CHENEY — Eastern Washington basketball star Tyler Harvey is challenging for the national scoring title, carries a 3.75 grade-point average and seems to impress everyone with his genial personality and humble nature. Eagles coach Jim Hayford can’t think of anything negative to say about Harvey.
Well, maybe one negative.
“Tyler and I have worked really hard the past 3½ years,” Hayford said dryly. “He’s put on 20 pounds of muscle, and I’ve put on 20 pounds of burritos. We go to the same Mexican place in town. I don’t get it.”
Harvey, who received exactly zero basketball scholarship offers out of high school in Los Angeles, ranks second in NCAA Division I with 23.2 points per game and first with 4.5 3-pointers per game.
The Eagles (13-5, 4-1 Big Sky Conference), who won at Indiana and lost by four at then-No. 17 Washington, are making a strong bid for a conference championship and NCAA tournament berth. Harvey is the catalyst.
“He’s just a very special player,” said backcourt partner, roommate and close friend Parker Kelly. “He’s the best shooter I’ve ever probably seen.”
Harvey qualifies as one of the feel-good stories of the college basketball season. Harvey is now a solid 6-foot-4 and 185 pounds, but the redshirt junior says he stood just 5-foot-5 as a high school freshman. He reached 6-1 as a senior and averaged 18 points per game, but he weighed only 150 pounds.
Harvey says recruiting interest in him consisted of “a couple junior colleges” without scholarships before fate intervened. Twice.
Hayford and Harvey’s father, a college basketball official, are longtime acquaintances who wound up sharing a plane ride during Tyler’s senior year at Bishop Montgomery High in the Los Angeles suburb of Torrance. Frank Harvey chatted up Hayford about his son, and soon Tyler was headed to Spokane’s tiny Whitworth University on academic scholarships (Division III schools such as Whitworth do not offer athletic scholarships) to play for Hayford.
All that changed when Hayford landed the Eastern Washington job in 2011. Harvey was quick to put in a phone call to the coach, asking for a chance to follow him to Eastern.
“My dream,” Harvey says firmly, “was to play Division I.”
Hayford agreed to bring Harvey aboard; Harvey’s parents agreed to foot the bill for the first year; and Harvey agreed to camp out in the weight room while redshirting.
“He was scrawny,” Hayford says, making certain Harvey is within earshot.
“I wanted to redshirt,” Harvey points out. “I wanted to get bigger and just improve my game.”
Harvey finished strong as a redshirt freshman, then led the Big Sky in scoring last season with 21.8 points per game. He already holds the school record of 213 career 3-pointers, and he’s on pace to break his record of 109 treys in a season. He was named national player of the week after scoring a career-high 39 points against perennial Big Sky powerhouse Weber State on Jan. 1.
“It’s just truly a blessing from God to be in this position,” Harvey said. “I never even thought about being a national scoring leader or anything like that.”
Hayford said, “What I love about Tyler is, whatever limits others have put on him, he’s resisted those and said, ‘No, I’m going to reach my dreams.’”
Hayford and assistant coach Shantay Legans praise Harvey at length for his team-first attitude and his hard work on and off the court. Both coaches credit Kelly for helping push Harvey.
“We share the same love for the game,” Kelly said. “We both see it the same way: If you want to be great, you have to work hard at it.”
It also helps if you can locate your school. Harvey grins sheepishly when he recalls how little he knew about EWU when Hayford was first hired.
“I had never heard of Eastern Washington, or Cheney, Washington,” he admits. “I think I even called it CHAY-nee.”
Harvey, a communications major and Academic All-America candidate , has long since mastered the CHEE-nee pronunciation. Next on his agenda: Helping Eastern qualify for the NCAA tournament. In 32 seasons in Division I, the Eagles have crashed the Big Dance only once, in 2004.
“The sky’s the limit for us,” said Harvey, who most definitely does not mean the Big Sky.