As the father of not one, but two fawned-over basketball recruits, Aaron Harrison has quickly learned there’s more to the game than simply playing ball and choosing your favorite school. But in the face of pressure from anyone outside his family circle, whether college recruiters, shoe companies expecting his team to make a switch or high school coaches trying to lure his twin sons to their schools, Harrison is unflinching.
“I’m not in fear of the recruiting process,” said Harrison, whose sons Aaron and Andrew are regarded as Top 10 prospects in the Class of 2013. “Also, a lot of kids don’t have a father. I have been blessed, so we don’t really feel that kind of [financial] push.”
Harrison marvels at the attention paid to his sons by recruiters, fans and media. So he shields them as best he can; only one college coach of the many salivating over the gifted 6-foot-5 guards has their cell phone numbers: Maryland coach Bino Ranson, who’s known Harrison for years, having grown up near him in Baltimore.
“His sales pitch is really, he knows the kids don’t need Maryland, and Maryland definitely needs the kids. He knows the kids will be good wherever they go. But Maryland really wants them,” Harrison said.
The same can be said of a lot of schools, but there’s only a handful in serious contention right now. Harrison said Maryland, Kentucky, Baylor, Texas and Villanova are the schools his sons are considering. Toward the end of the summer, Harrison and his sons hinted they were close to making a decision, when the 43-year-old former Army medic, who now owns a car lot in Richmond, Texas, decided to pump the brakes.
“It was moving a little bit too fast. I’m just trying to let them be juniors in high school,” he said. “The early commitment was a consideration, but you don’t know what’s going to be going on at each of the schools by the time you get there.”
Coaching changes happen, and it’s virtually impossible to predict what a college basketball roster will look like two years down the road. For example, he said, Maryland’s 2013 roster could include two senior guards in Terrell Stoglin and Pe’Shon Howard, a junior Nick Faust, a sophomore Seth Allen and perhaps another guard. Similar scenarios and analyses are in play at each of the other four schools as well, he added.
His sons are fierce competitors who’ve been known to wear scowls on the court -- likewise, Harrison smiles infrequently while coaching their AAU games -- and he said they won’t be afraid to compete for playing time anywhere. Still, it’s important to find the right fit.
“With me, it’s not really about the chance to shine, it’s about what they do on the court, how they work," Harrison said. "Of course, you don’t want to put your kids in a bad situation. If you’re 18 and you’re competing against a bunch of 22-year-old grown men, that’s going to be tough mentally and physically.
"But I know that’s going to be the case wherever they go."
Aaron Harrison Jr. is the No. 1 shooting guard in the Class of 2013 according to the most recent 247Sports/PrepStars rankings, while Andrew is the top point guard. Their ascension to national prominence has been unusual; where as many blue-chip recruits these days are slotted as top prospects before playing a high school game, the Harrisons were told as pre-teens that they weren’t good enough to play on top AAU programs and should stick to football.
So their father launched his own program, the Houston Defenders, who won the title at AAU Nationals in Orlando this past summer largely on the backs of the twins and 2012 Maryland signee Shaquille Cleare.
When some of those same people come back around to tell Harrison how good his sons have become or others pressure him to change sponsors -- the Defenders are an Under Armour brand program, a rarity in the upper echelon of summer basketball -- they might as well be trying to run through a brick wall.
“Most people say they’re afraid of my dad. They know my dad doesn’t like people messing with us,” Andrew Harrison said.
Harrison Sr., a former point guard at Patterson High in Baltimore, was casually acquainted with Ranson before the recruiting process began but has gotten to know him better in recent years. He also followed Terps coach Mark Turgeon at Texas A&M and has watched a game or two this season; a self-described workaholic, most of his allotted basketball time is spent watching his sons.
“A big issue for me when I’m sending my kids to college is that the assistant coaches recruit them, but the head coach makes the decisions. The first time I ever talked to coach Turgeon was probably during their ninth-grade year. What I think about him is so high up because of how he treated a kid here,” he said, referring to Tobi Oyedeji, a prized Aggies recruit who died in a car crash in 2010.
Turgeon “treated it like it was his own son. I was very impressed,” he said.
The Harrison twins don’t spend much time talking about recruiting and don’t seem likely to spend a great deal of time focusing on it until their season is over. They will visit Maryland, though, sometime this season to check out Turgeon’s new program in person. Their grandparents still reside in Baltimore, which won’t be the deciding factor in their decision, but also gives the Terrapins a selling point the other schools can’t offer.
And then there’s Kentucky, which may be Maryland’s stiffest competition and has become a default landing spot for many blue-chip recruits. Wildcats coach John Calipari has been hoarding the nation’s best guards in recent years, so many observers assume there’s no way a two-headed monster of the nation’s top-ranked point guard and shooting guard could have the audacity to turn down UK.
That, of course, isn’t the case.
“We don’t do what the system says is normal,” Aaron Harrison Sr. said. “I don’t care about that.”