Crusaders are 13th) against the fourth lowest seed (the Rams are eighth). And yet a smaller subplot is this game being one big family affair:

Jim Harrick Sr., coach of Rhode Island, is the father of Jim Harrick Jr., assistant coach at Valparaiso. And the Valparaiso coach, Homer Drew, has his oldest son, Scott Drew, as an assistant and his youngest son, Bryce Drew, as his star shooting guard.

And let's not forget the identical twins, Bill and Bob Jenkins, the bald, bruising forwards for the Crusaders whose success has resulted in inquiries about modeling careers.

"It's a unique family affair," Homer Drew, a good friend of the senior Harrick, was saying yesterday.

At least the Drews are together: Homer, who grew up just outside of St. Louis and got his master's degree here at Washington University, hired his eldest son, Scott, five years ago as an assistant. His youngest son, Bryce, is in his senior season.

Landing Bryce, who averages 19.0 points, was not easy. As a senior at Valparaiso High School in Indiana, he was named Mr. Basketball after leading his team to second place in the state tournament.

If not for a non-life-threatening heart condition that was corrected during his senior season in high school, perhaps Bryce would have been more widely recruited by major programs. Still, he was contemplating an offer from Notre Dame when his father -- almost selfishly -- asked if he could make a pitch.

"I wouldn't have had a chance to see him play [in college]," Homer Drew explained earlier this week, on why he recruited his son. "And my wife made me recruit him just like anyone else. This is what they told me I did -- they said I came in and rang the bell [of his own house] and sat down with Bryce to go over Valparaiso. I had to make a visit with Bryce."

Said Bryce: "Sure, there are times where I thought about what it would have been like to play at a bigger program. But I never

regretted my decision. And being with my family the last four years, it's been great."

Harrick Jr. joined the mix two years ago, leaving a lucrative job at Reebok where he was manager of college basketball. Prior to that he was an assistant coach at San Diego State for four years, even serving as interim head coach during a 17-game stretch in 1991. Harrick Jr. played college ball at Pepperdine, under his father.

"It wasn't because of his ability," Harrick Sr., who won an NCAA title with UCLA in 1995, joked yesterday. "It was because we couldn't afford to put him through college that we gave him a scholarship."

That ribbing between the Harricks goes both ways. On Monday, during a pep rally at Valparaiso, Harrick Jr. was asked to address the approximately 1,500 students that jammed the old Hilltop Gym after the team returned from Oklahoma City.

"To the people in the East," Harrick Jr. said. "If you don't know who I want to win, I got some smack-talking for my old man."

Reminded of that comment yesterday, Harrick Sr. laughed.

"He has no smack to talk, he can't win against me in either tennis or golf," he said jokingly.

Later, seriously, he added: "He's really talented, he's a sharp, sharp young guy. I told him two weeks ago nobody ever heard of Valparaiso, and nobody every heard of you. Hopefully, he can get a head coaching job from this."

Pub Date: 3/20/98

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