As a basketball fan, I have always had a love for the lesser known, obscure and/or underappreciated. At school, when most kids were wearing Penny Hardaway, Shaquille O’Neal or Michael Jordan jerseys, I was wearing Bobby Hurley, Derek Harper and Dino Radja.
This is my open tribute to the lesser known players in today’s game. This is Spotted on the Pine.
Name: Josh Harrellson
Team: Detroit Pistons
Jersey Number: 55
Rookie Year: 2011-12
Drafted: 2nd round, 45th pick
To me, it is always interesting to hear stories of players who go pro when they had never played the game until an older age.
A lot of times you hear it about guys from different countries that learn about the sport in their late teens and due to their natural build and athleticism, are able to develop their games quickly.
Josh Harrellson was a kid from Missouri and although he likely played the game in a Physical Education class along the way, Harrellson did not play an organized form of basketball until his Freshman year of high school back in 2003.
Looking to play football, Josh caught the eye of the basketball coach that couldn’t help but notice when a 6’4” Freshman walked into his office.
Josh was convinced to join the basketball team but it was not smooth sailing to start. Josh was the self-professed worst player on the Freshman team. He could barely dribble and had difficulty performing drills with his non-dominant hand. But Josh worked hard and during those end of season call-ups, Josh did enough to be promoted to JV and become a Varsity player by his sophomore year.
Josh grew another four inches leading up to his Junior year, where the now 6’8” Harrellson kept developing his game, catching on with AAU teams. He was averaging 18.1 points and 11 rebounds per game and was named to First Team All-State.
Josh got a recruiting visit from Western Illinois and signed a letter of intent leading into his Senior year in high school.
Josh had a successful season where he led his team to the Class 4 Semifinals and was named to All-State again with averages of 18.5 points, 10.5 rebounds, 3.6 blocks, 1.5 assists and 1.3 steals. Josh would work out in the summer with Alex Tyus, another local kid who was committed to the Florida Gators.
The workouts with Tyus convinced Harrellson maybe he was talented enough to play at a bigger school than Western Illinois. During this time, then-coach Derek Thomas was rumored to be relieved from his duties at WIU at any time, so Harrellson requested to be from his letter of intent.
Thomas and the Leathernecks declined.
Rather than get stuck in a program where he wouldn’t be happy, Josh ended up going the Junior College route and enrolling in nearby Southwestern Illinois.
Harrellson’s team would feature other players that were bound for bigger programs, playing alongside Chris Hines, a forward that would go on to play for the Crimson Tide of Alabama and Devron Bostick, who finished his collegiate career with the Minnesota Golden Gophers.
The team, stacked for their competition, went on to win the Great Rviers Athletic Conference championship while posting a 28-5 record and making a visit to the National Junior College regional championship game.
Harrellson would also be named First-Team All-Conference and All-Region.
During this run, Derek Thomas did get fired from Western Illinois and conveniently, Josh was now released from his Letter of Intent. While initially hoping to stay near home with the University of Missouri, Josh received offers from Iowa, Iowa State, St. Louis, Indiana, Illinois and the little basketball program in Kentucky.
Josh considered staying close with St. Louis but realized the chance to play at Kentucky gave him a higher profile and a better chance at turning basketball into a profession, so he became a Wildcat.
Harrellson got a chance to play in 34 games, although not quite in a featured role. In spite of this, Harrellson managed to make waves at very opportune times, such as posting his first career double-double in the Las Vegas Invitational Championship game against the West Virginia Mountaineers. His performance through the tournament off the bench would be enough to still earn All-Tournament honors.
Although he showed sparks, information would come out showing Harrellson was a victim of some fairly heavy bullying by then-Kentucky coach Billy Gillipsie. During a game against Vanderbilt in February 2009, in a bizarre move, Gillipsie made Harrellson sit in a bathroom stall to listen to the game plan, then following the game, he would not let Harrellson on the team bus with his teammates. He made Josh ride all the way from Nashville, Tennessee back to Lexington, Kentucky in the equipment van.
When Gillipsie was fired at year’s end and replaced with Super Recruiter Coach John Calipari, some cried foul. No doubt in my mind, hearing some of the stories that happened to players under Billy’s watch that it was overdue for Kentucky to get rid of him and it just so happened a game-changing coach was available.
