Dec. 20, 2010

By Jeff White

CHARLOTTESVILLE — It’s a dying art in college basketball, but the midrange game still has its practitioners. One of them plays for UVa, in fact, and you can check him out Monday night at John Paul Jones Arena.

At 7 o’clock, Virginia (7-3) hosts Norfolk State (1-7), and second-year coach Tony Bennett’s starters are likely to include K.T. Harrell. This powerfully built 6-4, 204-pound freshman from Montgomery, Ala., is a shooting guard who, unlike many who play that position, enjoys venturing into the area between the basket and the 3-point arc.

He’s coming off a game in which 11 of the 12 shots he attempted from the floor came from inside the arc. And they weren’t all layups. Most came on plays on which Harrell dribbled toward the basket, slammed on the brakes and then rose for a jump shot, a series of moves that seemed to surprise Oregon defenders.

Harrell made 8 of 12 shots from the floor (and 4 of 6 from the line) and scored a career-best 20 points Friday night in the Cavaliers’ 63-48 win at JPJ.

“As a freshman, to be able to have a midrange game like that, he’s going to be a special player,” Virginia guard Sammy Zeglinski said. “That’s exciting to know he’s capable of things like that. He played great.”

Zeglinski, who missed UVa’s first seven games while recovering from knee surgery, has taken 13 shots this season. Ten were 3-pointers.

Another Virginia guard, freshman Billy Baron, has attempted 37 shots. Twenty-eight were launched from outside the 3-point line. For classmate Joe Harris, a 6-6 swingman, more than half of his 83 field-goal attempts — 43 — have come from outside the arc.

But then there’s Keyion Tobias Harrell, the team’s fourth-leading scorer (9.2 ppg).

“I always say he’s got a mean midrange game,” Bennett said. “He has an ability to take it to a spot, and he elevates pretty well, and he has very good touch, and you saw that on display [against Oregon], and he’s strong.”

About a third of Harrell’s 68 field-goal attempts — 22 — have been 3-pointers. That’s not because he lacks the range to hit treys. He’s 10 for 22 from beyond the arc. But like one of his basketball heroes, Kobe Bryant, he’s also ruthlessly efficient from 12 to 17 feet.

Credit Portsmouth native Rodney Harrell.

“Ever since I was a little kid, my dad constantly made me shoot midrange jump shots,” K.T. said after the Oregon game. “He wouldn’t even let me go out to the 3 until I got stronger. Throughout my life, I’ve just always been working on my midrange game, and I think it’s really heped me, especially playing in college ball. The midrange game is definitely effective.”

So why isn’t it more common these days?

“I think a lot of players do have it,” Harrell said. “I think they just want to shoot 3s. It’s more exciting, I guess, to shoot 3-pointers than have a midrange game. A midrange game is more old-school type shots.”

Bennett has praised Harrell’s ability to stay poised and under control on the court, to not rush. That’s a quality not always seen in sophomores and juniors, let alone freshmen.

“A part of the reason why I play so patiently — well, a lot of people say I play patiently — is because of me working out with my father,” Harrell said. “He always told me that games should be played at a good pace: not too fast, but not too slow. At a balanced pace. So just listening to my father teach me the game and watching film and just understanding the game more and more each day has helped me establish that balanced pace of how I play.”

As a senior at Brewbaker Tech Magnet High, Harrell averaged 27.8 points, 10.8 rebounds, 6.3 assists, 2.8 steals and 1.6 blocks and was named the Class 4A player of the year in Alabama. But his high school career did not end as he had dreamed.

In the 4A championship game, Brewbaker fell to Ramsay at the Birmingham-Jefferson Convention Complex Arena.

“I think about it every day,” Harrell said this fall at JPJ. “Every day. We were winning after the third quarter, and we ended up losing by eight. I definitely think about it, but I know that my destiny is here, and I put all that aside.”

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