SOUTH HOLLAND | Michael Harris calmly took jump shots Sunday at South Suburban College's gym wearing a smile on his face and laughing with teammates.
As he flawlessly made the shots one by one, it was easy to see the events that had transpired recently left a positive effect on the sophomore's demeanor.
Harris had already won seven Region IV-A Player of the Week honors; the most in team history. With those accolades, it was hardly surprising when he was named the Region IV-A Player of the Year last week.
"It's a terrific honor," Harris said. "It's a great feeling, and I want to continue to keep that up and work hard so we can finish the season on a good note."
Harris has taken his responsibility of becoming the go-to scorer this season and blossomed. He averaged 24.3 points, 4.7 assists and 8.2 rebounds per game this season.
"We needed him to be the consistent scorer the entire year, and he's done that," Bulldogs coach John Pigatti said. "He's been very patient in regards to letting the game come to him. He's seen several box-and-one and triangle-and-one (defenses) against him this year. Him and I talked about it, and if he just trusts me, we'll make sure he gets the shots and attempts he needs."
Like all complete players, Harris isn't just concerned about scoring. However, he takes his competition to a new level, having contests with teammate and fellow E.C. Central grad Bryce Walker with who can get the most steals and assists as well as rebounds with Kadeem Thornton.
"He gets his thrills out of having more steals, assists or rebounds than one of those guys than scoring," said Pigatti, who won his fifth Region IV-A Coach of the Year award in seven seasons.
With skills needed to play at the NCAA Division I level after he completes his classes at SSC this year, Harris has hit the books hard.
"I'm trying to get everything academically in order," said Harris, who is interested in several mid-major schools such as Kent State. "Knowing I was going to have to eventually grow up and get out of my old ways and bad habits, I had to start (maturing) sometime."
Harris and the Bulldogs (30-3) will enter the NJCAA Division II Tournament as the No. 5-seed and will face Phoenix College at 6:30 p.m. today in Danville, Ill. The Bears boast two players who are 6-feet-10 inches tall.
"It's a difficult matchup because of their size," Pigatti said. "I think we match up pretty well besides the size factor. I think this game is going to come down to the defensive intensity on both sides, rebounding and not giving up extra possessions to the other team."