It’s been a tough season for the men’s basketball team, to say the least. The team suffered through a 18-game losing streak, and has only won a single game in conference play this season. One of the constants throughout this trying season has been senior Michael Harper. The native of Melbourne, Australia has averaged the most minutes on the team, and leads SFU in scoring for the season.
“I’d be lying if I said it didn’t take a hit, but guys still like playing basketball,” said Harper on the team’s struggles this season. “[The players] still enjoy the competitiveness, and that helps take away from the aspect of losing. Just the fact that you enjoy basketball still. And you know, there’s always hope for the next game. You’re always looking forward to the next game, because we’re not down and out, we’re never down and out.
“Your spirits are always trying to stay high, [and] this is when you really get tested to see [where you are] with the program. When you get to this level, winning is what keeps jobs and keeps scholarships. [. . .] So if you’re in a losing environment, [when] things get heated, we stay together. I think everyone has each other’s back.”
Harper started playing basketball at the age of eight, when a friend of his started playing. While still in Australia, he had his eyes set on coming over to North America to play basketball.
“Basketball in Australia is more kind of European, because high school basketball isn’t as big,” he explained. “There’s still high school basketball, but it’s not as serious. And then once you get to university [in Australia], no one plays, everyone who’s on the university team shows up drunk to the game. That’s kind of why I wanted to come to the [United] States or North America, because the basketball for my age, that’s where it’s at.”
Harper elaborated further. “You can play professional in Australia, there are club teams that pay you, but it’s not about development once you go professional. [In North America] there are college coaches that are with you every day. It’s just more hands-on at the collegiate level. You grow up watching college basketball, like high Division I schools, and you see them on TV and they’re just out of high school.”
“One of the tests that I’ve had as a senior is being more vocal.”
Harper got his wish when he went to play for the University of Hawaii in his first two years of university.
“It was good,” he said. “It showed me different people’s coaching styles. Just different athleticism, playing with guys growing up in America, [. . .] I had to adapt my game a little bit. [It was] more challenging, [and] I think I learned a lot at the Division I level that translates well to the Division II level.”
After not getting much playing time at the University of Hawaii, Harper transferred here to Simon Fraser, to finish his collegiate career playing regular minutes.
“[I] just wanted to play in my college career,” he said. “I didn’t want to sit on the bench for all four years. [. . .] James Blake, the head coach before our current coach, contacted me because he knew someone at the University of Hawaii in the offices. They obviously knew that I was looking to transfer, so Blake got into contact with me and it all went from there, really.”
With James Blake gone and his successor Virgil Hill at the helm, the Clan have drastically changed their style. Not only are the two coaches’ game philosophes different, their coaching style is different as well.
“They’re pretty different,” said Harper. “Last year we had a more loosely-flowing offence, which is a fact [that goes with] the players that we had last year versus the players that we’ve had [this] year. Coach Hill has more of a hands-on system, more plays that are run. We have a younger team this year as well, so he’s really trying to build a program [. . .] As the lone senior, he puts a lot of pressure on me to show [the others] how it’s done. And just really lead the way, and show how college basketball should be played. We have good juniors as well, in Hidder [Vos] and Max [Barkeley].”
Harper has also had to adjust this season, becoming a leader on the team — a stark contrast to his supporting role earlier in his career at Hawaii.
“I’ve always been a guy that leads by example,” said Harper. “One of the tests that I’ve had as a senior is being more vocal. I’ve never been the most vocal guy growing up, so it’s always just been my actions. So that’s how I’ve kind of how I try and do it, is leading by actions. And it helps that we have guys from last year as well, a few guys from last year that help me and Coach Hill build the program as well.
“It’s not just me as a senior, it’s everyone pulling their part, wanting to win, wanting to get better. Instilling that confidence that it’s just a process.”
Once his NCAA eligibility is over after the season, Harper plans to go back to Australia to finish his degree while playing for a club team.