Jan. 29, 2014
BELLINGHAM, Wash. -
By Kameron Payne, WWU Sports Information Office
The saying that everything happens for a reason definitely has significance this season for Western Washington University senior guard Robert Harris, Jr., and Viking assistant coach Greg Meier.
Harris, who transferred to WWU last fall after playing a year at University of Idaho, was originally recruited out of high school by Meier to compete at Eastern Arizona College.
At the time, Meier was an assistant coach at the Arizona junior college. It was while assessing talent at Washington's Class 3A state tournament that he first saw Harris, who played for Rainer Beach High School.
"He just stuck out," said Meier, now a second-year assistant at WWU. "He was a combo guard, he was really athletic, and he could score. He was just a great player."
But before that next season began, Meier moved to Seattle. He felt bad about losing the opportunity to work with Harris.
"I was really disappointed because I knew what type of player he was," Meier recalled.
Harris played two seasons at Eastern Arizona, averaging 13.8 points, 3.8 assists, 3.6 rebounds and 2.1 steals as a sophomore on a 21-10 team that reached the National Junior College Athletic Association Region I Tournament. He earned second-team Division I all-Region and all-conference honors.
Harris then accepted a scholarship to play at Division I Idaho. As a part-time starter, he averaged 4.7 points and 1.8 assists as a junior in 2012-13.
"Playing at the D-I level taught me a lot as a player both fundamentally and physically," said Harris. "It was something I'll never forget."
Meier recalls seeing one of Harris' best individual performances as a Vandal, one that solidified his thoughts about the guard.
On Dec. 29, 2012, Idaho traveled to face Seattle University for a game that was televised on ROOT Sports. Watching the game, Meier saw Harris explode for 16 points, making 4-of-8 3-pointers, as Idaho upset the favored Redhawks.
"I was super exited to see a guy that I recruited do so well against Seattle U at Key Arena," Meier said. "It was a real fun thing."
But towards the end of Harris' campaign at Idaho, things were not going well, which caused him to consider transferring.
"I can understand that I didn't really fit in his system," Harris explained. "He's a great coach, it just didn't work out."
In the meantime, Meier had been named the top assistant at WWU. It was a homecoming of sorts as he had played basketball at Whatcom CC as well as for the Vikings.
Having had such a good relationship with Harris, Meier was one of the first to know about his situation at Idaho. Meier felt Harris would be a great addition at WWU.
"I thought he'd be a great fit," said Meier. "I knew that he was a good kid and a really good player. When I heard he wasn't going back to Idaho that's when I said, `We need to get Rob Harris up here at Western'."
When Harris got the call from Meier about WWU's interest he was quick to jump at the opportunity.
"I'm a home-body, this [Bellingham] is close to my home, so that was a large plus," Harris said. "And with the offense we run here, I felt it just fit."
"It's been a great experience. There's a good community here, I love the coaches, and it's a great team to play with."
And Meier got his wish of getting to coach Harris.
"He's a great kid, we're super excited about having him here," Meier said. "It's great to have a guy, who's played at a really high level, come to us and have a chance to succeed together - It's really exciting."
Harris had his career-high scoring night while wearing a WWU uniform against Western Oregon. In the Dec. 5 game, he scored 23 points on 9-of-14 shooting in helping the Vikings win a nail biter, 67-66, at Carver Gym.
Harris has started all 17 games this season, averaging 10.8 points a game. He is second on the team in assists with 49, and leads in steals with 24.
"Here [at Western], we get to impact the game more with our ability," said Harris. "I'm a person who likes to be coached like that because I feel I can do a lot of things. It's been great."
Harris is the first to say that his collegiate career hasn't been the smoothest. But he knows Meier has been in his corner since he first recruited him out of high school and again just a few months ago.
"It was kind of the same (as after high school) when he talked to me about coming to play here at Western," Harris said. "He told me he knew I had a lot of ability. I feel like he's always been on my side."
The Vikings are currently 13-4, three of their losses coming to teams ranked among the Top 25 nationally. Among their wins was a 72-69 victory over then No.1-ranked Metro State. They are in a three-way tie for first place in the Great Northwest Athletic Conference as they attempt to become the first team in the West Region since 1994 to win three straight regional titles and reach the Elite Eight.
"There have definitely been some bumps along the way, but I feel my presence here is going to help this team," Harris said. "This is a great group of guys and ultimately, by the end of the season, we're going to come together and it's going to be perfect - it'll all work out for the best."