PLANO – Aurora Christian boys basketball players shared a locker room with Newark and Ottawa, among other teams, during the Plano Christmas Classic.
Emerging from the doors shortly after the Eagles defeated Burlington Central, 63-56, for third place Monday night, ACS senior guard Johnathan Harrell unzipped his duffel and held proof that the Norsemen and Pirates weren’t your average co-tenants.
Newark and Ottawa presented Harrell with team greeting cards after tragedy struck the Harrell family this weekend. Driving home from Plano after watching their youngest sibling compete Friday night, Harrell’s 21-year old brother, Jarred, was killed in a head-on car accident, while his 24-year-old sister, Janella, was in intensive care.
Janella since has taken to “arguing with the nurses and stuff,” per her brother, as she recoups from a concussion and broken tibia that are early roadblocks to what doctors predict will be a full recovery. It’s information Harrell gladly shares with his newfound network of backers.
“It’s real tough going out there. You can’t even say you’re strong. I mean, there’s things that you can’t handle in life,” Harrell said. “It’s just a blessing to have a good, Christian family and a Christian foundation.”
On Saturday, less than 24 hours after the accident, Harrell led the Eagles (9-6) with 15 points while chipping in seven assists and five rebounds in a semifinal loss to Ottawa.
Fighting foul trouble Monday, Harrell played the role of distributor for much of the first half, biding time at the top of the key as teammates worked to set open.
The Eagles benefited from solid success from long range, drilling four 3-pointers before the break and threatening to build a double-digit lead.
A 3 from Central’s Jacob Schutta just before the buzzer brought BC to within 31-26, but that was the extent of the danger – a Schutta 3 that beat the third-quarter buzzer notwithstanding.
“We were a little bit looser,” said Zach Singer, whose 19 points led three Eagles in double figures. “Not as emotional.”
Reed Hunnicutt scored 20 points for 9-4 Central.
Harrell came untracked in the second half. He scored a pair of field goals in less than a minute late in the third quarter – helping ACS grab a 45-32 advantage – and finished with nine points.
In addition to gestures from Newark, Ottawa and the like, Harrell credited sustained warmth from the Aurora Christian community for helping him and his family.
“They give me the power, the courage, to go out there and everything,” Harrell said.
Kaneland senior forward John Pruett had little doubt Harrell would keep his mental edge. After rooming with Harrell for two days during a Team Illinois event in Indianapolis this summer, Pruett knew he’d made friends with a persistent competitor.
Just a few hours removed from helping Kaneland win its consolation bracket finale Monday afternoon, Pruett returned to Plano to support Harrell and watch the championship game between Ottawa and Morris.
He greeted Harrell as he and the Eagles exited the court at halftime. Pruett first came to Harrell’s corner Saturday morning, sending Harrell a tweet hours after hearing of the tragic news.
“I just told him we’re here for you, our prayers go out to you, you’ll get through it,” Pruett said. “And hopefully, he does. He’s a good kid.”