Want to get Lincoln High School coach Aubrey Shelton in a good mood?
Ask him about David Harris.
Ask what kind of teammate Harris is. Or Harris’ versatility, his infectious positivity, his bowling skills or their conversations about science and mathematics.
“David uses big words sometimes and the kids get on him about it,” Shelton laughed.
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He’s also played big for the Abes — who enter the 3A state tournament 24-0, matching the 1976 Lincoln squad for the best start in school history — without having a big ego to go with it.
The 6-foot-5 senior gladly accepts his role off the bench, playing behind a starting five of all juniors — Trevante Anderson, Emmett Linton, Le’Zjon Bonds, Anthony Braggs and Willie Thomas — without one complaint.
“Everything he does is team first,” Shelton said. “He’s probably the most unselfish player I’ve ever had.”
But doesn’t it frustrate Harris being a substitute?
“Not at all,” Harris said with a smile. “We’re 24-0. Why mess that up?”
Harris has never played AAU basketball. He doesn’t even attend Lincoln — nor did he plan to.
Harris was about to attend Mount Tahoma entering his freshman year, taking advantage of the Tacoma Public Schools’ choice enrollment system to head there. But then he found out he was accepted to Tacoma’s Science and Math Institute (SAMI).
He figured that was the end of high school sports for him, since SAMI doesn’t have athletic programs.
“It was really tough,” Harris said. “I thought I wasn’t going to be able to play. But I sucked it up. I just thought it was something I was going to have to get used to. Getting in there was really important to me.”
Two years went by. No high school basketball.
As he explained that, Shelton walked by, dribbling a basketball.
“You didn’t play your first two years?” Shelton asked.
“No, I didn’t,” Harris said.
“Wow, that’s crazy,” Shelton said.
Shelton thought Harris had transferred from Mount Tahoma.
Here’s what Harris didn’t know: If a school does not provide a sport, you can play for the closest one that does. He said he ran into a friend who attends Tacoma’s School of the Arts (SOTA) and was bewildered as to how she could be playing a sport at Stadium.
“I had no clue,” Harris said. “I was shocked. I was floored. Like ‘No way. I just wasted my first two years!’ ”
He then played on Mount Tahoma’s offseason team just before the 2015-16 school year, and Harris got to play against Lincoln. The Abes barely survived, winning by two points and receiving a rough post-game speech from Shelton afterward.
“David was tearing us up. I was like, ‘Who is this kid?’ ” Shelton said. “He was destroying us, hitting a bunch of jumpers. We almost lost and I told our guys afterward, ‘You not only almost lost to Mount T, but to some kid we’ve never seen before.’ ”
Harris learned a few weeks later than he was only allowed to play for the school closest to his home — which was Lincoln. That was, at the time, the interpretation of the WIAA rule.
So he met with Shelton, who said he has never before had a varsity player come from SAMI (though he coached his brother, Caleb, who was attending SOTA).
“At first, they were just as confused as I was,” Harris said.
But Harris was finally going to play school basketball for the first time since at Stewart Middle School — where he was coached by Shelton’s younger brother, Ben.
Harris played last season on Lincoln’s JV and was their best player, even dunking in a game, and the team finished 19-1. Harris got to play three games on varsity.
“Part of me wishes we would have brought him up more,” Shelton said.
In his two years of high school basketball, Harris’ teams are 43-1.
“He does all of the little things,” Linton said. “He gets a lot of 50-50 balls, always boxes out, he knocks down open shots, guards the best player, hits free throws — he’s the heart of our team.”
Harris has come off the bench all but two games this year, but he gets starters’ minutes. He’s averaging 9.5 points (fourth on the team), 5.5 rebounds (second), is making 69 percent of his 2-point shots (best), 36 percent of his 3-pointers (third) and 80 percent of his free throws (best).
Shelton will play him at shooting guard, forward or center. And he’s typically in the game during the most critical moments, such as the 3A West Central/Southwest district title win against Wilson when he faked right, faked left and hit a turnaround jumper over Wilson’s 6-foot-7 Emmitt Matthews Jr. during a critical juncture in the fourth quarter.
“He’s not afraid of anybody — and I think part of that is because he just might not know any better,” Shelton laughed. “And that’s a good thing. One because he isn’t afraid and two because he’s not cocky or arrogant about himself. If he had been playing all these years he might have been told by all these people how great he is and that could get to his head. He’s just pure and innocent.”
Instead of school and AAU basketball, Harris played casually or in recreational leagues with his brother, Dmitri.
He hopes to play in college next year — maybe to make up for lost time — while also majoring in biology.
SAMI gets out at 3:20 p.m., but Harris planned his schedule the past two years to have his final period free. He has already earned 26 school credits (the requirement to graduate is 24).
He’s missed pep assemblies, and last year he missed a game because of a choir concert.
“I don’t think it’s a knock on the AAU culture, but you look at it — they play year-round now,” Shelton said. “And they play since like the fourth or fifth grade. Some of them get bored, or some get told how good they are and are hyped up their whole life so they get an ego.
“But David — he’s completely excited about basketball. He’s always so positive. He’s missed like a practice or two and those were our worst practices. We totally need his positivity.
“He’s easily one of my favorite kids I’ve ever coached.”
TJ Cotterill: 253-597-8677