The warm welcome Blake Harris felt during his visit to Missouri’s campus convinced him to join Michael Porter Jr. on new coach Cuonzo Martin’s basketball squad.
Harris and Porter had signed with Washington last November, and both requested a release after former Huskies coach Lorenzo Romar was fired.
And it was a chance meeting in a Durham, N.C., mall a few months later that reaffirmed Harris’ decision to come to Mizzou.
Harris, a freshman point guard, graduated from Word of God Christian Academy in his native Raleigh, N.C., the same school that produced four-time NBA All-Star John Wall.
Two months ago, while strolling through the Streets at Southpoint, a shopping mall in Durham, Harris bumped into Tigers athletic director Jim Sterk, who was in town for a wedding.
“I saw him walking down the mall,” Sterk said. “I’m waiting for my daughter to come, so we were just burning time in the mall and window shopping a little bit. Here comes Blake Harris, and he comes up and gives me a great big hug. Ten minutes later, he comes back and said, my mom wants us to get a picture.”
Sterk was wearing a Mizzou polo, which caught Harris’ attention during the chance encounter.
“I thought it was crazy,” Harris said. “I had to look back once or twice, but then I went up to him and took a picture with him to send to my mom. We had a little laugh and thought it was pretty ironic. … He was there for some wedding and I was just out for the afternoon. We saw each other, we smiled and had a great time.”
Sterk said several people around town stopped to ask him about the basketball team, especially Harris and Porter, but he still was stunned to run into Harris — almost as stunned as Harris was to see Sterk in North Carolina.
“For sure, that was a sign I made the right choice,” Harris said. “That was the craziest thing.”
Harris joins a backcourt that returns a trio of juniors, point guard Terrence Phillips and reserves Jordan Geist and Cullen VanLeer, and also added fellow freshman C.J. Roberts and Canisius graduate transfer Kassius Robertson during the offseason.
Harris particularly has enjoyed the matchup with Roberts in summer workouts.
“He’s a great player, every bit as fast and quick as I am, so we have great battles every day in practice, trying to get each other better,” Harris said. “I think he’s a special talent, so it’s good to play against him.”
Harris, who is 6-3, 195 pounds, averaged 25.0 points and 9.9 assists per game as a high school senior last season.