Armon Harried was ready for his chance in Division I basketball. And that shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone familiar with the former Lake Clifton star.
The coaches’ — as in two coaches — son knew what it took to succeed at the next level and well, he’s pretty sharp to start with. Harried was the Lake Clifton valedictorian last year, so beyond basketball he had some bona fides to recognize he was in the right place at the right time, starting 31 of 32 games at Canisius this past winter.
“He will not back down from challenge,” fourth-year Canisius coach Reggie Witherspoon said. “He will always fight his way out, and I think that was what really gave him a chance to get better and learn from this experience.”
Witherspoon said he told Harried that the freshman was playing too many minutes (23.0 per game), but “he never agreed with that,” the coach said. “And that’s a good thing, too.”
Harried played in high school for his father, Herman, the former Syracuse big man who played in the 1987 NCAA championship game against Indiana. The Harrieds carried Lake Clifton to back-to-back MPSSAA state championships in 2018 (Class 2A) and 2019 (Class 1A). But Armon also had his mother, Delora, who had coached the boys at Southwestern High School and then the girls at Lake Clifton, in his corner, too. She played at Coppin State.
“Both my parents were coaches and both played at the Division I level, so they let me know at my size [6-foot-4, 185 pounds], I have to work to get stronger and that the physicality [in college basketball] would be different,” Harried said. “I had a little edge on that, but I didn’t on learning the system.”
Harried is a quick study, and then some injuries opened the door for him at Canisius. He certainly took advantage, averaging 6.6 points, 3.2 rebounds and 1.1 steals (third on the team). The young Golden Griffins went 12-20 overall and 7-13 in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference.
Harried scored in double figures nine times this season, headlined by 15-point performances against Hofstra and at Monmouth. The Baltimore native was twice named MAAC Rookie of the Week and could have landed on the league all-freshman team if not for fellow frosh Jacco Fritz’ sterling season.
The 6-foot-10 Dutch forward averaged 7.1 points, 4.5 rebounds, shot 58 percent from the field, and promises to form an inside-outside combo with Harried for years to come. Another promising freshman, 6-foot-5 Akrum Ahemed, had started six games before a foot injury shelved him in December.
“We’re going to be solid,” Harried said.
The team’s best player, All-MAAC guard Malik Johnson, graduates, and there are more minutes to be had for Canisius guards. Witherspoon, who liked Harried’s unharried touch and ability to score at Lake Clifton, came to love his freshman’s feisty attitude toward competition.
“If you put a challenge in front of him, he’s going to do his damnedest to try to conquer it,” the coach said. “The pace of the game was so much faster than what he was accustomed to, the 3-point line was much further back and that shot was open for a lot less time. He had a lot of challenges, but he didn’t back down, that’s for sure.”
Harried liked the relationship he built with Witherspoon and Canisius assistant Chris Hawkins, a Brandywine, Md., native who recruits the Maryland region for the Golden Griffs.
“I picked Canisius because me and the coach talked almost every day,” Harried said. “I felt like they believed in me. I knew I could come in and be an impact player for them. It’s like family.”
Harried’s other finalists were Monmouth and Navy, and he liked those programs as well. Canisius, though, felt like home. That was enough for the guy whose valedictory speech at Lake Clifton focused on the importance of family. Now he’s majoring in sports exercise and health care. He hopes to specialize in fitness training and nutrition and give back someday.
“We all think we’re eating right, but we’re not,” he said.
Harried became interested in nutrition when he had a problem most wish that they had: he couldn’t add weight.
“I had to learn about eating the right amounts at the right time of day and eating the right stuff. I thought I was eating enough but I wasn’t eating enough to gain. I was eating enough to keep the weight. It’s a lot to learn.”
Again, Harried knew he needed to get bigger to compete on an even footing in college, going against older athletes who had a head start on him in nutrition and weight training.
“I was going up against guys who were lifting as much as I weigh,” he said. “It took a couple of games to get used to the physicality.”
Harried is not the kind of athlete or student who needs to be told something more than once. It helped growing up with coaches and educators, and it also reflected on the variety of experiences he had at Lake Clifton, particularly helping deliver two state titles for his father.
“Junior year, when we won it was really cool,” he said. “Senior year, I didn’t expect it because going into the season most of our team graduated. I knew I had do put in the work and be better, and that’s what I focused on. I had to step up and do a lot more my senior year, and it felt great to do that.”
Harried averaged 24.0 points, eight rebounds and three assists as a senior, saving his best for last. He pumped in 29.4 points per game in the state playoffs with three double-doubles in five games. His 35 points in the state title tilt were the most for a Maryland high school player since 2008.
“We didn’t have a lot of standout players, but we had some talent and we just worked hard,” he said. “It was great. It really made me grow as a player.”
Harried may be in a similar situation next season for the Golden Griffs. What he did as a freshman was solid, but now the program needs more. Ask him his strengths and Harried immediately goes to the intangibles that have pushed his game beyond expectations.
“I’m a really good leader. I’m going to try to motivate everyone. I think that’s important. I really love to play defense, too,” he said.
Witherspoon loved Harried’s length, and freshmen who play defense will always catch the coach’s eye. Witherspoon is confident Harried’s shooting numbers — .332 from the field, .239 from three and .569 at the line — will improve, and that has been Harried’s history. He will put in the work, though these are unusual times for basketball and well, everyone.
He is lifting weights at home and eying opportunities to get in a gym and get shots up. He wants to work on his shot from distance while social distancing.
One thing is certain, when college basketball comes back, Harried will be ready.
Photo Credit: Tom Wolf Imaging
Harried was honored as the U.S. Army Impact Player of the Month for March 2019: