|Harry Johnson is a force on the court for the Raptors, but it's his legacy off the court that will endure.
Photo courtesy Bard Athletics
ANNANDALE-ON-HUDSON, N.Y. -- Harry Johnson loves the game of basketball. Finding a shooting rhythm from the 3-point line, locking down his opponent as a defender, developing relationships with his teammates -- he relishes it all.
But what Johnson values most about the game he cherishes is its ability to open doors, be they socially, culturally or educationally, for young men and women across the world.
Johnson is a senior sociology major and starting guard on the Bard College men's basketball team, but that only begins to describe one of the most ambitious and driven student-athletes in all of college basketball.
As freshmen, Johnson and classmate Dariel Vasquez co-founded Brothers at Bard, a program aimed at empowering, educating and mentoring minority students on campus and in surrounding local communities.
"We really started the program just to give an outlet for men of color on this campus to come out and just talk about what they're going through," Johnson said. "Get advice, have a time where you can get away."
Johnson moved from the Dover, Del., area to attend Bard, a small liberal arts school with an undergraduate enrollment of roughly 2,000 overlooking the Hudson River in Dutchess County, N.Y. Bard routinely ranks among the top liberal arts schools in the country, but the academic workload is substantial for students. The academic rigors, combined with the on-campus culture (Bard has no fraternities or sororities), the weather (winters in New York are cold) and the basketball team's struggles (Bard finished 5-20 in his first season) pushed Johnson to a critical decision in his life.
He wanted to transfer back home, perhaps enroll at the University of Delaware, where many of his high school friends were enjoying the social scene. But a conversation with Vasquez helped convince Johnson to stay at Bard and help create the change he sought. Together, Johnson and Vasquez created Brothers at Bard in an effort to create a forum for minority students at a predominantly white college -- according to the college, 51 percent of the incoming students in the class of 2020 are white/non-hispanic, compared to 10 percent that are African-American/black.
"Just having an outlet for these students who are honestly in the midst of a very interesting political scene with a lot of stuff going on with different social movements," Johnson said. "It gives them a structured way to talk about what's going on in their lives personally, and also at the macro level."
Around the same time Johnson helped create Brothers at Bard, he also began volunteering as a basketball coach and mentor for local middle school students through the Dream to Achieve program, which was created by Yonah Greenstein, a former Bard player and assistant coach who helped recruit Johnson. Dream to Achieve initially began as a series of basketball clinics at Bard, but has evolved into a tutoring and mentoring program that also includes a travel basketball team and an extended summer academy.
One of the main goals of Dream to Achieve is simply to give middle school and high school students access to a college campus and college students in an effort to overcome a lack of knowledge and exposure, and create a college-going culture.
"He's helped empower the minority students that are on this campus and in local communities," Bard head coach Adam Turner said. "There's going to be dozens of local high school kids who are going to be graduating this year, or a year or two down the road, that are going to have been significantly impacted by Harry and the program's that he's started and led."
Johnson was one of 10 male college basketball players (five from Division I, five from Divisions II and III) selected to the 2016 Allstate NABC Good Works Team last February. The award recognizes athletes that have "dedicated themselves to bettering the lives of others through giving back to their communities," according to the official website. Turner nominated Johnson, who was selected from a pool of 154 candidates.
Johnson was rewarded with an all-expense-paid trip to the Final Four in Houston for him and his mother. They both attended the Final Four games and Johnson was honored, along with the other players chosen, on the court.
"It was a feeling that, I don't think, will ever be replicated," Johnson said. "It was 75,000 people. It was pretty crazy to be on the court."
The players selected for the Good Works Team also aided in coaching a clinic for special needs athletes while in Houston. Johnson guided his group through defensive drills, and at one point worked with Basketball Hall of Famer Hakeem Olajuwon. Johnson also got to meet Clyde Drexler, Dick Vitale and Shaka Smart, among other notable college basketball figures.
Two days prior to flying down to Houston for the Final Four, Johnson returned home from a week-long student conference in Budapest, where he attended workshops on everything from how to write grant proposals and execute fundraisers to how to hold conversations at cocktail parties. The conference, which is organized through Bard's Center for Civic Engagement, invites students from Bard's campus, as well as their many abroad programs, that have demonstrated an initiative for social change in their communities.
"Most of the guys that I've coached, if they look around and they really don't like it, they go, 'This isn't for me, coach. I'm transferring,'" Turner said. "He said, 'I'm going to not only make the best out of this for myself, but I'm going to try and really make this a great experience for other people.'"
On top of all of that, Johnson has maintained a 3.5 GPA and is the basketball team's leader in minutes (29.9 per game) and second-leading scorer (9.9 points per game). Yet his most impressive accomplishment could be just a few months away.
