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Harris an Instant Star at MSU

Jan 08, 2013 Nick McWherter | View Comments

Gary Harris stepped foot on the campus of Michigan State University with high hopes, aspirations and goals more lofty than your normal MSU freshman.

Harris, a McDonald’s All-American and top-10 recruit, was thrust in the starting lineup and counted on to perform on the wing for the Spartans. And yet, just when he was off to one of the best starts in Michigan State history, an early shoulder injury forced Harris away from the court.

Three games into the season, Harris was performing as advertised to Spartan fans. He joined Sam Vincent and Raymar Morgan as the only Michigan State freshmen to score in double figures in three first three career games.

Then less than one minute into the team’s fourth game of the season, on the first possession of the game against Boise State, a Bronco player and Harris collided and he immediately grabbed his shoulder. The result was a sprained left shoulder that initially meant a 2-3 week hiatus from basketball.

“I feel like I was able to take a step back to look at things,” Harris said. “I was really starting to feel it before that game, and I was confident with everything.”

Prior to that contest, he was leading the team in scoring at 16.0 points per game.

"It's a shame. Gary was playing so well, and then he goes down with a freak injury," said Tom Izzo following the injury. "We need to get him back as soon as his injury allows, but he is one of our toughest players. I know he'll work as hard as he can on the rehab, so that he can get back on the court."

And work he did, spending hours strengthening his shoulder. Just eight days after the injury, Harris suited up in the Green and White against Miami in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge. He scored 12 points in 25 minutes, and grabbed a team-high eight rebounds.

“When I came back, I had to wear the shoulder brace and I was kind of timid and I wasn’t really the same person I was before the injury,” Harris said. “I am slowly but surely getting back to how I was before.”

Through the non-conference, Harris averaged 12.4 ppg, ranking second behind only Keith Appling, and 25.8 minutes per game, but if you remove the Boise State game from the stats his averages jump to 13.6 points and 28.3 minutes.

Harris ranks second among Big Ten freshman in points per game, and relied heavily on his teammates, training staff and family to overcome the first significant injury of his career.

“My teammates did a great job picking me up,” Harris said. “I came in here with Q (Athletic trainer Quinton Sawyer), to do rehab, ice and different things to make my shoulder stronger, so I wouldn’t have to worry about it again. I came back quicker than I was supposed to and recovered a lot faster than everyone thought I would. I am just thankful I was able to come back as soon as I was.”

Harris said Izzo’s message was clear, just get healthy, hang in there and you will be back out there sooner than you think.

One person that stood behind Harris was his roommate and fellow freshman, Denzel Valentine.

“He just gave me positive thoughts because he knew I was down about it,” Harris said. “He was right there and played a big part in helping me get through that. We’ve been able to lean on each other now that we are both in the starting lineup.

”We pick one another up, and just help out when one is struggling.”

Both freshmen are regulars in the starting lineup, and are averaging more than 20 minutes per game. Being thrown into the fire is exactly what Harris expected and wanted the opportunity to contribute early as a freshman.

“I like it; I accepted the challenge and was looking to do whatever I could to help the team win,” Harris said.

Roommates Harris and Valentine have been able to experience the Armed Forces Classic at Ramstein Air Base in Germany against UConn, the Champions Classic in Atlanta against Kansas and the 50th anniversary of the “Game of Change” at Jenison Field House against Tuskegee.

What may have been most critical was the Alumni Game at Jenison that allowed generations of Spartans to interact with this year’s team. The family atmosphere and camaraderie was on full display from those that helped build the program to those carrying the torch today.

“I talked to all of them,” Harris said of the Alumni Game. “They said the same thing, ‘It’s not going to be easy but it will be worth it at the end.’ Especially the guys on the National Championship team, they just said to stick with it and grind every day, go hard. At times it may seem too hard, but if you keep pushing there is a great reward at the end.”

For Harris, that reward will come from the hard work and dedication he has applied to rehabbing his injury and throughout the first half of the season. But that doesn’t keep him from still searching for an explanation to his early injury.

“My parents, they tell me that everything happens for a reason,” Harris said. “’Don’t worry, keep fighting and if something is hard, just keep pushing through it.’ Like my injury, just keep gradually getting better and things will be alright and work out.

“I’m still looking for that, we will see when the time comes.”

Harris is thankful that albeit a freak injury, that it wasn’t more serious. He is excited for the start of the Big Ten season, and the opportunity into the toughest conference in the country this season.

“I want to come out here with energy and help my team win – to give us a spark whenever I am in the game,” Harris said. “As a team, the sky is the limit. It is up to us to reach our potential.”

***Article as seen in MSU Gameday Program, January 5th, 2013***