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November 11, 2011Wake Forest head coach Jeff Bzdelik treats C.J. Harris differently from the other players on the team.
No, he does not give his junior shooting guard preferential treatment. He is tougher on Harris, and expects more out of the Winston-Salem native.
The other day in practice the Demon Deacons played a game up to seven, with each team allowed two possessions and if a team had two turnovers before one reaches seven then that team lost. There was a catch though Harris' team started the game with a three-point deficit.
"He's a young man that we're constantly challenging," Bzdelik said. "I told him I'm holding you to a higher standard. I want you to give me more. I want you to give the guy to the left, and to the right of you more, as every player on our team needs to do, but C.J. more so."
Along with the pain of last season's 8-24 flop Harris also made the sacrifice of moving to point guard, a position he had never played until then. The move was not an easy one, but his effort was impressive nonetheless.
He was fourth on the team in scoring with 10.5 points per game and seventh in the ACC in assists with 3.5 per game. Individual stats did not matter to Harris though, he wanted to win.
"I have never lost 24 games," Harris said. "It was extremely difficult mentally and physically. There were times I was calling my mom, my dad. It was that tough. My mom always does a good job of putting me in a better mood."
Moms can only help so much though. They can brighten a dark day with their encouraging words, but they cannot win basketball games or make choices for others.
Wake Forest's biggest problem was not a lack of talent, though it was not wrought with McDonald's All-Americans, but selfishness and bad attitudes.
"It was the toughest year, because I spent the majority of my time with a minority of players just trying to get them to do the right thing off the court instead of doing what I love to do, and that is teach on it," Bzdelik said.
That minority is now gone after Melvin Tabb was dismissed and J.T. Terrell left the team after his DUI arrest. It has been addition by subtraction for the 2011-12 Demon Deacons, but what makes Harris different from those weeded out of the program? Bzdelik said Harris cares.
"I think the players look up to him, because he's someone that has been in big games," Bzdelik said. "He's an older player now, he's an upper-classman. He sets an example by his work-ethic and the way he handles himself off the court as well. The players respect him."
As a freshman in 2010 Harris was on a team that was in contention for a conference championship with an overall record 18-5 and 8-3 mark in ACC play before losing six of its last eight games. That dramatic fall from grace bled into last season.
Wake is working to rebound to being competitive once again, and for Harris it all starts with being humble and hungry.
"We just know that seasons like last year can happen, so that humbles us," Harris said. "So far in practice we've been going that much harder, listening to coach that much more, so we can be that much better this year."
Building good practice habits and being coachable will be integral to the Deacs success this season, but veteran leadership is what Wake needs most. Bzdelik is banking on Harris to help provide that with his experience.
"C.J. right now is the most skilled player on the team," Wake Forest forward Travis McKie said. "He's a great shooter. He can get into the lane at will. He's gotten a lot stronger from last year to this year. He's the most experienced one on the team, so we definitely listen to what he has to say. It's great playing with him. He's a great person on and off the court. He's a real quiet guy, doesn't say a lot, but when he does I listen."
Harris attended Wake Forest games as a kid, watching another local product in Demon Deacon great Chris Paul, who is now the star point guard for the NBA's New Orleans Hornets.
Paul returned to Winston-Salem in October. He spent time playing pickup games with the current and former Deacs. Paul and other alumni told this year's team to keep their heads up, and Harris is taking the lead.
"We're definitely going up," Harris said. "I can tell you that. We're working extremely hard. We're heading in the right direction. As a leader on this team, and also Travis is a leader on this team, between the two of us we have to keep guys together. If we stick together we'll be fine."
Oh and by the way Harris' team came back from its three-point deficit to win 7-6.