NEW YORK — St. John’s sophomore guard D’Angelo Harrison recently met with his older brother, DeAndre “Dre” Harrison, for four hours.
In a Houston prison.
“I got to go see him, spend some time with him, hug him for the first time in a couple years so he knows it’s good,” D’Angelo, a second-team Preseason All-Big East selection who averaged 17 points last season, recently told SNY.tv during a sit-down interview. “We just talked basketball the whole time, so it’s pretty cool.”
Dre Harrison is serving time on felony murder charges in the 2010 shooting death of another man in what Jack Harvey, an investigator with the Houston Police Department’s homicide division, told the Houston Chronicle was “a drug deal gone wrong.”
Growing up in Missouri City, Texas, Dre, who is two years older, was the point guard and D’Angelo the shooting guard.
Now, D’Angelo is expected to play the point for St. John’s this season, at least until Texas A&M transfer Jamal Branch becomes eligible next month.
Yet before the regular season even tips off with Tuesday’s game against Detroit, Harrison has gotten into head coach Steve Lavin’s doghouse. He did not start the team’s first exhibition game last week, and was benched entirely for the team’s second preseason contest Tuesday night.
“He hasn’t done anything that is a major transgression or anything out of the ordinary for young people that I’ve encountered in my career,” Lavin said after Tuesday’s game.
“With D’Angelo, one of his real gifts is his fire and his passion, and one’s greatest strength is their greatest weakness, so we’re working with D’Angelo to understand how he uses that passion and fire in a productive manner to help our team as a leader and a basketball player. I’ve used several methods as a head coach to reach him and make him understand how important it is that he uses his fire and passion in a productive way.”
Tristan Anderson, Harrison’s mentor and former AAU coach, says Harrison’s tempestuous personality has always been an issue for him, and that the current punishment might actually do him some good.
“I love D’Angelo to the utmost but sometimes he needs a little pull on the collar to snap him up,” Anderson told SNY.tv by phone. “All that’s gonna do is make D’Angelo more hungry. If anything, it’s helping him.”
Anderson coached both Harrison brothers with the Southwest Celtics AAU team, and said DeAndre had every bit as much talent as his younger brother.
“You have no idea,” Anderson said. “You’re talking about a left-handed dribbler but he put the ball up with his right. He was two-handed. He really messed people up who were trying to defend him because they were trying to force him right because [they thought] he’s only left-handed which that was not true. He was just dribbling with his left hand.”
As a senior at Dulles High School, DeAndre averaged 16 points, seven assists and five rebounds and was named All-State and All-Region. He landed at San Jacinto College but ultimately got involved in the drug deal gone wrong in 2010.
“He just got wrapped up with the wrong crowd and he started making bad decisions and now he’s just excited to get his life turned around,” Anderson said. “I talked to him the other day and he’s just more motivated and mature.”
When they were growing up, DeAndre would tease D’Angelo, his younger sibling, as he was dominating him in games of one-on-one.
“His brother would heckle him like there was no tomorrow,’’ Angela Harris, the maternal grandmother who raised the two boys, told the New York Post in February. “You know how it is, the older brother teases the younger brother. [D’Angelo] got the brunt of it.’’
Whether as a result or not, D’Angelo became a confrontational young man, always getting into it with other players and even adults.
“I’ve never been around a kid like that,’’ Mike Carrabine, who coached both brothers at Dulles, told the Post. “I’ve had refs ask me, ‘What is wrong with him?’ He took every call personally. I said, ‘It’s not necessarily wrong. It’s his special trait.’ ’’
That “special trait” has apparently now gotten Harrison into the doghouse at St. John’s at an especially critical time.
They played with just six scholarship players on Tuesday while five sat on the bench.
Lavin is considering redshirting senior forward God’sgift Achiuwa and freshman guard Felix Balamou, and forward Orlando Sanchez and wing Marco Bourgault are awaiting word from the NCAA.
St. John’s hopes the status of all four players is clarified by Tuesday’s opener.
Lavin is also counting on Harrison to mature — and to mature quickly in order to help lead this young team.
“Because he’s in a leadership role, he’s going to be held to a high standard,” Lavin said.
‘Those that are given much, much is expected’ is one of [Coach John Wooden's] favorite quotes, and [D'Angelo] is someone who’s had a great deal of success early in his career at St. John’s, so he’s going to continue to grow and mature as a basketball player. What he did was pretty minor in the grand scheme of things, but it’s the little things that make a difference when you’re building a culture and trying to teach young people.”
When Harrison does suit up, Lavin wants him to be able to play the point, something that Harrison said he spoke to his brother about when he visited him in prison.
“He thinks he still knows what it takes but I told him it’s a different thing,” Harrison said of DeAndre. “The Big East is a monster.
“He said just slow your game down and make sure everybody’s happy and when it’s crunch time make sure you perform.”
Now Harrison needs to overcome his “special trait,” get back on the court and perform the way Lavin and his teammates know he can.
Photos: NY Post, Daily News, San Jacinto Athletics