He revels in the planning, the fundamentals, and the X’s and O’s. He finds joy in the details, the competition, and the shared moments with associates and protégés. His loves the ambiance and the culture. He loves connecting, mentoring, and developing enduring bonds with his athletes.
Make no mistake. Collegiate’s new boys’ varsity basketball coach loves to win as much as the next guy, but Harris, at 37, has been around long enough and experienced enough that he truly sees the bigger picture.
“Basketball,” he said, “teaches young people so much about the game of life: teamwork, hard work, getting better. Basketball’s very much about repetition. Life’s about repetition where you have to keep working on your game, working on your skills. Basketball teaches you how to compete. No matter whether you’re going to be a doctor, lawyer, or astronaut, you have to compete.”
Harris has been involved with basketball pretty much forever.
He played much-decorated point guard at Monacan High School and Fork Union Military Academy (class of ’96). He came up through the AAU program was part of a national runner-up squad in 1995. He played at Howard Community College in Columbia, MD, and graduated from Virginia State in 2001 with a BA in health, physical education, and recreation sports management.
He’s served locally as a middle school coach and worked as an assistant men’s coach at Richmond, Virginia Military Institute, and Morgan State. From 2008 through 2013, he was head men’s coach and assistant athletic director at Division III Vassar College in Poughkeepsie, NY.
The past three years, he’s coached the Team Richmond-Garner Road 17U Elite AAU squad composed of the top players in Central Virginia, directed the Del Harris Basketball Academy, and hosted a Fox Sports Radio show (WHAP 1049 AM).
When Alex Peavey, Collegiate’s head coach the past 12 years decided to step back at this past season and focus on Upper School counseling and his mindfulness curriculum, Harris jumped at the opportunity to succeed his long-time friend.
“I’m a Richmond guy,” he said. “I’m finally home. I have great respect for this institution. I played in the Prep League. Collegiate is where I want to be. I have great respect for Alex and hope to continue to build the program. He’s done a great job. College…I’ve been there, done that. Coaching’s coaching. It doesn’t matter what level.”
What kind of product will Harris put on the court? Intense, aggressive, and unified, he promises.
“We’re going to be tough,” he said. “We’re going to be solid. We’ll be fundamentally sound on defense. Defense leads to your offense. If you look at the landscape of basketball in general, in the world, everybody looks at the (San Antonio) Spurs and Golden State (Warriors). They’re smart. They have a high basketball IQ. They share the ball. They’re selfless. They play defense. On a smaller scale, that’s what we want to do.
“People will see a maximum effort. We’ll play together. We’ll be unselfish. We’ll defend. That’ll be our staple. And we’ll have fun. I’m a passionate, enthusiastic guy. You shouldn’t be playing basketball if you’re not having fun. I shouldn’t be coaching if I’m not having fun.”
OK. Now, let’s talk recruiting. It’s been, and will continue to be, Collegiate’s policy not to recruit solely for athletic purposes. Instead, the premise has always been, Grow Your Own.
“It’s an absolute positive,” Harris said. “This is a place with a Lower, Middle, and Upper School where we can start teaching fundamentals at an early age and develop them coming up through the school. That really attracted me.
“I don’t want to recruit. I have great relationships with the private and public school coaches in the area, and I want a young man to come here because of the academics, the reputation, and what he can do later on in life in the community. And, you know what? There’s a pretty good basketball program over here too where he’ll learn the game, the coach is invested in me, and the school is invested in me as a person, not just as a player.”
At Collegiate, Harris will serve as a full-time substitute teacher, a role he’s played recently in Chesterfield County. He’ll continue to coach his AAU team in the off-season and direct his Academy. His primary focus, though, will be on his latest endeavor, his newest challenge.
“I want people to look at our basketball program and say, ‘Those kids are fundamentally sound, they’re having a good time, they’re high-fiving, they show good sportsmanship, they play for each other,’” he said. “I want teams to know that when you play Collegiate, you better tie your laces up because we’re going to come at you. Coach (Jerry) Wainwright (former UR coach and one of Harris’s mentors) said, ‘Tradition never graduates.’ These young men are setting a precedent for who we want to be.”
The essence of good coaching isn’t just technique or strategy or wins and losses. It’s nurturing. It’s encouraging. It’s deriving the best. It’s touching hearts and minds.
“Yes. Yes,” Harris said. “I’m very passionate about young people and being a mentor. I don’t want to be just the basketball coach. I want to be part of this community. What you see is what you get. I have no hidden agenda. I believe in this program. I believe in Collegiate.”