Eastern Washington's Tyler Harvey yet another West Coast guard on the rise
Tyler Harvey rocked left and right, patiently waiting for 6'8" junior Venky Jois to rumble up the middle of the court and set a high ball screen. The packed Moda Center crowd sat through almost 10 minutes of game time in the NCAA Tournament second round matchup, hoping to see the nation’s leading scorer uncork one of his patented, acrobatic three-point splashes against No. 4 Georgetown.
Harvey rejected Jois’s initial screen, crossing Georgetown’s freshman guard Tre Campbell and bursting inside the three-point line on the left wing. As Jois’s man, Paul White, hedged out wide to conceal the paint, Harvey crossed back over to his right. He took one more dribble, hopped backward and launched a fallaway three-pointer over White’s outstretched arms. Harvey connected on the wild shot, the play eerily similar to Stephen Curry’s unbelievable step-back triple amongst a crowd of Los Angeles Clippers about a week earlier.
Harvey continued to rain threes on the Hoyas, with TruTV constantly flashing to his father, Frank, thunderously flexing fist-pumps that would make Tiger Woods blush. Another Curry-esque step-back with 5:45 left in the half gave No.13 Eastern Washington a 29-25 lead. Georgetown suddenly looked on the ropes again, trying not to avoid spinning to the mat and suffering yet another early tournament knockout.
Frank, an 18-year veteran NCAA official, had refereed the previous four NCAA Tournaments, but opted out this March to enjoy the Madness as a dad; his son just the latest west coast guard he’s watched torch classic programs from the east.
“You just look at kids and go, ‘Wow,’” Frank said. He remembers Baron Davis lobbing the ball to himself off the backboard and practically ripping off the rim during his freshmen season at UCLA in 1998. “You look at someone and see he’s gonna be a pro. It’s just something about their athleticism and how they approach the game. You see them separate themselves. One of those kids was Damian Lillard. You just knew.”
Once Tyler turned 10, he followed Frank to local games around Los Angeles, sitting at the scorer’s table inside the storied gyms of UCLA, USC, Pepperdine, San Diego State, UCSD, and others. At 14, Tyler began joining his father on road trips for games he officiated throughout the Pac-12, Mountain West, WCC, Big West, and WAC. Rather than play AAU ball, Tyler spent his Saturdays watching his dad ref and Sundays sitting next to his siblings in Church.
Following Frank exposed Tyler to some of this generation’s greatest college talents. Harvey saw Russell Westbrook’s ferocity and passion during his two years at UCLA. He took note of Darren Collison’s speed. He observed Kawhi Leonard’s ball-hawking defense at San Diego State. “There were so many players I watched,” Harvey said. He especially revered Arizona State’s James Harden.
“He really took to James Harden, particularly because he’s a lefty and he’s a local kid,” Frank said. “Harden made such an impact on him. I know he was paying really attention to detail on how he was able to get to the basket and creating contact and scoring. Tyler’s really good at getting people into the air and making contact. He shoots a lot of free throws.”
For much of Tyler’s youth, reaching that level seemed impossible, however. He entered high school just a hair taller than 5’4". He could drain triples from anywhere in his backyard and in the park, but his waistline release would get swatted into oblivion by bigger players during actual games.
Father and son went to work in the gym together, just like everything else they did. Tyler and Frank play golf regularly. They joined a group from their church on a mission to Uganda one summer, helping install electricity in a community’s huts and putting on a sports camp for the children. Stateside, Frank would wave a broom above Tyler’s face, forcing his second-oldest of five children to heave jumpers from above his head.
A growth spurt finally came, making college basketball a realistic possibility. Harvey sprouted 11 inches from his freshman to senior year. He grew so rapidly he needed several months away from physical activity to recover, his knees feeling as fragile as a house of cards in a hurricane.
“You grow that fast at one time, your body has to catch up,” Harvey said. “You feel those growing pains and you can’t really depict when it’s going to hurt. But it was like, ‘At least I’m growing,’ so you just kind of accept it.”
Finally making the Bishop Montgomery Varsity team as a junior, Harvey blossomed into a scorer, dropping 18 points per game as a senior. Still, his limited exposure to the wild AAU waters left him without a scholarship offer. Harvey was prepared to attend Long Beach State and try to walk on. Frank had been friendly with coach Dan Monson and the 49ers were fortuitously losing a ton of senior talent following The Beach’s 2011 NIT appearance.
That’s when, at the Spokane airport, after officiating a San Diego State-Gonzaga game, Frank bumped into Jim Hayford, then the head coach at the No.1 Division III school in the country, Whitworth. They initially met in 1996, Frank a junior college referee and Hayford an assistant coach at the NAIA Azusa Pacific.
“He was just that guy that would treat officials with so much respect as an assistant, he would get us water, get us towels, he was really accommodating,” Frank said. Hayford recognized a mutual respect, “We were both guys just working hard trying to learn the game from two very different positions.”
Sitting next to one another on a Southwest flight to Oakland almost two decades later, Frank first informed Hayford of Tyler: A smart, hardworking shooter currently without a basketball future. Hayford, intrigued after watching Tyler on tape, invited the Harvey boys to visit Whitworth’s campus. “We all said it’s all part of God’s plan,” Franks said. “Nobody could have done that.”
The plan continued soon after. Only days following Tyler’s commitment to Whitworth, Hayford accepted the head coaching job at Eastern Washington. He couldn’t promise Harvey a scholarship, but offered him a walk-on spot. “When you take a job you’re also trying to establish a culture,” Hayford said. “I knew from my recruitment of him at Whitworth, he was about school work and teamwork and showed good responsibility.”
Harvey took up residence in the gym while redshirting the 2011-12 season, either focusing on his game or hitting the weight room. But even at a strong 6’4", he still lacked consistent minutes his freshmen season. Finally, on Feb. 9, 2013, Harvey emerged from the Eastern Washington bench, the Eagles trailing by double-figures.
He drained 4-of-5 three-pointers and finished with 14 points in 10 minutes, leading Eastern Washington to an improbable 77-74 overtime victory.
“If I knew he was going to do that well I would’ve started playing him earlier,” Hayford now jokes.
Harvey exploded within Hayford’s up-tempo, high-action offense, bouncing off screens, stopping and popping and bombing three-pointers from nearly anywhere inside half court. One day after practice this season, Hayford informed his best player he was the leading scorer in the nation. “I laughed. I brushed it off,” Harvey said. “That can’t be me. To hear that was just like, what?”
Harvey finished that Georgetown game with 27 points on 6-12 shooting from outside. It ended up being his last at Eastern Washington as the Hoyas escaped unscathed, 84-74. Schools all across the country began contacting Frank, attempting to lure Tyler away from Hayford for his final year of NCAA eligibility.
Instead, Harvey, who nearly went without a single basketball scholarship, entered his name in the NBA Draft and looks poised to be a second-round pick. ”It’s a fun story to tell,” he said. And now Westbrook, Collison, Leonard, and Harden await.