Jamell Harris joined the Eastern Michigan basketball program as a freshman and knew if he worked hard enough, he’d earn minutes and work himself into the rotation. Four years later, he became one of the best shot blockers and rebounders in school history and helped bring the program their first ever MAC West division title.
Harris joined the team prior to the 2009-10 season when head coach Charles Ramsey was still the Eagles’ head coach. He didn’t play a lot as a freshman but was still second on the team in total blocks with 22 and earned the Harold Simons Most Improved Player Award.
“Playing defense for me comes naturally as well as using my athleticism and length on defense. I knew that I could help the team out in some sort of role,” Harris said. “Assistant coach (Carl) Thomas always told us young guys in the beginning of the year if we played hard and played defense it would keep us on the floor, so I always kept that in mind.”
He continued to improve going into his second year and it showed on the court, as he played in all 31 games and started 21. Harris was dominant in the paint, compiling a team-high 72 blocks and finishing second in the MAC in shots blocked. That included an impressive seven block performance on November 17, 2010 against Madonna.
Despite Harris’ improvement, the team struggled to just a 9-22 record and 5-11 in conference. Ramsey was let go after the season and EMU hired Rob Murphy as head coach, who was an assistant for the Syracuse Orange from 2004-2011.
“Going through a coaching change is never easy. Coach Ramsey recruited me. I remember guys being nervous about the new coaching staff and some were excited because it gave them a fresh start,” Harris said. “Coach Rob Murphy was more calm and laid back in his demeanor. No one expected us to go from nine wins to winning the MAC West. No one except coach Murphy, and because of his confidence I believe some of that trickled down to us.”
With a new head coach at the helm, the Eagles improved and saw a jump to 14 wins, a 9-7 record in the conference and a MAC West title, including wins over Arkansas-Little Rock, Radford, Western Michigan, Toledo and Ball State. The Eagles were able to clinch the division with a 54-53 win over Western Michigan on the road. It marked the first time the Eagles won a regular season title since 1996 when they won the conference championship.
Harris had eight points and a team-high eight rebounds, while shooting 75% in the victory over the Broncos.
“There are always ups and downs in every season,” Harris said. “Overall the biggest up I say would be winning the MAC West division title over Western Michigan on their home floor, which was the first time EMU had done so, especially after going through a coaching change and losing our best player in the previous season.”
As a senior, Harris helped Eastern Michigan pull off one of the biggest upsets in school history when they defeated Purdue, 47-44, on December 8, 2012. The Eagles would go on to win 16 games and advance to the quarter finals of the 2013 MAC Tournament, which was the deepest run of Harris’ career. Although his four-year run with the Eagles came to a close versus Wester Michigan, Harris has fond memories of his time at Eastern Michigan.
“EMU and Ypsilanti definitely had an impact on my life. People in the program, at the university and around the community helped me in many ways and always made sure we had what we needed and had their support,” he said. “It’s a great school and I’m happy that I got the chance to spend some of my basketball career at EMU.”
Harris began his professional career in Chile and played in nine different countries in the previous six years, before taking last season off. He plans to continue his career beginning in the fall.
“Playing basketball overseas has been great. To be able to travel the world and get paid for something I love doing has had a big impact on my life since graduating,” Harris said. “This upcoming fall I plan to be back on the court full swing. Hopefully if I will stay healthy I can play a few more seasons because I definitely still have the desire to do so.”