Former Demon Deacon guard returns to alma mater for Monday's exhibition
GREENEVILLE, Tenn. --- It will be a homecoming in more ways than one for Tusculum College head women's basketball coach Adell Harris when her Pioneers travel to Wake Forest for an exhibition game Monday at 6:30 p.m. at the Lawrence Joel Veterans Memorial Coliseum.
Harris, who grew up in nearby High Point and graduated from T. Wingate Andrews High School, played four seasons for the Demon Deacons from 1998 to 2002 and was the starting point guard and a co-captain as a senior. That year (2001-02), she averaged a career-high 4.6 points per game and dished out 108 assists to rank 10th at the time on the program's single-season list.
Though in the last nine years Harris has only once been on the Joel Coliseum floor in a game situation, as an assistant coach at UNC Asheville, the memories of those years with the Demon Deacons will be foremost on her mind as the Pioneers' team bus travels across Interstate 40 into the Triad.
"It's going to hit me more once we get into the Winston-Salem area, and get closer to the arena where I went plenty of times to play games. It's somewhat of a full circle moment for me, honestly. I'm trying to concentrate on our team and our preparation, but once we get closer to the venue it's going to feel like maybe I've done something since leaving there," said Harris, entering her third season as head coach at Tusculum. "Mike Petersen has extended the offer to us (to play the exhibition game) and I'm extremely grateful to have the opportunity to come back. I have lots of moments and memories from that part of North Carolina."
After graduating from Wake Forest in 2002 with a bachelor's degree in sociology, Harris served as an assistant coach at Andrews during the 2002-03 season before starting her collegiate coaching career at UNC Asheville in 2003-04. In six seasons as an assistant with the Bulldogs, Harris helped UNC Asheville to the 2006-07 Big South tournament championship and the school's first-ever NCAA Tournament appearance.
Harris took over as head coach at Tusculum in the spring of 2009 and made an immediate impact in her first season in Greeneville. The 2009-10 Pioneers used a late-season surge to capture the South Atlantic Conference tournament title and earn their third straight bid to the NCAA Division II Tournament. Tusculum then went on a magical ride to the program's first-ever Elite Eight appearance, defeating host Lander in the Southeast Region final en route to a 23-10 record and a final ranking of ninth in the USA Today/ESPN Top 25.
In 2010-11, the Pioneers went 14-4 in the SAC to win the conference regular-season championship, then survived a first-round scare on their way to a successful defense of their SAC Tournament title. A first-round loss in the Southeast Regional left the Pioneers with a final record of 21-9, boosting Harris' two-year mark to 44-19. Yet, she is quick to acknowledge that her goal as a coach is to ensure the success of her players, both on and off the court.
"I don't necessarily know if my work here is to show anybody anything. My work is for our players. But in doing that you hope that anybody on the outside looking in would say 'Wow, that's a great program. They are first class, they work hard on the court, they do their best in the classroom,'" said Harris. "So that's always a part of how we want to represent ourselves."
During her senior season, Harris produced the most memorable moment of her career when she hit two free throws with 12 seconds left to give Wake Forest a 65-64 upset victory over 20th-ranked North Carolina. She also tied her own Joel Coliseum record for assists in a game with 10 against Florida State, and was described in the media guide as "a crowd-pleaser who always plays with a high level of intensity."
"In going home, a lot of people there haven't seen me as a head coach. They've known me as a player and may be shocked by my development since I was 21 years old," said Harris. "I know who that kid was, but i don't know who other people thought she was. I know I'm different now and I've grown tremendously."
Harris has fond memories of her years in Winston-Salem, and is proud to consider herself a Wake Forest fan and a Demon Deacon for life.
"I go back every year, even if it's just to walk the Quad and go to the bookstore. It's a huge part of who I am. It's where I played, and it's where I grew up," Harris said. "Your college years are essential. I don't care if you went to Wake forest or Tusculum. That's one of the messages I can confidently tell my team. You won't ever forget these moments, but you won't get them back. I challenge them to understand that it will matter. When you are 30, you'll look back and want what you did to matter."
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