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It's been wild year-long ride for Spartans' Harris

Thursday - 3/28/2013, 5:30am  ET

AP Sports Writer

FISHERS, Ind. (AP) -- Right in the middle of the Walk of Fame at Hamilton Southeastern High School -- not far from the championship honors for mock trials, swimming and girl's golf -- are two 8-by-13-inch photos. One shows a smiling two-time, all-state football player and the other an unassuming two-time, all-state basketball player.

Smiling or not, it has been quite a ride for Gary Harris.

In just 12 months, Harris has gone from a 17-year-old, two-sport prep standout to a bona fide college basketball star. The former Indiana Mr. Basketball is the Big Ten freshman of the year, and he will play a big role this week in determining whether Michigan State advances to the Final Four.

It's hard for anyone in this northern Indianapolis suburb, including the Harrises, to fathom. Talk of the June NBA draft is floating around, too.

"Surreal," said Harris' father, Gary. "A lot has transpired in the last 12 months and it's just so exciting to be living the dream at this level. To receive all of those awards and with a nice crop of talented Big Ten freshman this year, it was (quite) an accomplishment. That last part (the draft), obviously, people have their opinions, but I think it's still early for that process."

Good things always seem to come early for Harris, who made his varsity team as a freshman and one year later had his coach, Brian Satterfield, convinced he had a special player. This transition has come with such speed that school officials haven't even found a suitable place to hang Harris' coveted No. 1 jersey, the one Mr. Basketball wears in the Indiana-Kentucky All-Star Game.

For Harris' parents, they've been too busy working out logistics to worry about honors and trophy presentations.

The elder Gary Harris spends time traveling extensively throughout the northern part of Indiana for his job. He and his wife, Joy, a Purdue alum and former WNBA player, have taken turns making regular drives to East Lansing, Mich., and a few nearby schools -- Indiana, Michigan, Ohio State and Purdue -- while the other parent stays home with Harris' two younger siblings.

On Friday, everyone will hop in the car, drive 30 minutes to downtown Indianapolis and see the third-seeded Spartans (27-8) face second-seeded Duke (29-5) in the Midwest Regional semifinals.

On Thursday, Harris will be practicing in front of a crowd that is sure to include some of his closest high school friends and mentors and then playing the biggest game of his life in front of a crowd that is expected to be close to the roughly 36,000-seat capacity. The Spartans' practice is open to the public.

"I think you'll see some Royals blue in the stands down there," Hamilton Southeastern co-athletic director Jim Self said. "He's had a big impact on this school. I think you see more Michigan State stuff in the hallways now than I noticed before because of Gary. So I don't know if it's that there are more Michigan State fans or more Gary Harris fans."

Harris' third trip back to Indiana might be his warmest homecoming yet.

He's found a way to play through the shoulder and back injuries that plagued him earlier this season, and he probably won't have to contend with the angry, boisterous crowds that booed him relentlessly at Indiana and Purdue. The Spartans lost in Bloomington, but won in West Lafayette.

Harris, his dad and those at Hamilton Southeastern understand why people were upset.

"Look, you've got your faithful fans who are there every day and a kid from Indiana who decided to go elsewhere. To me, that shows a lot of respect. They're booing him because they wanted him to be part of their program," Satterfield said. "But if they knew Gary, they wouldn't boo him."

This time, everyone expects more cheers.

For one, Michigan State is the only Big Ten team in town this weekend. Plus, they're facing the same Blue Devils that local fans haven't forgiven for taking down hometown favorite Butler in the 2010 national championship game -- Duke's last trip to Indy.

If the Spartans beat Duke, they would again be the underdog against top-seeded Louisville, the team Indiana fans believe stole the Hoosiers' ticket to Indianapolis.

Harris can't wait.

"It's good. I get to go back to Lucas Oil, Indianapolis, real close to home, right in my backyard," he said. "I mean it feels good to go home, but we've just got to go down there and get a win. I'll feel better even if I get two wins."

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