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Hempfield grad Harrell grows into leader for Purdue Fort Wayne basketball

Dave Mackall
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Hempfield grad Kason Harrell is averaging 16.5 points this season at Purdue Fort Wayne.
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Hempfield grad Kason Harrell is a basketball player at Purdue Fort Wayne.

From observer to leader, Kason Harrell has been mapping out a road to his future while attending Purdue Fort Wayne, an obscure basketball school in the nation’s heartland that, for now, serves as his second home.

The former Hempfield standout more than three years ago arrived at the Summit League school, previously known as Indiana-Purdue Fort Wayne, or IPFW, and gawked at a new world.

Now it seems like a place he always has known.

“It’s crazy it’s my last year here,” he said. “I try to take advantage of every opportunity I can.”

As a communications major, Harrell is a student first, he insisted. He hopes to land a job in broadcasting when his school days end. Or maybe he will try his hand at coaching. He’s not sure.

He also said he is not closing any windows that could lead to a chance of playing professionally.

“That’s really my No. 1 goal,” he said.

Like any other wide-eyed college freshman, when Harrell arrived in Fort Wayne, Ind., from Hempfield in 2015, he realized he no longer was a big man on campus. In fact, he found himself near the end of the Purdue Fort Wayne bench.

“My freshman year was really the first time in my life I wasn’t guaranteed to be an integral piece of the team,” said the 6-foot-2 Harrell, the Mastadons’ second-leading scorer this season. “When it first happened, I wasn’t sure how to react.”

Just a season after averaging 25.2 points as a high school senior, earning a spot on the Tribune-Review Terrific 10 all-star team, Harrell frequently called home to vent.

“I’d call my parents and tell them that I felt like I could be playing more,” he said. “But over time, I finally started to realize I was just going to have to work hard and get a mindset to stay with the process. It ended up paying off for the following year because I eventually found myself in the starting lineup.”

It was a year when Purdue Fort Wayne upset then-No. 3 Indiana, the first of two consecutive victories over the in-state Hoosiers with Harrell in the Mastadons’ lineup.

Harrell this season is averaging 16.4 points through Saturday’s 91-81 Summit League victory over Denver. Purdue Fort Wayne (13-10, 5-3) is jockeying for a top seed in the league’s postseason tournament in March.

“With Jon (Konchar) and me being the only seniors, we’ve got to be the examples,” Harrell said. “I feel like I’ve taken a big step up from last year. Our league is very competitive, and a lot of people outside of it don’t know about it.”

Koncar was among just three active Division I players with at least 1,000 points, 750 rebounds and 250 assists in a career.

“When I first got here, I was coming off my senior year at Hempfield and averaged 25 points a game,” Harrell said. “My freshman year here was a complete change. I wanted to help the younger guys feel like I felt when I was in their position.”

He singled out former Purdue Fort Wayne stars Max Landis and Moe Evans as examples he has tried to emulate.

Landis was the 2016 Summit League Player of the Year, and Evans graduated in 2017 as Purdue Fort Wayne’s career leader in 3-point shots with 260.

Harrell’s 3-point total is 221 through Saturday’s game. He scored his 1,000th career point during a 68-65 victory over Akron on Dec. 5.

“Those guys took me under their wings and helped me get that mental toughness,” Harrell said. “It ended up paying off the following year because I was in the starting lineup for some very big games.”

Dave Mackall is a freelance writer.