Scottie Bordelon is a reporter for WholeHogSports.com. A graduate of the University of Arkansas, Bordelon previously covered high school sports for the Times Record in Fort Smith and the Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette in Springdale. He is a member of the U.S. Basketball Writers Association and Football Writers Association of America and voter for the Biletnikoff Award.
Jalen Harris thriving as Arkansas' lead guard
Arkansas guard Jalen Harris passes the ball during a game against Montana State on Wednesday, Nov. 21, 2018, in Fayetteville.
FAYETTEVILLE — Jalen Harris is doing exactly what Mike Anderson is asking of him.
A transfer guard from New Mexico who sat out the 2017-18 season due to NCAA rules, Harris is just the type of pass-first floor general the Razorbacks have been missing since Jabril Durham left the program in 2016.
Harris is more than fulfilling his role as a facilitator this season.
In the Razorbacks’ first six games, the sophomore has totaled 39 assists and a near 6-to-1 assist-turnover ratio. On Nov. 21 against Montana State, Harris recorded his first career double-double, finishing with 11 points and 11 assists, which led to 28 Arkansas points.
Harris’ 11 assists spearheaded a surge of unselfish play against the Bobcats in a 90-68 win as Arkansas assisted on 29 of 37 made shots. The 29 assists stand as the program’s most in a game since finishing with 30 against Portland State in 2005.
“(Harris) was the leader in charge out there and that’s what a good leader does,” Anderson said following the win. “I just want to see more of that. I think it’s in him. He’s got a lot of guys he can distribute it to, and understanding that role and doing it night in and night out I think is going to be a big key.”
The double-double was also made possible because of Harris’ most efficient night scoring the ball, too. He entered the Montana State game 5-of-23 from the floor and 1-of-9 from 3-point range, but connected on 4-of-7 shots and his second 3-pointer of the season in the win.
Two days prior, Anderson was asked about Harris’ struggles shooting the ball. He didn’t seem the slightest bit concerned.
“He’s had a year off, too. He sat out all last year. It’s a little different,” he said. “I think he’s playing pretty good. He’s taking shots, he just isn’t making them right now. But I think that’ll change. Shooting is all about confidence. I think he’s learning his team. He’s doing the thing I’m asking him to do, which is get these other guys going. I think that, to me, is what his role is.
“He’s one of the captains, so he has to be a guy that … he has to be like the head coach. He has to have the mindset out there of getting these other guys going, but I think the other stuff will fall in place.”
In November, Harris assisted on 34.2 percent of Arkansas’ field goals when on the floor, a number that placed him 53rd in the nation, according to KenPom.com, out of 2,230 eligible players. Conversely, Arkansas only turned the ball over on 17.3 percent of Harris’ 278 offensive possessions versus 23.5 percent when he sat.
Saturday, in a 121-89 win over Florida International, Harris took advantage of the free-flowing nature of the game and dished out 10 more assists that turned into 24 Arkansas points. He finished the night one point shy of his second double-double in three games and with only one turnover in 26 minutes.
"It’s unbelievable," FIU coach Jeremy Ballard said. "When you have a guard who’s got the ball in his hands that much in this type of uptempo system that coach Anderson employs and he takes care of the ball at such a high level then it really gives them a chance to have these kind of nights where they put these kind of points on the board.
"He’s a very tough player. He’s very heady and he really keeps things going. He's probably pretty unsung as a player because you’ve got an electric shooter such as Isaiah Joe and obviously the spectacular talent that Daniel Gafford is. But the things that Jalen Harris does taking care of the ball, that’s invaluable."
Harris has spread his 39 assists to six teammates, finding sophomore forward Daniel Gafford most often. The two have connected for 14 buckets, including eight dunks. Sharpshooters Mason Jones and Isaiah Joe have combined for 16 scores — fifteen 3s — off Harris passes, Adrio Bailey seven and Gabe Osabuohien and Reggie Chaney one each.
In all, the Razorbacks have scored 93 points off Harris’ finds.
“He knows where everybody should be at all times,” Joe said. “Just having a player on the court that can do that keeps everybody balanced and where we need to be. It makes it easy. He knows how to get it done.
"His IQ and his court vision is just unbelievable. I think he’s one of the best at what he does."
One of the sophomore’s goals was to grow into more of a leader at Arkansas after admittedly shying away from taking charge at New Mexico. So far, he’s done that, and the Razorbacks’ offense will continue to blossom with the ball in his hands.
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