Johnson has applied for the Watson Fellowship, which is a $30,000 grant awarded for a year-long independent exploration abroad. Johnson's proposal for the Fellowship focuses on using sports as innovative ways to combat specific socio-economic issues in different issues. If selected, he plans to work with the National Rugby League to address social inclusion issues with Aboriginal population in Australia; Tottenham Hotspur F.C. to fight youth unemployment in England; use the game of Netball to battle gender inequality in India; and Major League Baseball to address education in the Dominican Republic. He will find out in March if his proposal is accepted.
"Sports has opened doors for me," Johnson said. "I used it to get here and I think that it's something that can be used in a lot of different ways to help students around the country and around the world."
More than one person inside the Bard basketball program has joked that Johnson will become president of the United States one day. Turner said the limelight of politics isn't likely to appeal to Johnson, but the eighth-year head coach knows one thing -- Johnson will continue to impact the lives of others in a positive way.
"He'll be one of the great achievements of my coaching career, for me personally," Turner said. "Just being able to have a small impact on him and the destination that he's going to be able to go to, will be something that I think I'll look back on 20 years from now and go, 'Man, I'm really glad I could've helped.'"
New coach? No problem for Hartwick
The Hartwick men's basketball team captured three Empire 8 titles and booked four trips to the NCAA tournament in Todd McGuiness' seven years as head coach. That's a tough act to follow, but so far, so good for new head coach Waleed Farid.
After McGuiness accepted the head coaching position at Case Western Reserve this past summer, Hartwick turned to Farid, a former standout guard and assistant coach at Stevens. Through his first seven games, the Hawks are 5-2 with solid wins over Union and SUNY Oneonta.
The potent trio of junior forward Jake Sinicki (17.1 ppg, 6.3 rpg), senior guard Joey Lufkin (16.7 ppg, 4.4 apg) and sophomore guard Brandon LaForest (16.6 ppg, 4.0 apg) has shined so far this season, along with senior forward Justin Pratt (8.6 ppg, 5.6 rpg). Hartwick traditionally boasted a strong offense under McGuiness, and that has continued under Farid.
Growing pains can still be expected, but the early returns indicate Hartwick will remain in the thick of the Empire 8 race.
NYU picks up where it left off
After three straight trips to the NCAA tournament, the New York University women look well on their way to another postseason appearance.
The Violets are 8-0 following Sunday's 78-41 win over Hunter. NYU has already defeated Stevens and New Paltz State, teams that won regular-season shares of the Empire 8 and SUNYAC, respectively, last season. All eight wins have come by at least 10 points.
Senior guard Kaitlyn Read, a first-team all-conference selection and UAA Defensive Player of the Year last season, is the engine that drives the Violets. Read leads the team in scoring (16.0 ppg), rebounding (7.4 rpg), assists (36), steals (33) and blocks (six). Six other players are averaging at least six points per game, but NYU is winning with defense.
Opponents are shooting just 34.5 percent from the field and averaging only 54 points per game against NYU. That formula will help the Violets make a fourth straight NCAA appearance. NYU isn't back in action until Dec. 30 against Franklin and Marshall.
Geneseo continues solid start to season
Senior guards Bridgit Ryan and Katie Durand each scored 12 points in the Geneseo women's low-scoring, 48-40 win against SUNY Oneonta this past Saturday.
The Blue Knights (6-0) finished in a tie atop the SUNYAC standings last season, and they have shown this season that they can win games in any fashion, thanks to their senior quintet. This includes low-scoring defensive battles like this past Saturday, as well as higher-scoring games, like their 79-49 win over NEAC contender Morrisville State on Nov. 22.
Geneseo's roster features five seniors, which comprise the entirety of the team's starting lineup. This includes Ryan and Durand, the team's top two scorers. Through six games, all five seniors are averaging more than 24 minutes per game and are accounting for roughly 68 percent of the team's offensive output.
Geneseo continues conference play this Friday and Saturday on the road against Plattsburgh and Potsdam, respectively.
Top 25 roundup: NYU jumps into rankings
Rochester moved up two spots to No. 9 in this week's D3hoops.com women's Top 25 poll, but the Yellowjackets were also joined in the rankings by UAA counterpart NYU.
The Violets moved up to No. 24 in the rankings. SUNY Geneseo also received votes in the women's poll.
In the men's poll, Rochester moved up seven spots to No. 11. Skidmore, Brockport and Plattsburgh State all received votes.
Have a story idea? A fun stat? Just want to talk some hoops? I'm always happy to hear from a fellow D-III fan. I can be reached via email at email@example.com, or on Twitter at @Andrew_Lovell.