March 6, 2014
By Sean Brennan
Special to BIGEAST.com
D’Angelo Harrison is more at peace now. The smiles come quickly, his joking nature a far cry from a year ago at this time. Gone are the moodiness and the self-absorbed behavior that defined him and made him a thorn in the side of the St. John’s basketball team. It was behavior that led to Red Storm head coach Steve Lavin suspending his leading scorer for the rest of the 2012-13 season last March 1.
Fast-forward one calendar year and Harrison is a new man, one who now thinks before he acts, one who accepts criticism without anger, one who has escaped what he called his “dark place.” Now the Red Storm’s junior guard has a brighter outlook on life while making sure to take time to enjoy each day.
It’s a transformation brought about by Harrison’s three-month stay at the John Lucas Center in Houston last summer where Harrison took part in the center’s anger management program. It was a no frills and no nonsense wakeup call for Harrison.
“No phone, lockdown,” Harrison said of the rules. There was also no internet access as Harrison spent every day for three months at the center working the program. It was a decision that Harrison says changed his life.
“(Lucas) said it was going to help me,” Harrison said. “People can tell you one thing but you actually have to put the work in to get something out of it.”
Harrison immersed himself in the program. He attended anger management classes religiously, learned coping mechanisms and ways to channel his anger. He also made a new friend along the way in former Rutgers coach Mike Rice, whose head coaching career with the Scarlet Knights came to a spectacular end when videotape surfaced of his abusive coaching tactics that led to his dismissal. Rice showed up at the Lucas Center two days after Harrison arrived.
It was a surreal meeting for the two men and an even more unlikely friendship blossomed.
“We were both going through challenges, his bigger than mine, but similar stuff,” Harrison said. “He’s a great guy. You just got to get to know him. We would ride together to anger management meetings. We just bonded. We talked about a lot of stuff. We just got along from the get-go.”
It was an odd pairing being that Harrison had no love for his former BIG EAST rival prior to their meeting at the Lucas Center.
“I didn’t like the guy,” Harrison said, laughing now. “No shot. I just didn’t like him. There are certain people that just irk you.”
But while making new friends was an added benefit to his treatment, Harrison knew his main goal at the center was to mend himself. There was some anger at first when he was told by Lavin of his suspension but he also knew if he could change is behavior, his spot on the Red Storm roster would be there waiting for him when he returned.
“I was frustrated that I couldn’t play but Lav was looking at the bigger picture and I didn’t see that until later,” said Harrison, who leads St. John’s in scoring at 17.5 points a game. “Obviously I didn’t want to be suspended but it changed my life. I’m a completely different person.”
Harrison, or the new Harrison if you will, is a kinder, gentler person now. Honest. Just ask anyone, Harrison says.
“People on campus, cafeteria people, the lady at Subway,” Harrison said, naming some of the latest witnesses. “I do stuff a little different now. I go on walks. I do a lot of weird things. I go to dinner twice a week by myself, stuff I should have been doing from the get-go. I go for a walk, no phone, no nothing. I just go for a walk. It clears my mind.”
It’s a far cry from where Harrison was at this time last season when benchings, lost starts and ejections from practices were the norm for the Texas native.
“(I was) not accepting criticism, trying to do it my own way, trying to figure out how to win games my own way,” Harrison said of his old ways. “I had a lot of pressure last year. I felt like I had to do everything. Then being at Lucas, I don’t know, a lot of weight just (went away). I don’t feel pressure about anything anymore.”
One particular group of people who has witnessed the change in Harrison is the referees, who often got an earful from Harrison in the past after a call went against him.
“One referee (this season) called a foul on me and he looked at me like he was waiting (for a comment) and I said, ‘I’m good. I’m fine,’” Harrison said. “And they talk about it during the game. They’re like, ‘Man, last year’s you…’ and I’m like, ‘I don’t want to talk about last year.’ I finally figured out that anything the ref calls, they can’t change it. There’s nothing you can say. I didn’t get that until this summer.”
The passion is still there on the court for Harrison, so is the fire. But there’s something else present that wasn’t in the past – control. He has also smoothed over some rankled relationships with staff members who felt the wrath of Harrison in the past, including assistant coaches.
“I didn’t have to adjust my relationships, but just listen to what they are saying,” Harrison said of his coaches. “Care about what they are saying. They’re not saying anything that’s not going to try and help me. I noticed this year everything has not been bad. It’s all out of love now. They want to help me. They want to see me do better.”
Harrison, St. John’s all-time three-point specialist with 190 three-balls and counting, couldn’t have done much better than he has so far this season. He has helped guide the Red Storm to 19 wins, including a victory over nationally-ranked Creighton, and has St. John’s in the conversation for an NCAA Tournament invite as they close out the regular season at Marquette on Saturday (Noon, Fox Sports 1).
A victory over Marquette coupled with a win or two in next week’s BIG EAST tournament would all but seal the Red Storm’s first trip back to the Big Dance since 2011. It would not only provide a great boost for a program that started the BIG EAST season 0-5, but would be a fitting end to a tumultuous last 12 months for Harrison and his new outlook on life.
“Just making sure you enjoy every day,” Harrison said. “I would go days thinking about the next day, I wanted to get to the next day. Now I actually sit and enjoy every single day. I make the most out of every day now. I can honestly say I haven’t done that until this year. I love waking up, I love being able to play basketball, getting to work out. I just enjoy every day and that’s been big for me. It feels good knowing that you put in the work and you’re actually getting results out of it. I’ve had no problems this year. Nothing has really bothered me. I know some of things that came up this year would have bothered me if I was the same person I was last year. Now it’s just a big change and I’m happy.”
So would the “old” Harrison like this new version?
“No,” Harrison said laughing. “He’d be like, ‘Who is this guy? Why is he so happy?’ What’s wrong with this guy?’”