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MEN'S BASKETBALL: Family before hoops

O.J. Harrison transferred to UND this season looking for a new start in a program that suited his style of play. The former Utah State player couldn't wait to get his Sioux career started. ?One of the big reasons I signed here was because of the ...

O.J. Harrison transferred to UND this season looking for a new start in a program that suited his style of play.

The former Utah State player couldn't wait to get his Sioux career started.

"One of the big reasons I signed here was because of the fact we're going Division I," Harrison said. "And the style of play at Utah State was really structured. Here, coach (Brian) Jones is a young coach and he's open-minded."

Early on, everything appeared to be on the upswing for Harrison, a 6-foot-4 forward from Danville, Ill., who was projected to give the Sioux scoring punch from the wing.

But his season hasn't gone as planned. Harrison's year has gone from a frustrating injury to a father's worst fear.

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After his play was limited because of illness and a fractured big toe - suffered two weeks after he arrived - Harrison had to leave the team for 20 days last month because of his daughter's serious illness.

While the Sioux were on their first North Central Conference road trip to St. Cloud State and Minnesota State-Mankato, Harrison had to make emergency travel plans to return home to be with his daughter, Na'Ryah.

"My daughter got real ill," Harrison said. "She was having respiratory problems. She had to be on a breathing machine. They told me they didn't know which way it would go for her, so I had to go home immediately."

Harrison spent days with his daughter at Riley's Children Hospital in Indianapolis, approximately 70 miles from his Danville home.

After his daughter improved, Harrison returned to school and basketball last week.

"She's still in the hospital," Harrison said. "She's getting her medication situated. Hopefully, in another week, she'll be out."

Teammates were understanding of Harrison's leave.

"He handled it well," UND sophomore Travis Bledsoe said. "That has to be a tough thing to go through. If my daughter was sick, I don't know what I'd do."

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His mind eased by his daughter's improvement, Harrison is coming off a big game. He scored a career-high 18 points to help UND beat Augustana 76-72 for the team's first NCC win of the season last week.

Harrison said he was pleased with his play, considering the layoff.

"It surprised me after missing those 20 days," Harrison said. "I was confident I could play, but I thought I'd struggle with my conditioning. But I felt pretty good."

Harrison likely will receive more playing time tonight when the Sioux host St. Cloud State, a team that beat UND by 33 points in their first meeting last month in Halenbeck Hall.

"I'm starting to settle in and I just want to play my role," Harrison said. "I just want to give the team quality minutes and get something done when I'm out there."

Harrison has played in 16 games, averaging 5.9 points.

He's played in two NCC games and his statistics have been impressive. He's averaged 15 points and six rebounds against St. Cloud and Augustana.

"O.J. is more than capable," UND coach Brian Jones said. "He was a huge shot in the arm for us against Augustana. That was our vision of him when he first came here. But it's taken him a while to get into the flow.

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"We're excited to see what he can do the rest of the season."

Harrison, who's cousin, Keon Clark, played six seasons in the NBA, is looking forward to the end of this season and next season.

"We can beat a lot of teams up and down the court," Harrison said. "Our energy (against Augustana) was on another level. It felt really good to get that win. We were struggling."

Harrison hopes to take his game to another level next year.

Like a lot of players, Harrison has had thoughts about basketball after his collegiate career. Now, he's not so sure.

"I've had to rethink some things after my daughter's illness," he said.

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