LOUISVILLE,Ky. (WDRB) -- You don't need a whole profile to wrap up Montrezl Harrell's freshman season. You only need one picture.
Harrell will, regardless of whatever else he accomplishes the rest of his career at the University of Louisville, be remembered largely for one thing -- his soaring slam over Michigan's Glen Robinson III off a lob from Peyton Siva to give the Cardinals their first lead in the NCAA championship game after storming back from 12 down.
In the photo, Harrell is in mid-flight, but hasn't even reached his apex. Author of some of the season's most memorable dunks, this one will signal more than a U of L comeback. It didn't seal the game against the Wolverines, but it did shake the scales back into the Cardinals' favor.
Robinson's face is not visible in the picture, his head turned toward Harrell, his arms having gone limp.
In the photo's background, you can see the reaction of Michigan fans. One has a hand on either side of his face. Others look serious, eyes wide, like they're waiting for the slasher in a horror movie. Some look like the old Looney Toons character Wile E. Coyote right before the boulder fell on top of him in a canyon.
Somehow, Harrell always managed to be in position to lower the boom, as if he got a text alert moments before a lob or dunk might be possible. In this particular frame, he appears to have taken off from somewhere around Buckhead, both hands on the ball, arms fully extended above his head, black adidas sneakers at about Robinson's waist, and rising.
Harrell did this all season. He would enter games and bring energy. His dunks were worth two points on the scoreboard, and two turnovers by opponents because his teammates fed so much off the momentum.
More than anything, he brought energy. Sometimes it was raw, but it was always pure.
"That's what I do," Harrell said. "I just have a great love for the game and I always want to play with great passion and great heart on both ends. If I make mistakes, I just keep going. If I get the ball, I'm going up strong. If I can get a rebound, I'm going up strong."
His physical, imposing presence at times outpaced his overall game. But man, can he dunk. He made 97 field goals as a freshman; 44 were dunks.
At one point Pitino, after having met with NBA scouts who had watched a practice, tried to tell Harrell that they like his potential, but that there's a lot more to learn. His jump shot, his ball handling, his rebounding, his passing. You can't dunk your way to the NBA.
As the season wore on and he learned the game, Harrell began to recognize the truth in what Pitino was saying. His freshman year improvement came to a head in the Big East championship game against Syracuse, when no player on the court could contain him.
He dunked. He scored in the post. He rebounded. He hit mid-range jumpers. He even made free-throws, something he struggled with greatly but improved down the stretch of the season. Everything was going. He finished with a career-high 20 points and grabbed seven rebounds.
"If he can do that," teammate Gorgui Dieng said, "people got a lot to worry about."
But there was more to Harrell than that. Even when his own free-throw shooting was sub-50 percent, if a teammate missed one, he'd be the first one sprinting to the line to offer support. During Kevin Ware's injury, when Chane Behanan was so distraught he had to leave the game, Harrell embraced him with both arms.
Harrell's dad gave him the extra "L" at the end of his first name just to make him different. He is. He likes to watch women's basketball because it shows him a different view of the game.
Harrell hails from Atlantic Coast Conference country, Tarboro, N.C., and his dream growing up was to play for the North Carolina Tar Heels -- a team he'll get to play against early in his sophomore season, and plenty as a junior if he's still around after U of L's move to the ACC.
Harrell visited the Chapel Hill campus on his own and spoke with Williams, but never got an offer. He had a late offer from N.C. State and also one from Wake Forest, but wound up choosing Virginia Tech because he liked coach Seth Greenberg. Then Greenberg got fired, and he began to look at Louisville because his old coach at Hargrave Military Academy, Kevin Keatts, was there.
It turned out to be U of L's gain. Harrell was able to spell Behanan at the power forward spot and, with a 7-foot-4 wingspan, could slip into the center spot if needed.
"He's like a bull on the court," Behanan said. "An angry bull. Not one of those calm ones."
Behanan's comparison breaks down when you look at that picture of the lob slam against Michigan, though. The problem is this: Bulls can't fly. Harrell comes pretty close. The photos don't lie.
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