Marek Warszawski

Warszawski: Where does Marvelle Harris rank in Fresno State hoops history? Among best ever

Senior guard Marvelle Harris, shown splitting the defense of San Diego State’s Angelo Chol, left, and Dakarai Allen earlier this season, is on track to separate Bulldog great Melvin Ely from Fresno State’s career scoring record.
Senior guard Marvelle Harris, shown splitting the defense of San Diego State’s Angelo Chol, left, and Dakarai Allen earlier this season, is on track to separate Bulldog great Melvin Ely from Fresno State’s career scoring record. ezamora@fresnobee.com

Marvelle Harris doesn’t mind if you call him one of the best basketball players in Fresno State history.

Just don’t expect him to raise his hand and second the notion.

“Me, personally, I probably wouldn’t say that,” Harris said following a recent practice. “It’s an honor. I’d be grateful and it shows that I’ve worked hard, but I’m not really into the personal things.”

Since Harris won’t say it himself, let’s ask Bulldogs coach Rodney Terry if his senior guard deserves that distinction.

“Without question – no doubt about it,” Terry said. “He has to be one of the top players ever to play here. The dude put it in the books.”

By books, Terry means record books. Harris entered Wednesday night’s game against Colorado State at Save Mart Center second on Fresno State’s career scoring list – 54 points shy of catching Melvin Ely for No. 1 all-time.

If Harris continues to score at his current clip, he’ll surpass Ely during next week’s Mountain West Conference Tournament.

That alone has to rank him among the best-ever Bulldogs.

Right, Marvelle?

“It’s reflective of the teammates that believed in me,” replied Harris, still in downplay mode. “They’ve put me in positions where I’ve been able to score at a high level.”

Except Harris isn’t merely a scorer. While not officially a point guard, he typically handles the ball during key possessions and situations.

It’s a role Harris has become more comfortable with during his senior season, evidenced by his 4.6 assists per game and 2.4 assist-to-turnover ratio. Both lead the conference.

As a result, Harris has climbed to No. 6 on Fresno State’s career assists list with 372. The 6-foot-4, 212-pounder ranks No. 3 in steals with 194, three behind Demetrius Porter for second.

Certainly, any attempt to rank all-time Bulldogs is subjective.

Because of what he has accomplished in the NBA, Paul George must be considered the best player to wear a Fresno State uniform. But George played two seasons, both on losing teams.

So who’d be on the list?

Courtney Alexander and Ely, the cornerstones of Jerry Tarkanian’s NCAA Tournament teams, surely merit consideration. As do Wil Hooker and Carl Ray Harris, plus Boyd Grant-era players Bernard Thompson and Rod Higgins. Going further back, let’s not forget Lonnie Hughey, Lucius Davis and Gary Alcorn.

From now on, Harris’ name needs to be included.

A three-year starter who also averaged 24.8 minutes as a freshman, Harris has had more opportunity than most to accumulate stats. But don’t hold that against him.

“I look at production,” Terry said. “Have there been more athletic guys, guys that oohed and wowed you more than Marvelle does? Maybe, but numbers don’t lie.”

Terry is biased, and for good reason. Harris is the only remaining player from the fifth-year coach’s first full class of freshman recruits. (I’m not counting the one he scraped together weeks after getting the job.)

The others? Robert Upshaw, Tanner Giddings, Broderick Newbill and Aaron Anderson. None besides Harris lasted more than two seasons.

“He’s the last of the Mohicans,” Terry said with a chuckle.

Harris is actually more than that. In many ways, he’s the foundation upon which Terry has built his program.

It’s easy to forget how awful the Bulldogs were five years ago. Terry inherited two legitimate Division I players in Tyler Johnson, still early in his development, and spot-up shooter Kevin Olekaibe.

Johnson had that outstanding senior year in 2013-14, propelling Fresno State to 21 wins, but since then Harris has been the top ’Dog.

Harris’ best basketball is happening before our eyes. Over the previous seven games, he’s averaged 25.9 points, 6.0 assists and 3.0 steals as the Bulldogs went 6-1 despite missing key pieces of their frontcourt.

What’s different about Harris, or at least separates him from many prolific scorers, is he often has to be reminded, even prodded, to take over.

Growing up with seven siblings, the Rialto native has been thinking in terms of “we” and “us” since birth.

Except there are times in basketball when it needs to be about “I” and “me.” Like a week ago against Air Force, when Harris was so focused on getting his teammates involved that he forgot to involve himself.

“Coach Terry came up to me and was like, ‘It’s time for you to be aggressive now.’ I was like, ‘Aggressive? I thought I was being aggressive,’ ” Harris said. “Then I found out I only had two points and was like, ‘Dang.’ 

Harris wound up with 20 that night, scoring 12 straight in the final 2:39 as Fresno State erased a nine-point deficit.

Performances like that have brought Harris within sight of Ely’s career scoring mark, which automatically places him in the “best-ever” discussion.

Just don’t expect Harris to add his endorsement. He’s got something else on his mind.

“If you had said, ‘Marvelle Harris played in the NCAA Tournament,’ I’d take that over best player. That’s what really matters,” he said. “They don’t have a banner in the gym that says ‘Best player.’ They have banners for teams that say ‘Bulldogs 2016 NCAA Tournament.’

“I want one of those.”

If Harris gets that, the case for him will only get stronger.

FRESNO STATE ALL-TIME SCORING LEADERS

  • 1. Melvin Ely (1999-2002) 1,951
  • 2. Marvelle Harris (2013-16) 1,897
  • 3. Wil Hooker (1989-92) 1,739
  • 4. Terrance Roberson (1996-00) 1,690
  • 5. Carl Ray Harris (1991-94) 1,584

SENIOR NIGHT

MEN’S BASKETBALL: FRESNO STATE VS. COLORADO STATE

  • Wednesday: 8 p.m. at Save Mart Center
  • Records: Bulldogs 20-9, 11-5 Mountain West; Rams 15-14, 7-9
  • TV/radio: CBS Sports Network/KFIG (AM 940), KGST (AM 1600)
  • Series: Colorado State leads 15-12 overall; Fresno State leads 9-2 in Fresno
  • Last meeting: Colorado State 71, Fresno State 59 on March 12, 2015, in Las Vegas
  • Follow along on Twitter: Marek Warszawski @MarekTheBee and Robert Kuwada @rkuwada
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