As The Daily Citizen’s 2012 All-Area Player of the Year, former Dalton High School standout Tristen Harrell dominated nearby competition.
With a smooth touch on the perimeter, the ability to drive to the basket and finish and defensive skills to force turnovers and create huge runs for his team, Harrell was undoubtably the area’s best as a senior.
He averaged more than 21 points and eight rebounds per game, earning All-State honors from the Georgia Athletic Coaches Association and the Georgia Sports Writers Association. When he signed with the University of Auburn-Montgomery, he knew things would be different.
“Everyone in college was their high school player of the year,” Harrell said. “I expected things to be harder, more challenging. You just have to witness the speed and the strength of the other players to really appreciate it. In high school you might go against one or two really good players a night. In college, you have one of those players at every position. You have to raise your game.
“When I got here in my freshman year, it was really, really new and I had to adapt,” he said. “The size and speed are so much greater in college. I just really went out to practice hard every day, and the team makes you work hard.”
Harrell returned home over the holiday break, kicking off his return with the UAM Warhawks taking on Dalton State College this past Tuesday night at the trade center. The Roadrunners improved to 9-1 with a 75-68 win over Auburn-Montgomery.
And while Harrell didn’t get the Hollywood-ending homecoming that he would have liked — he scored five points and pulled down four rebounds in limited playing time off of the bench — it was an experience that overwhelmed him. Many in the crowd behind the Auburn-Montgomery bench were the same ones who usually sit on the home side at Dalton Catamount games.
Harrell said seeing all of the familiar faces and hearing their cheers was an experience he will never forget.
“That was a great experience getting to come back to your home town for another game,” Harrell said. “It was a lot of fun playing against some of the same Dalton State players that you go against in the summer. Also, with the fan base that Dalton High School has and everyone there showing so much support, I loved it.”
So far this season, the sophomore shooting guard has experienced some challenges.
His time in a college basketball program shows physically as Harrell’s 6-foot, 1-inch frame has filled out with added bulk and strength, going from the 185 pounds he carried around in high school to a muscular 205.
And while the extra weight hasn’t diminished his quickness, and preseason injury to his right ankle has.
As a freshman, Harrell averaged 4.8 points per game, was second on the team in assists and averaged 3.3 points per game while being named to the Southern States Athletic Conference’s All-Freshman team. He started in 20 of 27 games and was expected to have an even better sophomore campaign. But the injury has kept him from competing at the level he would like.
“I rolled my ankle, and ever since then, I haven’t been performing the way that I should,” Harrell said.
“There are times when I try to do something that I could do before the injury, and it just isn’t there. I feel like I have gotten good playing time, but I can tell a difference in the way that I am playing.”
It also hasn’t helped that Harrell and his team has struggled to find success on the court.
The Warhawks are 3-6 on the season, and coach Larry Chapman has already announced this will be his last season after 37 years as the head coach of the program.
But Harrell says life is good.
“Other than all of the pretty girls and the good food?” Harrell joked when asked if he has enjoyed his time in Montgomery. “It has all been good. I have experienced so many good times, and I don’t regret going there a single minute.”