Tori Harrison, one of first major women’s basketball recruits from Baltimore, dies at 54

Tori Harrison, an All-America star at Towson Catholic and the No. 2 all-time scoring leader in area school girls basketball history, died May 15 at her mother’s home in Baltimore. She was 54.

Harrison, a 6-foot-4 center who also starred at Louisiana Tech and served as head coach at Coppin State, died of Machado-Joseph Disease, a rare genetic disorder that attacks the central nervous system. The disease also claimed her father, Laurence Harrison Sr., and brother, Larry Harrison Jr., a 6-foot-10 center at Towson Catholic and Wake Forest who died in 2003 at age 45.


Diagnosed with the degenerative disease in 1997, Tori Harrison used a wheelchair for 13 years and had increased health challenges for the past 18 months, said her sister, Cheryl Harrison, of Laurel, senior associate athletic director for development at the University of Maryland.

Tori Harrison starred in basketball at Towson Catholic and Louisiana Tech and served as head coach at Coppin State.

“We’re all a bit stunned. Tori was a gentle, kindhearted person who was always helping others while wearing a big smile.”


That grin was as wide as Harrison was tall, those who knew her said.

“As good a player as Tori was, she was an even better person,” said Gus Grason, her coach at Towson Catholic. “She shone, and not just on the court. She was just a pleasure to be around.”

Tori Harrison was a dominant rebounder for Towson Catholic in 1982.

Her senior year (1982-83), Harrison led the Owlettes to a 37-3 mark and a No. 1 national ranking by USA Today. She finished her career having scored 2,516 points, now second in the Baltimore area to Curley Jones (2,486), a 1988 graduate of Arlington Baptist.

She averaged 17 points and 11.8 rebounds a game during her career at Towson Catholic.

Despite her scoring prowess, “it wasn’t all about her on the court,” said Grason, 70. “She was all for the team and all about winning — an extremely unselfish player.”

As a rebounder, Harrison had few peers, said Gert Scott, an All-America guard who played with her for three years at TC before starring at LSU.

Sunday, December 5, 1982 - The Sun Magazine - 12 - THE RUSH IS ON - EVERY MAJOR BASKETBALL POWER IN THE COUNTRY IS LOOKING TO BALTIMORE -- REGGIE WILLIAMS AND TORI HARRISON ARE THE REASONS WHY -- Reggie Williams shoots a jumper. Photo by Irving H. Phillips. Jr. AHG-902-BS

“She had a nice short jump shot, but Tori was dominant in the paint,” said Scott, 53. “She was like Wes Unseld, Moses Malone ... I could go on. Back then, women’s basketball was starting to be taken seriously, and she helped pave the yellow brick road for the young ladies of today.”

A standout at Louisiana Tech, Harrison was its Most Valuable Player for three seasons while leading the team to two NCAA Final Four appearances and a runner-up finish in 1987. She totaled 1,868 career points, 1,020 rebounds and a school-record 341 blocked shots, including nine in one game.


She graduated with a degree in business administration and — in a pre-women’s pro league era — turned to coaching. After stops at Wake Forest, Clemson and Alabama, Harrison got her first head coaching job at Coppin State in 1992. At 27, as one of the nation’s youngest Division I coaches, she guided Coppin to a 20-9 record and earned Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference Coach of the Year honors.

That Harrison would pick up a clipboard didn’t surprise Leon Barmore, her coach at Louisiana Tech.

“Tori was one of the most pleasant, most polite players I’ve ever had here,” Barmore told The Sun in 1993 “She had good rapport with people; she’s a beautiful young woman with good people skills. That’s why it makes it so special that she’s having so much success.”

In 1997, she left Coppin (61-77 in her five years) to become an assistant at Minnesota, then George Washington. Seven years later, she became head coach at Rider (New Jersey), resigning in 2007 for health reasons.

“Tori loved basketball and was pleased that she was able to make a living from the game she loved,” her sister said. “But she was proudest of the wonderful child she raised.”

Her daughter, Lauren Harrison Williams, 31, is an attorney who lives in Upper Marlboro.


Besides her sister and daughter, Harrison is survived by her mother, Edith Harrison, of Baltimore. Funeral services are incomplete.