14 February 2011
Last summer, Chris Harriel went from being a freshman guard at Portland State to spending the offseason basically living in a gym working on his jump shot three times a day.
So when Harriel began his sophomore year for the Vikings, it didn't take long for the hard work to pay off. The Big Sky Conference took notice when they named him the player of the week in late December after averaging 18.5 points after two games.
But that was then. Time to keep fighting and regain that stroke.
Buried below NCAA sanctions and season long on-court struggles, Portland State's frustrating season has yielded only four conference wins and plenty of growing pains along the way under head coach Tyler Geving's rebuilding project on the Park Blocks. And of late, Harriel's been feeling the harsh reality of a lengthy second season with the Vikings.
"Right now, we are just looking for answers. We need to go out and play like we know how to play together," Harriel said after Portland State lost to Big Sky celler dweller Idaho State at the Stott Center last week.
"It's all about energy. We need to get it together and get each other motivated when we come out."
Over the first couple months of the season, Harriel was averaging 16.2 points per game while shooting 42% from the field, but his shot has been off lately and Harriel has seen his numbers drop significantly (8.4 ppg) during Portland State's last eight games. During that time, the Vikings have lost three-straight games and have two mere wins to show for their last nine games.
Yet this free fall isn't about just one player.
It's a team thing - an opportunity for the Vikings to mature on and away from the game, where Coach Geving hopes his team will look, "in the mirror and learn how to compete".
"He's (Coach Geving)been telling us that we need to pick it up. This is our house and we let people come in here and walk all over us. We're the ones that need to go out there and throw the first punch," continued Harriel.
"Battling back, it gets tough. We've had break downs in the defense and then we don't hit shots on the other end, and it's just climbing up that hill that is so hard. We come out so flat, and we're not playing with any heart right now."
Heart - that's the one element of this basketball puzzle where Harriel can help the pieces fit into place over his next three years at Portland State. Despite the shooting woes, Harriel excels in the open floor and isn't the kind of player who lets an off night on one end of the court dictate his hustle on the other.
Against Idaho State, Harriel left a jump shot short on the baseline. The Bengels jumped out in transition before the speedy 6-foot-4 guard raced back on defense and soared in to block what would have been an easy lay-up for Idaho State.
There is no stop in Harriel's game.
It's been that way since his junior season at Jacinto (CA) High School, where Harriel averaged 20.7 points, 11.3 rebounds and was named an all-Mountain Pass League player. The next year, his team won the California Interscholastic Federation (CIF) title and he earned All Big VIII League honors and was named second team All-CIF.
Nothing left for "that kid from Cali" to do but keep swinging and shooting for the Vikings.
"They throw the first punch every single time - actually the first three or four - and we need to come in to their house and throw the first blow," Harriel added.
Portland State next travels to play Weber State on Thursday. Until then, Harriel just might have to resort back to his diligent offseason workout and being a gym rat to get his timing and touch back. The Vikings - who are 1-9 away from the Stott Center this season - could sure use a string of good luck and a win along the way.
"I'm kind of struggling right now, but it's all about getting in the gym and getting shots up and staying confident," explained Harriel when asked how he can get back on track.
"I just keep telling myself to stay confident."
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