While many players were evaluated under Cal’s regime, Josh was liked and stuck around. He was now competing for time under Calipari recruits (and future NBA players) Demarcus Cousins, Patrick Patterson and Daniel Orton.
Harrellson got play in 22 games but never more than five minutes per game.
Josh was asked to play in some exhibition games in China following the season and while averaging 13.1 ppg and 9.2 rpg, he re-gained some of the confidence he had before heading to Lexington. At Kentucky’s annual Blue-White scrimmage, Josh shocked watchers by grabbing a monstrous 26-rebounds. Calipari assessed the performance stating either the whole team is poor at rebounding or that Josh made some improvements over the summer.
Josh was a little offended at his coach’s remarks stating “Just maazing to me I can’t get a good job or way to go. Yes he has been working hard this off season… It is just amazing to me but I look past it and keep trucking!”
Word gets back to Coach Cal and Josh is told to shut his Twitter down and is relegated to extra conditioning drills as punishment.
Josh was set to have a limited role behind Enes Kanter of Turkey but when NCAA regulations ruled Kanter ineligible, Harrellson and his improved conditioning became the starting center for the Wildcats.
While he averaged 6.4 points per game, Harrellson would lead the conference in rebounding with 8.8 per game.
Josh would once again step up in tournament play and during the Southeastern Conference tournament, he would average 10.3 ppg en route to more All-Tournament honors.
Harrellson helped push the Wildcats through the 2011 NCAA tournament, matching up against Ohio State’s Jared Sullinger in the third round and putting up 17 points, 10 rebounds and 3 blocks.
4th round he would meet North Carolina and Tyler Zeller and despite Zeller’s hype, Harrellson would respond with 12 points, 8 rebounds and four assists.
The Wildcats made the Final Four and Harrellson, along with DeAndre Liggins and Brandon Knight would be named to the All-East Region team.
Kentucky would fall to Connecticut in the semi-finals and Harrellson’s attention would shift to the NBA Draft.
David Aldridge released his pre-draft rankings and Harrellson was ranked eigth amongst centers. With most team needing big man help, Josh would still be projected in the early-to-mid second round.
Which is just where he wound up.
When the New Orleans Hornets came on the board with the 45th pick in the 2011 Draft, Josh heard his name called. His association with the Hornets would be brief, as he was immediately sent to the New York Knickerbockers for cash considerations.
Following the NBA lockout, Josh would work his way onto the Knicks roster. By the fourth game of the season, Josh would find himself in a great position.
Knicks All-Star Amare Stoudemire was injured and on December 31, 2011, Harrellson would find himself in the starting lineup for the New York Knicks in Sacramento against the Kings.
Josh rose to the occasion, playing a bulk of the game and finishing with 14 and 12.
After sixteen games, Josh found himself requiring wrist surgery and would miss most of January and February. While his momentum cooled, Josh would still get occasional minutes with the Knicks and show flashes when he did.
In July 2012, Harrellson was packaged with Toney Douglas, Jerome Jordan and some future second-round picks and sent to the Houston Rockets for Marcus Camby. The Rockets would hold Harrellson for a few weeks before releasing him.
A few more weeks would pass and Harrellson would latch on with another team: The Miami Heat. The 2012 Heat were fresh off a championship but as has been the case on their championship teams, they really needed a big man.
Despite this need, Josh would still see sparse minutes and after only getting a few chances to play, Miami would waive Harrellson on January 7, 2013 in a salary saving move.
As soon as he was able to, Josh was re-signed by Miami on a 10-day contract but would leave the team at the end.
Josh wrapped up the 2012-13 season playing in Puerto Rico and China but teams in need of a big man took notice of Josh when building their rosters for the upcoming season.
In desperate need of some bigs off the bench, the Detroit Pistons were being linked to Jason Collins, who had been making headlines this summer as the first openly gay male athlete in one of the major sports leagues.
The Pistons decided to go a little younger and on August 21, 2013, signed Harrellson to a two-year deal.
The Pistons have an intriguing front court for the upcoming season with Smith, Drummond and Monroe. If Harrellson can come in off the bench producing a fraction of the potential he has shown, the Pistons could have a very formidable front line for a long time to come.