The easy way out would be to succumb to the temptation of adding a 6-10 rejecter to an already good rotation. Maybe Damontre Harris wouldn’t score that many points or grab that many rebounds, but he could block a shot and those five extra fouls would come in mighty handy against the likes of Kentucky with all that size and depth.
Harris could be the insurance policy that could get the Gators (17-2, 6-0 SEC) over the Elight Eight hump. They’ve made it to the Elight Eight game three straight years without advancing to the Final Four. This year’s Florida has a fragile, eight-man rotation and really could use another power guy in the low blocks to back up seniors Will Yeguete and Patric Young. In NCAA games where the officiating can be as bizarre as it is confounding, the five extra fouls that Harris could bring to the Florida table could mean the difference between a championship and another year of this close to glory.
Billy Donovan knows all too well what Damontre Harris can do. That’s why he welcomed the big guy when he transferred to Florida from South Carolina after the 2012 season. But to let Harris play after the difficulties of a fall semester in which a three-game suspension mushroomed into a rather strange version of “Where’s Waldo?”
Where was Damontre Harris? Donovan had no clue for sometimes days on end which led to dismissal at the end of the semester. But back in his hometown of Fayetteville, North Carolina, Harris re-assessed his situation, thought better of leaving Florida and asked Donovan for a second chance.
Donovan said yes, but only on his terms.
“Over the holidays, it was laid out pretty clear to him if he wanted to come back this is what he needed to do,” Donovan said. “In doing so he was going to lose a whole year basically, and he still wanted to do it. I gave him the opportunity and released him to anywhere he wanted to go. I gave him an opportunity to go play where he wanted to play, and I said, ‘If you’re going to come back I’m not playing you, so you really have to think hard about do you want to transfer, have a year-and-a-half go NAIA and play right away? Those are decisions you have to make.’
“How he got to the point that he wanted to come back I don’t know, but he’s at that point right now, and I think his behavior and what he has been doing at least up until this point since he’s been back, since the break, has been positive.”
Harris came back, fully aware that he has to toe a narrow line to stay in Donovan’s good graces and fully aware that he will only be practicing with the team the rest of the season. Donovan won’t even allow Harris to sit on the bench with the players who are unable to perform.
In practice, Harris works with the scout team. He gets individual instruction and he has to go through the same training regimen as every other player on the team.
“He’s in practice every day,” Donovan said. “He’s on the scout team, so whomever we are playing against, he is going to be one of their frontcourt players. He’s lifting weights. He’s going through individual instruction. He’s not going to play this year. He’s doing everything else everybody else is doing, except he is not on the bench during games. He is not going to play any games, but everything else he is doing right now. He’s got an opportunity to salvage.”
A contrite player whose circumstances have humbled him and turned him into a model citizen might be too tempting for a coach whose team with championship aspirations but only two legitimate low post players. Championships are even more difficult to come by than 6-10 centers who finished second in the SEC in blocked shots and made the All-SEC Defensive team a couple of years ago.
But playing Harris this year is not an option. Not for Billy Donovan.
“No I think it would just to me as a coach completely de-value what our core values are here in terms of what we are trying to do each and every day,” Donovan said. “He had every opportunity back in November to do those things and he elected not to. Obviously we parted ways, he was going to move on and obviously we reached out. We have too many guys like Patric Young and Yeguete and Prather and those guys who have been committed for years, really working and doing the right things, and for us to all the sudden inject him back in there because he may be able to help our team … we’ve done fine without him. He’ll have to work to get better and improve, but no we’re not going to play him this year.”
Donovan used the word salvage. In some respects Harris doesn’t need Donovan or Florida to salvage a basketball career. He’s 6-10 and he can block shots. There are hundreds of teams around the world that will pay him handsomely although if he wants to play in the NBA, then Florida is definitely his best shot.
But staying at Florida requires swallowing a bunch of pride and learning a humbling life lesson. Basketball will come to an end someday but growing up, learning to accountable and responsible enough to confront problems head on and accepting that there are consequences for every action good or bad are lessons that will stick with him forever.
If he maintains his focus and sticks it out at Florida, then someday he will probably thank Billy Donovan.