UNCASVILLE, Conn. (WDRB) -- Montrezl Harrell grew up a North Carolina Tar Heels fan. His hometown of Tarboro is about a 90 minute drive east of Chapel Hill.
Louisville's star sophomore forward will now face his childhood dream school Sunday in the Hall of Fame Tip-Off championship game.
As an 11-year-old, Montrezl made a bold prediction, while watching the Tar Heels celebrate a win over Illinois in the 2005 NCAA national championship game. Montrezl's father Sam Harrell told C.L. Brown of ESPN.com , "He said, ‘Dad, I'm going to win a national championship at Carolina one day.'"
One out of two ain't bad -- but Roy Williams never came calling. Harrell was disappointed, but not discouraged. This worked out all right, of course. He committed to Virginia Tech out of prep school, but when coach Seth Greenburg was hired, he found a new home in Louisville -- and got the national championship he promised his father.
"In some aspects it was," said Harrell, when asked if he was disappointed North Carolina didn't recruit him out of high school. "It kind of felt like I was hurt, more than anything. I'm a local kid from that area and not being offered by them. But you can't dwell on things like that."
Raymond Felton, Rashad McCants, and Sean May were the stars of that North Carolina championship team Harrell watched win it all before his prophetic prediction, but it was a couple other UNC national champs Harrell later watched as a teenager that have served as his model for the toughness and tenacity he plays with, a ferociousness and motor Louisville head coach Rick Pitino says has impressed NBA scouts.
"Watching Ty Lawson and Tyler Hansbrough -- they played with so much passion. They really got out there," said Harrell. "Ty Lawson had his nose broken one time, got it plugged up, came right back in and played. That's like, ‘Wow!'"
"That's exactly how I want to mark my game," Harrell said. "I think watching Ty Lawson is what really made me get into the passionate part of the game."
Lawson, a point guard, won the 2009 NCAA national championship at North Carolina, beating a Michigan State team that defeated Louisville in the Elite Eight, before being drafted 18th overall by the Timberwolves in the 2009 NBA Draft.
"Just seeing (Lawson) at the height he was at, he played with so much heart," Harrell remembered. "He never backed down from a challenge."
You can expect the same from Harrell against the Tar Heels Sunday.
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