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By: Gabe Taylor '12
Every locker room needs a character – that one person who isn't afraid to lighten the mood. The Giants have Brian Wilson, the Sharks have Joe Thornton and Santa Clara has Niyi Harrison.
But according to Harrison, the laid back humorous mentality doesn't stop with him.
"We have some characters on the team," said Harrison, humbly explaining that he is not the prescribed "jokester" of the team.
"We probably have one of the funniest teams in the NCAA," added Harrison later.
Harrison recognizes that a duo approach of wittiness and competitiveness tends to yield successful results.
"We don't take ourselves too seriously when we don't have to," commented Harrison. "We have times we can switch it on and get serious, but especially right now we have a great time in the dorms, in the locker room, and even on the court too."
Early on in his life, Harrison kept his distance from organized basketball.
His mother, Kemi, enrolled him in basketball programs and camps, but the sport originally never clicked with Harrison.
It wasn't until sixth grade when Harrison finally decided to join his friends on the basketball court. The decision was one that would eventually pay off, as he developed into the go-to-guy at Bellarmine College Prep, leading the team to two consecutive CCS Division I Championships.
Harrison roamed two miles before discovering a college with the perfect fit. A Bellarmine graduate, Harrison is more than familiar with the location.
"I grew up here, so naturally I've always seen stuff that's been going on around here," said Harrison, who enrolled at Santa Clara alongside his best friend from high school.
After being informed that he would receive a full-scholarship to Santa Clara, Harrison's verdict was set in stone; he would be able to attend a strong academic institution with his best friend, and remain close to his family, all while playing the game he grew to love.
Staying in the Silicon Valley has other benefits for Harrison as well. An avid Bay Area sports advocate, Harrison is able to attend Giants games, while keeping a close eye on the San Jose Sharks.
Add soccer to the list of sports Harrison follows, and it becomes even more apparent that he is a sport connoisseur. His interest in athletics carries over to video games.
"All we do is pretty much play FIFA all day," said Harrison, wearing an Earthquakes Jersey.
Movies also remain high up on Harrison's free time "to-do" list.
"In the summer right now - with the down time - I probably watch about two movies a day," said Harrison.
But with the team's first practice approaching, Harrison is beginning to divert more of his attention to basketball. Last season, Harrison averaged 3.6 points per game, but his standout performance came on the defensive end when his tenacious block on Rashad Green's shot attempt in the final minute of the CIT quarterfinals helped the Broncos advance past USF and on to the championship game.
Throughout summer, ball handling and shooting have remained at the focal point of Harrison's training. But he remains unsure of what his responsibility will be on the team come game time.
"Once our team gets together and we start practice...you get to see what your role is going to be, because every year the team is different and the team demands or asks you to do different things," said Harrison. "Once I get into that lane, and see what the team needs from me, then I can start working on specific parts of the game and not just a broad spectrum."
Although Santa Clara has many of the same pieces that helped lead the team to the CIT Championship, big-men Troy Payne and Ben Dowdell said their goodbyes as graduating seniors.
"Hopefully I can come in and be able to play at the level Ben did last year. Ben and Troy saved us in so many games," said Harrison, praising them for their knowledge of the game.
Harrison and his teammates are prepared for the implications this coming season has on Santa Clara's reputation at the national level. Humor has enabled the team to mesh, but when it comes time to suit up, Harrison - and his teammates - simply hit the switch.
"The eyes are on us now," said Harrison. "People want to see what we're going to do in the next couple of years."