CLEMSON — The more Brad Brownell thought about it, the more he liked Damarcus Harrison.
When Clemson’s head coach was re-recruiting the sophomore transfer guard, he knew Harrison planned to serve a two-year Mormon mission, starting in 2013. He just wanted to be sure.
“I asked him, point blank – is this a situation where you’re going to on your mission the next two years regardless of what happens? That could affect my thought process of recruit you,” Brownell recalled.
“He said, ‘Coach, I’m definitely going on my mission.’ The more I thought about it, the more I respected him for the answer.’”
The Greenwood native will play only one season for Brownell before leaving for a two-year mission, but the Tigers’ head coach and his players are thrilled to finally have the BYU transfer in the fold. When Harrison gets into his first regular-season game in mid-November, it will complete what Brownell calls an “incredibly unique” process involving religion and basketball.
“I’ve just wanted to play college basketball my whole life,” Harrison said. “I never imagined it’d happen like this, but I’m just happy to be playing in the ACC and playing for my hometown school.”
When Brownell arrived at Clemson three years ago, he immediately identified Harrison as a good fit in his motion offense-based system. At 6-foot-4, 195 pounds, he has size, shooting ability and athleticism.
But Brownell knew he faced an uphill battle.
“I knew I was behind because BYU had been recruiting him for two years, and had done a good job,” he said. “You find out if coaches are recruiting kids hard when the head coach is around, and (BYU coach Dave Rose) was at every (summer) game. I knew it was going to be a tough get, but I liked Damarcus a lot.”
Harrison chose BYU over Clemson. It was a difficult choice, he said, but “I wanted to stay strong in the faith.”
Mormons in the Church of Latter Day Saints traditionally serve either when they turn 19 or later in life, after their children have left the home. Their mission days last 16 hours and are tightly regimented; they are permitted to phone loved ones only twice a year – on Christmas and Mother’s Day.
Harrison planned to spend one season at BYU and then go on his mission. The Cougars are very familiar with the process; Rose told SI.com that he has scholarship commitments stretching to the 2019-20 season due to missions.
During the NCAA Tournament, Harrison told Rose and reporters that he was leaving for his mission.
However, Harrison’s state president – who controls missions – delayed his mission, saying he preferred he wait a year and gain maturity. Meanwhile, Rose had already promised his scholarship to someone else, meaning he would have to walk on and pay full tuition or transfer.
Harrison moved back to Greenwood and worked full-time in an electrical supply factory, building transformers.
“It was pretty crazy,” Harrison said. “I thought I was going to be working a job for a whole year. Being out of shape for those three, four months, it took a toll on my body. I was living the old man lifestyle, 9 to 5, going to work and sitting on the couch and going to sleep, doing the same thing every day. Pretty stressful.”
Clemson was the only program Harrison requested a release to.
“I had a relationship before that I’d built up with (Brownell) when he was recruiting me,” he said. “He knew about me, about my religion and he was comfortable with it. He knew my family and that I was a good kid. He felt comfortable.”
Brownell wanted him, but it was a risk: under NCAA transfer rules, players must sit out a year when transferring between D-I programs. Harrison was going on the mission, and without an NCAA waiver, Clemson was using a scholarship on a practice player.
“I understood, here’s a guy willing to go away and has a bigger mission in life, wants to serve. It was a difficult question, what does that mean for you now,” Brownell said.” Do you want to take this kid for a year, not knowing whether he’s going to be eligible. It’s a roll of the dice.”
Ultimately, Brownell decided to take Harrison and ask the NCAA for a waiver.
“Because I knew Damarcus as well as I did, sitting with his family talking about it, here’s a kid who lives an hour and 10 minutes from Clemson, a South Carolina kid, who I think can help our team,” Brownell said. “I felt like the NCAA, I hoped would grant eligibility. I thought it was the right thing to do. If I looked at it as a neutral person I would.”
In late September, the NCAA granted the waiver, a huge boon considering sophomore guard Devin Coleman will miss the season with a ruptured Achilles tendon and freshman Jaron Blossomgame has been slow to recover from an compound fracture of his left leg suffered in April.
His long road isn’t over, by any means, but at least Harrison has a home.
“There’ve been a lot of ups and downs, working, having a full time job, not knowing if you’re going to get into school,” Harrison said. “To get into school and be able to play – this is a blessing.”