Niagara Falls' Paul Harris will represent the United States at the Nike Hoop Summit in Memphis, Tenn., on April 8. He will play in Michael Jordan's Jordan All-American Classic at New York City's Madison Square Garden on April 22.
But on March 29, when casual sports fans tune in to ESPN to watch the all-star event synonymous with high school basketball -- the McDonald's All-American Game -- he won't be on the court.
The omission of Harris from the game has raised the eyebrows -- and ire -- of those close to Harris, as well as many involved in high school basketball across the nation.
"I hurt for him, because I know how long he's come in life," Niagara Falls assistant Sal Constantino said. "Forget about basketball -- he's taken things head-on, on the court and off the court. You'd think it would be a feel-good story."
Harris earned enough votes by McDonald's 32-member panel to play in the game, but Hall of Famer Morgan Wootten, 74, the legendary former DeMatha (Md.) High coach and executive director of the McDonald's game committee, told FoxSports.com that Harris was excluded due to an eligibility issue. Even though Notre Dame Prep -- the Fitchburg, Mass., prep school that Harris is attending this year -- considered Harris a high school senior, the committee did not. Pressed further, Wootten mentioned the "character" issue.
It's no secret -- in national high school basketball circles or in Western New York -- that Harris spent 13 days in jail awaiting a hearing on drug charges four years ago and faced charges, which were later dropped, of misdemeanor assault in September 2004. But those who have gotten to know Harris clearly feel he's moved on in a much better direction: He's headed to Syracuse University next year and he'll be representing his country for the second time when he's part of a U.S. team that plays an international squad at the Nike Hoop Summitt (Harris starred at USA Basketball's Youth Development Festival last summer).
The obvious and unfortunate irony is that Harris can play for the red, white and blue, but not for the golden arches.
"It's like I told Paul, 'You could cure cancer but some people aren't going to forget that you got in trouble when you were 15 years old,' " said Constantino, who said Harris will be eligible at Syracuse after making a qualifying score on the SAT.
Harris, winner of The News' last two Player of the Year awards, is rated 10th in the nation in the Class of 2006 by Scout.com and 11th by Rivals.com. Dave Telep, national recruiting analyst for Scout.com, told the Syracuse Post-Standard: "I can't tell you why Paul Harris isn't on the roster. . . . He's a kid who tried to clean up his image on and off the court. He's an example of the right way to overcome one's mistakes."
"From the moment he found out, he's pretty much kept it to himself," Constantino said. "He's taken it very well. But it hurts him -- one of the first things he said to me when he had to go to prep was, 'Now I have a chance to play in the McDonald's game.' "
>Big hoops week
Speaking of The News Player of the Year and Syracuse, Riverside's Mike Williams and Niagara Falls' Jonathan Flynn are two huge names on a very small list of candidates for this year's award.
Both Syracuse-bound players will be on display in semifinal games Thursday at Niagara University as Riverside and Niagara Falls try to advance to the Section VI Class AA championship for the second straight year. Falls plays Lockport (a team Falls beat, 83-61 and 83-48) at 6 p.m. followed by a great matchup of Yale Cup champion Riverside against ECIC I champion Jamestown at 7:45. The semifinal winners will play at 8:15 p.m. Saturday at Buffalo State.
Flynn, a junior who has verbally committed to Syracuse, put on a 38-point show at Williamsville North that put him over the 1,000-point mark for his career (1,020). Flynn is also seven points shy of Falls' single-season scoring record of 570, which Harris set last year.
Williams is at 1,437 points for his career, tops on Riverside's all-time list and 73rd in Western New York history. The senior, who is headed to Syracuse to play football, is coming off a triple-double (19 points, 14 rebounds, 10 assists) in the Frontiers' quarterfinal win.
The second semifinal will be a great matchup between two deep and talented teams. Riverside, which has threats in inside-outside talent Anthony Thomas and point guard D.J. Young, got a career-high 31 from gritty LeTroy New on Friday. Jamestown is a deadly three-point shooting team led by senior Mike Maisto, who signed with Daemen College last week.