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By: Raj Sagar, Athletics Media Relations Student Assistant

These days, it seems the most valuable players are those who can fill a number of different columns on the stat sheet. They are tough defenders, hard-nosed rebounders, fluid jump shooters, and great passers. They are the ultimate contributors, and versatility is their middle name. For Virginia, sophomore guard/forward Will Harris fits the bill.

The ability to produce in a number of different ways often can be attributed to a great deal of freakish athleticism. Although Harris now fills out a 6-6, 245-pound frame, he wasn’t always able to produce the rim-rattling dunks Virginia fans swoon over.

“Growing up, I was a little pudgy kid who always wanted to play with the older guys,” Harris said. “We had two courts behind our building in LeFrak City (Queens) that I used to try and play on. Most of the time, the older guys would just laugh at me and I would end up shooting by myself until my mom came out and yelled at me to come in and do my homework. Even though I wasn’t that good, I loved playing the game.”

That same love of the game is something that Harris brings with him everyday to the gym. It has pushed him to work extremely hard to develop all aspects of his game.

“Will is a tremendous worker,” Virginia coach Dave Leitao said. “He is the kind of guy that is always early and always leaves late from practice. He spends more time in the gym than almost anyone.”

Perhaps the best example of his versatility is what Harris brings to the table defensively. While being able to play the typical post defense his position calls for, Harris is also quick enough to cover guards on the perimeter. This was very clearly evidenced in his freshman season as he matched up with the 6-8 Al Thornton of Florida State (who now is a rookie of the year candidate for the Los Angeles Clippers in the NBA) one week and then Wake Forest’s 6-4 L.D. Williams another week.

“Will plays a huge role on this team defensively,” Leitao said. “His size and strength allow him to be able to defend a number of different positions. His basketball past has allowed him to gain experience covering both perimeter players as well as guys who play with their back to the basket.”

Common belief would be that with Harris being such a strong defensive player, his offensive skills would suffer. Tell that to Worcester Academy, who, in a playoff game during the 2004 season was torched by Harris for 53 points when he was a student at Maine Central Institute.

“Will is a terrific offensive player,” senior guard Mamadi Diane said. “He plays very well on the perimeter and can shoot the ball, but is also strong enough that he can finish around the basket.”

What may be seen as Harris’ biggest contribution to Virginia basketball is exemplified both on the court and in the locker room.

“Will is a very high spirited, vocal leader,” Diane said. “He has the ability to get everyone pumped up, but also can crack down and get everyone focused when need be.”

The pure energy Harris brings to Virginia basketball was shown during the Cavalier’s near perfect season at home last year. Will was the player who, during the introduction of the starters, stood out on the court and got Virginia’s starting five hyped. His display of raw emotion added to the electric atmosphere in John Paul Jones Arena.

Born and raised in Corona, N.Y., Harris knows plenty about being a leader as he was big brother to four brothers and a sister growing up.

“I learned a lot from trying to be a role model to my siblings,” Harris said. “I knew they looked up to me, so I had to set a good example and also look out for them. As a player here, I see myself as part of a new family, and I want to do everything I can to make sure we are taking care of business.”

During his freshman year, Harris bided his time, and because of older players ahead of him, didn’t see as much of the floor as he averaged about 14 minutes a game. Although he did not put up eye-popping numbers, Harris was able to be a solid contributor to Virginia and was soon a fan favorite. A common sight in the student section would be hundreds of students making a W with their hands every time Harris would make a play.

Although baseball fans everywhere would say its heresy, Harris’ versatility even stretches as far as his fanhood. When asked whether he roots for the Yankees or Mets, Harris shockingly replied: both.

“I can see Shea stadium from my house so I have to root for the Mets, but coming from New York, you have to root for the Yankees,” Harris said.

His legacy with Virginia basketball is just beginning to be formed, but one thing is for sureWill Harris is a huge asset to Virginia basketball, in more ways than one.

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