MORGANTOWN, W.Va. -- Eron Harris insists he has nothing really to prove when he returns to his home state today.Well, OK, he doesn't exactly insist that. In truth, he won't say much at all about it."I don't want to say the wrong thing,'' said Harris, who even as a college freshman has already learned that words aren't always perceived as they are spoken.Still, West Virginia's young and suddenly emerging shooting guard admits that this is a big day for him.
"My family and friends and everyone who will be there, they know,'' Harris said. "They know how I feel.''Harris will be back in Indiana today when the Mountaineers face Purdue. The game is in West Lafayette, not far from Indianapolis, where Harris lives and played his high school basketball.That Harris wasn't coveted by Purdue or Indiana, of course, is no big deal. There are a lot of basketball players in Indiana and they can't all play for the Hoosiers or the Boilermakers or Notre Dame.One thing is sure, though. When Harris goes back today, he will see plenty of familiar faces, both on and off the court."It's big to me. I get to go back to my state and everybody I know is going to be there,'' Harris said. "I feel comfortable playing in front of my people."And there are guys at Purdue that I've played with since second grade. It's going to be like a high school game.''
Actually, there are four players on the Purdue roster with and against whom Harris has played most of his life, either in school or summer ball. All four are in Purdue's projected starting lineup today.Starting freshman point guard Ronnie Johnson and his brother, junior Terone Johnson, are both from Indianapolis. Freshman shooting guard Rapheal Davis is from Fort Wayne, and 7-foot freshman center A.J. Hammons is from Gary."I grew up with those guys,'' Harris said. "It'll be fun.''The question, though, is how much Harris will be able to prove. He's emerged as one of West Virginia's best players in recent games and earned his first start Wednesday at Iowa State, but sometimes playing in front of a home crowd doesn't exactly bring out the best in players."I don't know,'' coach Bob Huggins said of how Harris might react to playing in front of friends and family. "Some guys kind of relish that and other guys put too much pressure on themselves.''
Huggins recalled the case of Darnell Burton, one of his players at Cincinnati. The Bearcats were playing in the NCAA tournament in Lexington, Ky., one March."He was from Lexington and the only 3 he made in the whole tournament was a lob that he tried to throw to Art Long that actually banked in,'' Huggins said. "Darnell just put too much pressure on himself."To answer your question, it's a definite I don't know.''The truth is, nerves have already been an issue for Harris to a point."Honestly, when we started him at Iowa State he didn't respond very well. I thought he was really nervous,'' Huggins said. "And then we got him out of the game and [assistant coach] Larry [Harrison] talked to him and he was worlds better when he got back in the game."That was his first college start. He was nervous.''
But Huggins said that as of Friday the plan was to start Harris. It's hard not to put him on the floor after some of his most recent games.At Texas, he hit a 3-pointer that gave the Mountaineers a late lead.A few days later against Kansas State, Harris made another big shot, falling away and falling down on the baseline with only seconds left.Then at Iowa State he made four 3-pointers, including one that tied the game with 12 seconds left."I wouldn't say I'm surprised because I've done that before,'' Harris said. "It's just that nobody really knew I could do it. I think the crowds were surprised more so than me.''If he keeps that up, Harris will eventually be the guy who gets the ball at the end of games by design. He's not ready to just reach out and grab that role quite yet, though."I do want the ball at the end of games, but I'm not going to call for it,'' Harris said. "I'm still getting acclimated, still getting used to the college game. I'm not in the spot to be able to say, 'Hey, I need the ball.' That's something you have to prove to the coach and then he calls it himself.''Reach Dave Hickman at 304-348-1734 or firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him at Twitter.com/dphickman1.