From small-town Chelan, Wash., Harris was first recruited by Bennett when the coach was at Washington State. Harris decided to play for Bennett no matter where the coach landed. That meant an unexpected relocation to Charlottesville for the self-described homebody.
Harris, the team’s second-leading scorer at 11.5 points per game, joked that even if he was tempted to leave, his parents, Joe and Alice, would never allow it.
The lightest-recruited member of the group, Mitchell, from Charlotte, N.C., fought through homesickness as a freshman. He called his father, Anthony, almost every day. But Mitchell recalled how he was cut from teams in seventh, eighth and ninth grades, not playing organized basketball until he was a high school sophomore. He didn’t quit and, this season, started 14 games at forward.
“College is tough for anybody,” Harris said of the departures. “You have pressure you weren’t used to. At the same time, you’re homesick and maybe you’re not getting the opportunity [on the court] you should be getting. So you want to try something new.”
Harris, a thick pad and black tape protecting the broken bone in his left hand, looked around the locker room at the survivors. Television crews queued up for interviews. He wondered if any of it would sink in by Friday’s 2:10 p.m. tipoff.
Back on Sunday, Harris, Mitchell and the rest of the team watched Virginia’s name flash on CBS’ selection show. Excitement mixed with relief. They had been uncertain if they’d make it.
Harris and Mitchell weren’t particularly close when they first arrived at the university. Circumstances changed that.
As Virginia’s name lingered on the television, they exchanged a glance.
“We looked at each other,” Mitchell said, “and knew we stuck through it.”