John Harrar probably isn’t going to be an NBA player, let alone a star.
But over his time at Penn State, the 6-foot-9 fifth-year senior has become the heartbeat of the Nittany Lions.
The fact that Harrar has gone from a football recruit– he committed to tight end at Army– to a college basketball player in the Big Ten, to one of the last guys off the bench, to a part-time starter, to a full-time starter and, finally, to a fifth-year senior who has become a dream for first-year boss Micah Shrewsberry to coach is a testament to Harrar’s work ethic.
So is the fact that he’s second in the Big Ten in rebounding average.
In what has to be the signature game of his fifth year– and maybe his Penn State career– Harrar hauled in a career-high 16 rebounds to go with 16 points in Penn State’s 62-58 upset win over No. 19 Michigan State at the Bryce Jordan Center.
Penn State desperately needed a win, with six losses in its past seven games, and the Nittany Lions wouldn’t have gotten it without Harrar.
Harrar’s performance– punctuated by a three-point play with 35 seconds left that put Penn State up by four– earned praise from one of the best coaches ever to do it in college basketball.
“There’s no question John Harrar was the difference in that game,” Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said.
John Harrar. Glue Guy. https://t.co/FTqYbNOZ9I
— Jon Rothstein (@JonRothstein) February 16, 2022
Naturally, Harrar’s own head coach had nice things to say, too.
“John’s a warrior, man,” Shrewsberry said. “He’s a warrior. He gives you everything he has. There is no, ‘did John play hard tonight?’ Yes, John plays hard.”
John had to play especially hard against the Spartans. For one, Michigan State has a large front court, with Marcus Bingham Jr. (7-feet), Gabe Brown (6-foot-8), Joey Hauser (6-foot-9) and Julius Marble Jr. (6-foot-9) all in Izzo’s rotation.
It wasn’t just Michigan State that made life hard for Harrar. Shrewsberry did, too. Any time Penn State prepared to transition from offense to defense, the other four players on the floor would start their journey to the other end of the court.
Harrar’s job was to stay back and be, in Shrewsberry’s words, a “warrior on the glass” in case Penn State needed an offensive rebound.
“We sent four guys back in transition, and John fought,” Shrewsberry said. “We could do that because the wasn’t a fear of John not sprinting back on defense every single time. He was going to go as hard as possible to the glass and run back as hard as he needed to.”
After possibly the best game of his college basketball career, Harrar showed humility. When asked about his 16-16 performance in the postgame presser, all Harrar could talk about was his team’s big win.
“It was awesome,” Harrar said. “I was talking to the guys; I was saying I think every year I’ve been here, we’ve beat a ranked team… So, I was telling them, ‘let’s go get one tonight.’ I can’t leave this program until I get one this year. So, it means the world.”
Soon, Harrar will leave Happy Valley, while Shrewsberry tries to build Penn State into one of the Big Ten’s big boys.
When new players come in, it’s a good bet that Shrewsberry will use No. 21 as an example of the right way to play Penn State basketball.
“You can play this hard,” Shrewsberry said. “If John can do it, anybody can do it, right? In terms of effort. That’s all it is. It’s pure effort, heart, determination and love for Penn State.”