CHENEY, Wash. (AP) Tyler Harvey is mostly an unknown name outside of those in the Big Sky Conference that he’s tormented for three seasons at Eastern Washington. Yet Harvey will go into the final week of the regular season as the leading scorer in all of Division I basketball.
In itself, that’s noteworthy and cause for recognition.
It’s the rest of Harvey’s story that makes what he’s accomplishing special.
Consider that Harvey, despite being recognized as one of the top high school players in Southern California, had zero offers to play top-tier college basketball as his high school career wrapped up. He avoided the summer basketball circuit and college coaches deemed him too slight physically to handle the rigors of the Division I game.
His only opportunity was an offer from Jim Hayford to play at Division III Whitworth, a private school of less than 3,000 in nearby Spokane, Washington. And if Hayford had not been hired at Eastern Washington, Harvey probably would not have even played on a Division I court.
”I was 6-feet, 6-1 coming out of high school, about 150. A lot of coaches look at that as a small and don’t see me as college ready to play. I think that’s what really held me back,” Harvey said. ”And I’m not the most athletic guy out there so coaches probably looked at that and thought, `We need a more athletic guy than that.”’
How then, is Harvey averaging nearly 23 points per game? How did the junior drop 39 on Weber State to start conference play, score 31 at California and put up 25 when the Eagles pulled off their stunning upset at Indiana in November?
Ultimately, the player Harvey is now goes back to being that overlooked high school player and never wavering from his goal of being a Division I player.
Hayford was in the midst of leading Whitworth to a No. 1 ranking at the Division III level during the 2010-11 season when he found out about Harvey through his father, Frank, a college basketball official on the West Coast. The pair had known each other since Hayford was an assistant at Azusa Pacific in the 1990s.
After watching film, the plan was for Harvey to come play for Hayford at Whitworth. When Hayford got the job at Eastern Washington, Harvey followed, but as a walk-on.
”I was still thrilled,” Harvey said. ”It was a chance to play Division I basketball and even if it was a walk-on chance I knew I would have a chance. It was my dream to play Division I no matter where it was.”
Harvey spent his redshirt year becoming a more consistent shooter. He’d go to the gym late at night, set up the passing machine and shoot for hours. It helped too that he grew to 6-foot-4 and 185 pounds.
”He shot more shots than anybody I’ve ever coached during that freshman year,” Hayford said.
That wasn’t enough to get Harvey on the court with any regularity during his redshirt freshman season in 2012-13. It wasn’t until early that February when the type of scorer Harvey would become showed up.
The Eagles were trailing at Northern Arizona by 18 points with 7:45 remaining. Harvey scored 14 points over the next 10 minutes as the Eagles staged a huge rally to force overtime and win 77-74.
It was just the start. Harvey has played in 64 games for the Eagles since leading that comeback. He’s scored 30 or more points 10 times; 20 or more 39 times. During that span, Harvey has failed to score in double figures only twice. He averaged 21.8 points per game last year as a sophomore. With two regular season games left, Harvey’s at 22.8 points.
And to top off Harvey’s accolades, he was named a first-team academic All-American last week.
”To realize he had this high of a ceiling, I had no idea,” Hayford said. ”Tyler deserves the full credit for the work that he has put in.”
While winning at Indiana and playing at California, SMU and Washington provided a stage for Harvey, he knows the biggest audience awaits in the NCAA Tournament if the Eagles can get there. The schedule Eastern Washington faced playing those power conference teams on the road makes the Eagles the kind of opponent higher seeds will not enjoy seeing should they win the Big Sky Conference tournament.
”We had a really tough preseason schedule. Playing at Indiana, it doesn’t get much better than that,” Harvey said. ”We definitely go into any situation fearless and we’re ready for whatever happens.”