Harris Returns To Lineup, Gives Heels Juice Injection
TALLAHASSEE, FL – When Roy Williams walked over to North Carolina Trainer Doug Halverson during the second half of UNC’s game at Florida State on Saturday, Halverson was all ears.
He leaned forward listening to what the Carolina coach had to say, nodded and then walked over to Anthony Harris. The redshirt freshman was told to get loose, he was going in the game.
December 30, 2019, or rather 383 days earlier, was the last time Harris played in a game for the Tar Heels. He scored six points in 14 minutes in a win over Yale before suffering another knee injury ending his season.
So, when Halverson told him to get ready Saturday, Harris had an immediate rush of adrenaline.
“I was pretty excited, I can't lie to you,” he said. “Just a lot of emotion going through me, but like I said, I was still locked in. I'm just waiting on the next play. So, when Doug (Halverson) came over there and talked to me, it pretty much just clicked.
“I got warm, I was pretty much already warm, so it wasn't too much I had to do. I was ready to go.”
And go he did.
Harris entered the game with 13:39 to play and FSU on a 13-3 run giving it a 54-43 lead. Carolina was in need, so Williams pulled the trigger letting Harris play, and he delivered.
In four minutes and seven seconds, before signaling to come out because he was winded, the 6-foot-4 wing guard didn’t score but he handed out three assists and infused his teammates with energy. And when he went to the bench, UNC trailed by just a 62-58 margin. One of his assists was a dart along the left baseline before feeding Garrison Brooks rolling to the basket. Brooks converted the shot and drew a foul, also hitting the free throw.
Clearly, Harris was impacting the game.
"Well, that's what he does is he plays with a tremendous amount of energy,” Williams said. “He's good defensively, but just the energy level that he brings.”
Brooks echoed his coach's words.
"I didn't expect Ant to play but, man, he gave us a huge lift,” the senior said. “It’s something we needed. We needed somebody new, some new energy in there, and that's what he did for us. He was great.”
Harris finished the night playing just nine minutes, but he scored five points, had those three assists, no turnovers and did some solid things on the defensive end. He was also plus-10 on the floor when no other Tar Heel was better than plus-two.
Harris said he didn’t think Williams would call on him versus the Seminoles, but he was ready.
“It felt great to be back on the court,” Harris said. “I’ve been out for over a year now, so just getting some run in is all going to be good. I was ready to play today, I didn't fully expect to play, but he told me just stay ready. So, that's what I did.”
Harris has worked out with the team doing pretty much everything for a couple of weeks, but Williams took a cautious approach. He said Harris could have played last Tuesday versus Syracuse, but he chose to hold off a little longer.
That Harris also had a serious knee injury in high school had everyone in the program taking as many precautions as possible as he got back into game shape. Harris' work gtting back from the first knee injury, with most of his rehab taking place in Chapel Hill, became a storyline upon his return a year ago. Williams spoke at the time about how inspired he was watching Harris grind to get back.
When he did, Harris gave the Heels a lift and was the primary reason they defeated UCLA in Las Vegas nearly 13 months ago. In some ways, that seemed like eons ago to Harris. The process since wasn't easy.
“Just really not playing basketball,” Harris replied, when asked what was the tougher part about the last year. “I wasn't able to do anything competitive for a long time and that's pretty much me. I like to be competitive. I like to get at people. So, just watching was the toughest part, but I also learned a lot from watching.”
And the Heels learned something having Harris in the game Saturday.
He makes them more athletic, more vibrant, better defensively, and more aggressive offensively. Each are characteristics the team certainly needed. And in Harris, they now have some, as he displayed Saturday.
“I do think just the energy level that he has, and every now and then he'll add a bonus like making the three-point shot, but just his energy level is extremely important to us,” Williams said. “And it gave us a little lift at that time."