Robert Morris Basketball Hall of Famer Helped Lift Program Died May 26, 2018

By Omari Sankofa, II | Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA), June 2, 2018 | Go to article overview

Robert Morris Basketball Hall of Famer Helped Lift Program Died May 26, 2018


Omari Sankofa, II, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)


When asked about Chipper Harris, former Robert Morris men's basketball coach Matt Furjanic speaks of false hustle plays. That's when a player, in an attempt to steal the ball, abandons his defensive position and leaves his teammates scrambling.

Using a baseball analogy, Mr. Furjanic estimates most basketball players bat .200 when attempting such plays. But Mr. Harris, whom Mr. Furjanic coached in the early 1980s, was an exception.

One of Mr. Harris' many strengths was his quick hands. He holds the three-best single-season steal totals in Robert Morris history, and his ability on both sides of the court helped the university establish itself as a mid-major power less than a decade after making the leap from the junior college level to Division I before the 1976-77 season.

"Chip batted .950," said Mr. Furjanic, who coached at Robert Morris from 1979 to 1984. "He wouldn't hurt the defense going for steals. He just had great anticipation and read the offenses so well that it was like he had that knack for knowing where the next pass was going."

Mr. Harris, who in 2014 became the first student athlete inducted into Robert Morris' Ring of Honor, died last Saturday because of complications from diabetes.

He was 55.

Mr. Harrisleaves behind a legacy as a winner and as one of Pittsburgh's most important basketball players.

The New Kensington native played basketball at Valley High School, where he helped his team win a PIAA state championship as a junior in 1979.

Mr. Harris was a substitute player at the beginning of that season, according to his high school coach, Jim Patterson. By the end of the season, he was a key contributor and was instrumental in Valley's championship run.

"Even his senior year he kept getting better and better," Mr. Patterson said. "He really had quick hands, you could see that developing his junior year. Just in that one year, you could see how he was getting better and better.

"Then when he went to college, he led the nation in steals two years in a row, and that was just a continuation of his improvement."

Mr. Harris was part of a pivotal recruiting class for Robert Morris - a class that included fellow university hall of famers Forest "Bay" Grant of Beaver Falls, who was Mr. Harris' backcourt mate and the program's career assist leader, with 555, and Tom Parks of Belle Vernon, who is 23rd on Robert Morris' all-time scoring list and also is in the hall.

Mr. Harris was the program's all-time leading scorer when his career ended in 1984, and he is currently second on the list with 1,942 points, behind only Myron Walker, who scored 1,965 points between 1990 and 1994. Mr. Harris is first in field goals (821), field goal attempts (1,598), steals (450) and steals per game (3. …

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