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Former Earlham College coaching great Del Harris is pictured here during the 2013 Boys & Girls Clubs of Wayne County's Smart Futures dinner. Below, Harris is pictured with University of Kentucky Head Basketball Coach John Calipari, and 1997 Miss Basketball of Indiana Lisa Shepherd-Stidham, at the same event the year before. (Richmond, Ind. Palladium-Item photos)

Former EC coaching great Del Harris to receive 'Wooden' award

March 10, 2014

Former Earlham College men’s basketball coach Del Harris will be recognized during the 2014 NCAA basketball Final Four weekend in April for leadership and courage throughout his career. 

Harris is the recipient of this year’s Coach Wooden “Keys to Life” Award, which is named for the late John Wooden, who won an unprecedented 10 championships in 12 years as coach of the UCLA men’s basketball team. 

The award has been given annually since 1998 by Athletes in Action and Fellowship of Christian Athletes to esteemed coaches and players during the “Legends of the Hardwood Breakfast.” 

“Harris’ dedication to his faith, his generosity and his character are just a few of the reasons we will recognize him with this honor,” says Athletes in Action’s Dave Lower. “Harris’ coaching career touches basketball players and fans of every level.” 

Del -Harris -3Harris, who went on to become one of the most successful coaches in NBA history, says he is indebted to Earlham for hiring him after having only five years of experience coaching at the junior and high school level. 

“Without Earlham College and then President Landrum Bolling taking a chance on a 27-year-old coach who was just beginning to learn, there is little chance that I would have had the time to have had all of these experiences,” Harris says.  “And without the truly outstanding players who took a chance on Earlham College and me, it would not have happened regardless.” 

Harris coached at Earlham from 1965 to 1974 and led the Quakers to three Hoosier Collegiate Conference titles. He remains the winningest coach in the College’s history. 

His best seasons were in 1967-68 when he was a national finalist for NAIA Coach of the Year after the Quakers went 25-3 and ranked 6th in the nation, and also in 1970-71 when the Quakers went 24-5, ranked 12th in the final polls, won the Hoosier Collegiate Conference and reached the school’s only berth into the NAIA National Tournament. 

“From a player’s standpoint, he was an outstanding coach in terms of the X’s and O’s and strategy of the game,” says Earlham Vice President of Community Affairs Avis Stewart, who played for Harris from 1970-74.  “More importantly, he taught us about life, and he taught us the values of living a meaningful life. We all came from different backgrounds as players, but he instilled in us the values that would allow us to be successful in life. Those values are anywhere from responsibility, to accountability, to basic care for other human beings.” 

Harris was head coach of three NBA teams — the Houston Rockets, Milwaukee Bucks and Los Angeles Lakers. In 1981, he took the Rockets to the NBA Finals, and in 1995, he was named the NBA Coach of the Year. He was only the 19th coach to win 500 NBA games and still ranks in that league’s top 25 in games won and in playoff games coached. 

Harris says it is an honor to receive an award with Wooden’s name on it. 

“Coach Wooden was already a model for young Hoosier hoopsters by the time I was in high school,” says Harris, who grew up in Plainfield, Ind. “The NBA had just started and the real heroes for kids in the late 1940s and early 1950s were high school and college legends of Indiana University, Purdue University, Notre Dame and Butler, as the NBA had just started.

“When I began coaching in 1959 and into the 1960s and early 1970s, UCLA’s teams were the golden standard of college basketball, and he was their great coach,” he says. 

Apart from the Wooden award, Harris has also been inducted into the Earlham, NAIA and Indiana Basketball halls of fame. He has also been nominated for consideration to the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame, considered the most complete library preserving the history of the sport.

But Harris says that despite a career full of accolades, his greatest sense of pride is watching his players live full and happy lives.

“I am extremely proud of how the young men on those teams have gone to live such productive lives,” Harris says. “The award is more for what my players over the many years have done, than for what I have done.”

— EC —

Earlham College, a national liberal arts college located in Richmond, Indiana, is a "College That Changes Lives." We expect our students to be fully present: to think rigorously, value directness and genuineness, and actively seek insights from differing perspectives. The values we practice at Earlham are rooted in centuries of Quaker tradition, but they also constitute the ideal toolkit for contemporary success. Earlham is one of only 40 national liberal arts colleges ranked among U.S. News and World Reports' "Great Schools at a Great Price."

Brian Zimmerman is director of media relations at Earlham College. He can be reached at (765) 983-1256 and zimmebr@earlham.edu.

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