CATCHING UP WITH BERNARD HARRIS

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Bernard Harris (center) with Gerald Lee Sr. (right) and Ervin Latimer (photo credit Gerald Lee Jr.).

Although the wild, expansive afro from college is long gone, Bernard Harris doesn’t appear far removed from the 6-foot-9 string bean from Roanoke who helped guide the VCU Basketball program through its formative years.

Now 62, Harris could pass for a man 10-12 years his junior. His lean frame is intact, but with some added muscle.

“I guess my conditioning is partly good genes, and the fact that I enjoy playing and working out,” Harris said recently, via email. “It’s not easy!”

He’s aged well, but not just physically. Harris’ career has also remained vibrant over the years. Nearly a decade removed from his days as a player and coach in Finland’s top pro league, where he became a star and earned national celebrity, Harris seems to have transitioned smoothly.

VCU fans may still know him as “Supernard”, but these days, Harris is more commonly referred to as Benkku, an oft-mononymous Finnish basketball institution who came ashore more than 30 years ago.

Benkku is how most of the kids of the Get In The Game program, Harris’ 10-year-old youth sports initiative sponsored by Finland’s Ministry of Education, know the former VCU star. That, and the and children’s book on basketball he wrote in the late 80s and the spin-off cable TV program that ran for two seasons in the 90s.

Get In The Game, for which Harris serves as president, aims to use athletics to promote fitness and healthy living, while steering kids clear of drugs and alcohol. Harris conducts tennis and basketball summer camps and also speaks at high schools about the dangers of substance abuse. According to the organization’s website,  Get In The Game has made visits to more than 250 schools in the last 10 years. The program has produced a number of TV programs with Finnish sports stars to the same end, including “Benkku’s All-Star Bowling“. Get In The Game has also held a number of youth tennis camps in Finland with VCU Tennis Coach Paul Kostin.

For a guy whose basketball career looked at one point as if it would continue in perpetuity, he seems to have comfortably eased into this stage of his career, one which blends teaching, wellness and health activism.

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#TBT: VCU IN THE ABA, NBA DRAFT

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Today, as we debate Troy Daniels’ NBA prospects, we flash back to 1974, when the fledgling VCU Basketball program was just getting established. That year, two Rams, Jesse Dark and Bernard Harris, were drafted by not one, but two pro leagues. Below, the Commonwealth Times, VCU’s student newspaper, discusses the recent selections of Dark and Harris by the Virginia Squires of the ABA. Although not a Pulitzer, the article is a good read for its reference to a “secret” ABA draft that saw Dark selected third overall. Officially, Dark was picked in the second round of the ’74 draft, while Harris went in the fifth round. I could not find any reference to an additional “secret” draft, but would love to hear more about it. (Click to enlarge article).

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But neither man would play for the Squires. Weeks later, Dark was picked in the second round (32nd overall) of the 1974 Draft by the New York Knicks, while the Buffalo Braves (now the Los Angeles Clippers) grabbed Harris in the fourth round (63rd overall).

Dark would become the first Ram to play in the NBA when he made his Knicks’ debut on Oct. 17, 1974 against the New Orleans Jazz. Harris made his debut one week later. Although both Dark and Harris played just one season each in the NBA, there were trailblazers for the VCU Basketball program. Four players, Gerald Henderson, Ed Sherod, Eric Maynor and Larry Sanders have followed in Dark’s and Harris’ NBA footsteps.

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