College basketball: Tee could be big wheel in Wheeling

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, July 11, 2023

By Mike London

GRANITE QUARRY — East Rowan graduate Teyachta “Tee” Harris soon will be embarking on his next great adventure.

Harris is headed north to Wheeling University to help head coach Chris Richardson and his Division II Cardinals revive a basketball program that fell on hard times in 2022-23 in the rugged Mountain East Conference.

“They had a tough season, mostly because of injuries, but the winning basketball tradition there is very good,” Harris said. “I like the basketball environment at Wheeling and I like their style of play a lot. I think it’s be a good place for me.”

Most people know Wheeling is in West Virginia, although they probably don’t realize just how far north it is.

The state of West Virginia has a shape like a clenched fist but with one finger sticking up. Wheeling is located on the Ohio River on that odd finger that juts straight upward and makes a corridor between Pennsylvania and Ohio. Wheeling is a whole lot closer to Canada than it is to Granite Quarry.

But Harris plans to study engineering, not geography, so he’s not overly worried about suddenly becoming neighbors with the Pittsburgh Steelers, Pirates and Penguins.

Basketball is his thing and at 6-foot-7, 215 pounds, Harris has been blessed with the natural tools to make an impact in Division II.

A lot of people thought he was big enough and skilled enough to land at the D-I level — not the ACC or SEC, but maybe the Southern Conference or Big South.

Northwest Cabarrus coach Ricky Moore, who started for a national championship team at UConn, admitted there was nothing the Trojans could do to contain Harris. Northwest survived that home game against East, but Harris beat up the Trojans for 31 points, 16 rebounds and five blocks to keep it close.

“Northwest — that’s still one of the games I like to watch,” Harris said. “Northwest and North Rowan.”

Harris crushed the Cavaliers for a career-high 34 points.

That outing against North was part of a 10-game stretch early in the season in which Harris averaged nearly 28 points per game.

He finished with averages of 21 points and 11 rebounds. He led the Mustangs in steals and blocks and was close to leading the team in assists.

He did all that for a 6-16 team in a pretty deep 3A league, so you know he was attracting a lot of defensive attention. Most defensive plans were focused on him.

Harris only played two seasons at East but scored 756 points.

He came to East from Louisa, Va., a railroad town about 50 miles from Richmond.

His first dunks came as a freshman in high school, but his sophomore year was the COVID-delayed season and he only got to play a handful of games in Virginia.

So he was still largely unknown to recruiters when he arrived at East prior to his junior season. But word of mouth can travel fast, and there was considerable buzz about the new big man in the East community before he ever officially suited up for the Mustangs.

As a junior, Harris wasn’t a savior for the program in a league that included teams such as Central Cabarrus and Concord, but he was solid. He averaged 14.5 points and 10.8 rebounds. He was strictly a post man that season, reluctant to venture away from the paint to take jump shots.

But he worked diligently to improve his outside skills and his markmanship between his junior and senior seasons.

As a senior, he was a very difficult matchup for most teams. He made All-Rowan County and All-South Piedmont Conference for the second time.

He shot a terrific 54 percent from the field as a senior. That included a stellar 43 percent on 3-pointers. He was named to the North Carolina Coaches Association all-district team, no small feat for a player on a 6-16 squad.

“I did what I did mostly playing in the post in high school, but I believe I’ll be used as more of a wing player, a small forward in college,” Harris said. “I think that’s where my skills fit best.”

He runs smoothly and has long arms. He can handle the ball. He’s not flamboyant or loud, but he’s also not bashful. He’ll rattle the rim with a dunk.

He’s not a true guard, but he can bring the ball up the court when needed. He’s got some work to do defensively, like almost every high school player, but in time he may be able to guard three or four different positions.

Recruiting was still pretty quiet for him through the high school season and into the spring, although he did attract offers from Pfeiffer, Averett, St. Andrews and community colleges.

After his final high school season was over, Harris starred on the AAU circuit during the spring and summer. He put up nice numbers and won several games with last-second shots.

Wheeling spotted him and gave him an opportunity to play Division II ball in the Mountain East Conference against schools such as West Liberty, West Virginia State, University of Charleston, Glenville State and Concord.

“I committed to Wheeling at the start of June,” Harris said.

It’s reasonable to believe that he can immediately impact a team that struggled to 6-23 last season and won only one road game.

He’s been in Virginia playing AAU ball, but he plans to sign at East on July 20. He enjoyed playing for coach Andrew Porter, enjoyed his teammates and enjoyed representing the school.

“I’m thankful for the experience I had at East,” Harris said. “East helped me get some exposure.”