DALTON, Ga. — Try as he might, Mike Duffie cannot hide the frustration.
The Dalton High School boys’ basketball coach has been around the game long enough to know when something isn’t right, and what’s happened to Tristen Harrell has Duffie a bit on edge. Harrell, the Catamounts’ senior do-everything guard, has the profile to be a solid NCAA Division I recruit, even having excelled at a couple of prestigious summer camps.
He was named most valuable player of a camp in Birmingham that had about 280 players, including a dozen committed to Southeastern Conference schools, then was chosen one of the top 10 players at a camp in Atlanta.
However, whether it’s the fact he’s a relative late bloomer or just the area in which he’s playing, Harrell never received any NCAA offer, even Division II. Instead, he will attend Auburn University at Montgomery, an NAIA Division I program that has been recruiting him for more than a year.
AUM is in the conference with Lee University, and coach and player are happy with the decision.
“It is frustrating, because he showed out at the camps and we got one phone call, but nothing after that,” Duffie said. “Now, I believe he’s made a good choice in Auburn-Montgomery, but I can’t understand why he’s not getting more notice. It could be the area. We’re not exactly known as a basketball hotbed of Division I talent, and we don’t play the traditional powers like Columbia and Tucker.
“But all I know is what I see, and he’s got the talent to play at that [NCAA D-I] level. Coach [Larry] Chapman is getting a real steal.”
Despite being the defensive focus of every opponent, the 6-foot-2 Harrell — the tallest player on the team — is averaging 22 points a game plus 10 rebounds, four assists and four steals for the 16-6 Catamounts. He recently went through a stretch of four games in which he didn’t come off the court.
“We finally got him some rest the other night [in a blowout win], but otherwise he never comes off the court,” Duffie said. “I mean, the kid never slows down, and he does so many things for us. That’s what Coach Chapman loves about him. He can shoot, rebound and defend, and he makes everybody on the court better.”
Though frustrated he didn’t get any big-time offers, Harrell has accepted it. Instead of pouting, he uses the snub as motivation every time he takes the court.
“Sure, I would like to play D-I ball, but it just didn’t happen,” he said. “I just look at it like it’s their loss and there’s not much I can do about it except play hard every minute I’m on the court. Auburn-Montgomery is a good fit for me. Coach Chapman treats me like a second father, and I know a couple of guys there [Dalton grad Caz Cole and Sonoraville’s Justin Zachary], so that will be nice.”
Duffie looks forward to seeing Harrell continue to improve, and he believes everything has worked out for a reason.
“Hey, they want him and it’s great to be wanted,” he said. “Tristen’s happy and it’s an opportunity to prove a lot of people wrong. He’ll definitely be a big fish in a small pond.”
Lindsey Young is a sports writer at the Chattanooga Times Free Press who started work at the Chattanooga News-Free Press 24 years ago. He covers the Northwest Georgia prep beat and NASCAR. Lindsey’s hometown is Ringgold, Ga., and he graduated from Lakeview-Fort Oglethorpe High School. He received an associate’s degree from Dalton Junior College (now Dalton State) and a bachelor’s degree in communications from UTC. He has won several writing awards, including two Tennessee Sports ...