LEE'S SUMMIT, Mo. -- Thirty-five minutes before tip-off, Monte Harrison's basketball coach paces a hallway outside the locker room. The veteran coach is edgy. He says he doesn't eat lunch or dinner on game days.

Of course, having Harrison on a team -- in essentially any sport -- can soothe anyone's rumbling innards.

"If Monte Harrison said he wanted to be a Division I basketball player, there would be no question schools would line up to take him," says Michael Schieber, head coach of Lee's Summit West High School.

During warm-ups, the 6-foot-3, 200-pound Harrison -- his long-but-powerful arms and legs make him seem taller -- puts on a dunking exhibition that would make Blake Griffin proud.

Reverse jams, tomahawks, windmills off the backboard ... the gamut.

Arguably the finest overall athlete among 23 known verbal commitments in Nebraska's 2014 football recruiting class, Harrison throws down a nasty two-handed tomahawk in the game's opening minutes. Soon after, he drives the right side of the lane and dunks right-handed -- an angry throw-down.

This isn't child's play. Not when it comes to Harrison.

He finishes with 21 points on 8-for-9 field-goal shooting as his team cruises to a 37-point triumph Tuesday against Truman High. He shows nice touch on his jump shots. He handles the ball well. He's a powerful rebounder who fires strong outlet passes. Any sports fan would delight in watching him run the floor. He looks like he could score at will.

Hey, it's recruiting season. Let the hyperbole flow, as ridiculous as it all tends to be.

Make no mistake, though, Harrison is a thoroughbred athlete, the kind of thoroughbred you see at Churchill Downs as opposed to Fonner Park.

"He's just got that … I don't know … freakish athleticism,” says Schieber, a no-nonsense, old-school sort. "The things he does, you just don't see."

A man in a bright-red jacket with an "N" watches Tuesday's game. He leans back and asks, "What's your story going to be?"

I don't have the heart to tell him.

If the man ate one of the arena's hot dogs, his innards already were rumbling. No reason to make matters worse.

If you're a Nebraska football fan, you know the Bubba Starling and Carl Crawford stories. They were thoroughbreds, too. They were uber-athletic quarterbacks (Harrison is a four-star wide receiver who deserves five stars) who verbally committed to play football for Nebraska, but ultimately opted for major-league baseball -- Starling in 2011, Crawford in 1999.

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Harrison could follow the same path. Major League Baseball teams covet premium athletes. Frankly, baseball executives feel their sport needs more of them. They've long since taken notice of Harrison's "plus" arm, bat speed and balance at the plate. He has raw power and, yes, plenty of speed.

According to folks close to Harrison, he's become more serious about school of late. He needed to improve his grades for college and did. Why would he bother if he were locked in on signing a baseball contract?

Why would Nebraska bother sending three assistant coaches -- Rich Fisher, Ron Brown and John Garrison -- to Tuesday's game if the Huskers felt Harrison playing football is a lost cause?

Bottom line, you do what you have to do to get athletes like Harrison into a program, long shot or not -- and red eyes or not.

Fisher's blood-shot eyes tell of a road-weary recruiter. But the receivers coach no doubt understands Harrison's potential impact.

In short, the kid is an athletic freak. That is not hyperbole.

Earlier this season, Harrison missed a free throw. The ball bounced high off the rim and, on its descent, grazed the side of the rim.

"He was able to run down the lane and beat everyone to the ball and dunk it before anybody else reacted," Schieber says. "Everyone just kind of stood and looked around and thought, 'Did that really just happen?'"

Somehow, though, Harrison manages to maintain a relatively low profile in national football recruiting circles. A veteran recruiting analyst told me it's partly because Harrison doesn't engage in self-promotion. He doesn't do many media interviews (he left the gym with the Husker assistants soon after Tuesday's game).

He didn't do the recruiting camp circuit.

He did, however, materialize last spring for a Rivals Series skills camp in suburban St. Louis, and was named offensive MVP despite the presence of Allen Lazard of Urbandale, Iowa -- the nation's top receiver prospect at the time, according to Rivals.com.

"Monte just went in there and made it almost a no-brainer," the analyst says. "He's smooth. Everything he does seems effortless."

Royce Boehm, Lee's Summit West's football coach, backs that notion. He recalls a state playoff quarterfinal game last season at Springfield (Mo.) Kickapoo. A defender was in front of Harrison in the end zone. The pass was underthrown. No problem for Monte.

"It honestly, truly was an interception, but Monte goes right up over the top of the kid -- Monte's shoulder pads are a foot over the kid's helmet -- and takes it out of the guy's hands for a touchdown," Boehm says. "It's unreal, absolutely unreal."

The stories are legendary. They stir the imagination, and probably the innards of a certain bleary-eyed Husker receivers coach.

Reach Steven M. Sipple at 402-473-7440 or ssipple@journalstar.com.


Husker columnist

Steven, a lifelong Nebraskan, newspaper enthusiast and UNL grad, joined the Journal Star in 1990 and has covered NU football since 1995.

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