July 9, 2013
By Phillip Marshall
AUBURN, Ala. – In good times and bad, playing basketball in front of thousands and working out far from the cheering crowds, KT Harrell leans on the lessons of hard work and accountability he’s learned since he was young.
Rodney and Michele Harrell wouldn’t have it any other way.
Born in Germany while his father was in the Air Force and his mother in the Army, Harrell had a basketball in his hand almost from the time he could walk. This season, after sitting out a year as a transfer from Virginia, he’ll play basketball for Auburn.
“I’ve been playing basketball all my life,” Harrell says. “My dad has trained me and pushed me to the limit since I was a kid. He really installed that work ethic in me that I’m not going to have anything given to me. I have to earn it. It’s never going to be easy. Growing up like that has made me not only a better ball player, but a better man.”
The work ethic he was taught didn’t begin and end on the basketball court. Harrell was the Student-Athlete of the Year as a senior at Brewbaker Tech Magnet School in Montgomery. He volunteered as a youth basketball instructor and mentor to elementary and middle school students.
It all started, he says, with his father. Rodney Harrell is a trainer and mentor to basketball players from high school to the professional leagues.
“He talks to them about life,” Harrell says. “He’s a life coach. He’s a really good man and tries to help guys accomplish their dreams.”
Rodney Harrell says his son has worked for everything he’s gotten on the court and off.
“KT has always been a hard worker,” he says. “I don’t know if he was the most naturally gifted kid, but he outworked everybody. I know that’s a cliché and everybody says it, but it’s true. He really, really puts his time in to be the best he can be and improve. He works on his weaknesses. I think that’s everything.
“He’s worked for his athleticism, worked for his jump shot, worked for everything. He has gotten better and better.”
Growing up, KT Harrell was fascinated by the Atlantic Coast Conference games he watched on television. It was his dream to play for one of those teams, and he signed with Virginia in 2010.
“It was everything I expected and more,” he says. “Playing at Cameron Indoor and playing at Carolina was an amazing experience.”
But after two seasons, he longed to be closer to home, closer to his family.
“Being a young kid and being 13 hours away from home, I wasn’t as mentally tough as I am now,” Harrell says. “It took a toll on me mentally and physically. It affected how I played and affected my mindset. I think everything happens for a reason, and I’m glad to be here.”
Once he decided to leave Virginia, Auburn had everything Harrell wanted. He was impressed with the way Tony Barbee coaches and with his style of play. His parents could easily drive to see him play. And he saw an opportunity to be a part of something special.
“I just really wanted to be part of something where we can turn things around,” Harrell says. “I’ve always been a person that I don’t want to just come into something where everything is good. I like to help people change something. I think I’m in position to be a part of that. We had a rough season last year, and I think we are really good this year.”
At 6-foot-4 and 215 pounds, Harrell will play shooting guard or small forward. He can even help out at point guard if needed. Sitting out a year was difficult. It was made even more difficult because he could do nothing to help as the Tigers staggered to a 9-28 record, losing 16 of their last 17 games.
“It was tough, especially with the season we had,” Harrell says. “It was tough just sitting and watching and not being able to go out there and fight with my teammates. It also put a little chip on my shoulder, not only mine but my teammates. We’re not going to have another season like that. We’re going to work harder and get better in order to have a better season than we had last year.”
For Harrell, as the season spiraled downward, there was nothing to do but work toward a future that sometimes seemed far away. He says, as a result, he’s a significantly better player now than when he arrived last summer.
“I’ve been working really hard,” Harrell says. “I’ve been pushing myself. The grind never stops. I’m always learning something new from the coaches and even from the players on the team. I’m always trying to find ways to get better.”
Harrell has yet to play a game in an Auburn uniform, but his experience means he will be expected to be a leader. And he welcomes the challenge with enthusiasm. Where he saw division last season, he sees togetherness this season. And he sees the talent to win.
“I believe we have all the assets,” Harrell says. “We have speed. We have athleticism. We have talent. The big thing that hurt us last year was we didn’t have a lot of chemistry. This year, the chemistry is there. We all hang out together. We all bond. That’s one thing that was sort of missing last year. We didn’t have that kind of chemistry, but this year it’s a lot different.”
Like he once dreamed of playing in the ACC, Harrell dreams now of helping revive Auburn’s basketball fortunes and going on to play in the NBA. His father won’t predict that will happen, only that his son will give his all to the journey.
“I told him ‘push as hard as you can and have no regrets,’ ” Rodney Harrell says. “You work hard at what you want out of your life. If you don’t make it, you can live with it. No regrets. I’ve always told him don’t be influenced by negative things. Always be yourself.
“He knows what he wants and what it takes to get there. He’s trying to change the course of Auburn basketball in the time he’s there. You can’t control anybody else, but you can control what you do.”
Phillip Marshall is a Senior Writer for AuburnTigers.com. Follow Marshall on Twitter: