It doesn’t matter where she plays — Orange County, Iowa, here in Davis …
Basketball teams are buoyed by the presence of Kelsey Harris.
And if the past is any indication of the future, the UC Davis women and their fans are going to have some real fun down the stretch, and on into the postseason.
“She’s a really special kid,” Aggie head coach Jennifer Gross says of her 3-point-popping swingman. “She brings so many intangibles. Kelsey makes sure the team energy is high. She’s a competitor … she wants to win as much, or more, than anybody out there.
“She just wants to do whatever she can to help the team win.”
In her four years as a starter at Brea Olinda High, Harris’ Wildcats went 122-11 and were the California Division II champions in 2009. Heavily recruited by colleges — including UCD — the 5-foot-10 Harris decided on Iowa State.
While a Cyclone, ISU made back-to-back NCAA postseason appearances but Harris was getting lost in the shuffle. She rarely played more than six or seven minutes and the only people noticing her many on-court talents were attending practices.
Harris, now a junior, remembered how impressed she was by Gross, her staff, the Aggie players and the community of Davis. She decided a move was in order and transferred to UCD, sitting out 2012-13.
“This was closer to home,” Harris told The Enterprise. “I was tired of being so far away. I wanted to play in front of my family and have a bigger role on a team. Oh yeah. It was cold back there, too.
“I feel very lucky. The UCD coaches … They’re a one-of-a-kind staff that you don’t find anywhere else. They really care about you as a person and a player. They have fun with you and each other and that brings a good dynamic to everything.”
Harris could’ve ridden into town with a “Hey-look-at-me” attitude. She was all-state, all-Los Angeles Times southland team and a four-time all-leaguer during her prep playing days.
At Iowa State, she got to perform before crowds in excess of 15,000, playing against big-time opponents like Baylor and Oklahoma.
But from the minute Harris introduced herself as an Aggie, Gross says the real-deal player who got away three years before has asserted herself in positive ways that have earned her a captain’s position in her first season on the roster.
“She’s been such a blessing for us,” Gross continues. “Not just because she can hit threes from the parking lot, but more importantly, because of the kind of person she is.
“Her teammates love her and her coaches love her. She’s fun to have on the team and is one of the most coachable kids I’ve ever had the opportunity to coach.
“She’s committed to improving her own game … but committed to winning and doing whatever it takes for the team to be successful.”
Harris is averaging 11.5 ppg and leads all UCD players in time on the court — more than 31 minutes an outing.
And her 3-point shooting has been eliciting “ooooooohs” around the Big West Conference.
Harris has 55 treys — the most in conference — and her 40.1 percent accuracy on those bombs is the fourth highest percentage on the circuit.
But Harris has more to her game, and she and Gross believe it’s all starting to come together.
At Iowa State, the Cyclones wanted her to blast away from the perimeter. The drive-and-pull up aspect of Harris’ arsenal had been put on hold. Judging from her high school days — and recent Aggie games — she’s also a solid defender.
“At Iowa State, I kinda got sidetracked from all the other stuff I could do, like drive and take those short-range shots,” Harris admits, her pleasant smile again sneaking into the conversation. “I’ve been trying to slowly work those things back in because I’m allowed to do those things now.”
Harris says she’ll always be team-oriented: “I know how to play my role really well — but I’ll take my shot when I get it.”
As word gets out about the threat that is Kelsey Harris, she is finding more and more defensive company on the 3-point line. Adjustments are constantly being made.
“I’ll have to cut harder,” she says. “Find a way to get open … coming off my screens. My teammates set very good screens. I need to use them.”
The daughter of Dean Harris of Las Vegas and Orange County resident Melissa Gifford, Kelsey credits her 25-year-old brother Tyler for helping develop her fearless court sense.
“He knocked me around a lot,” sis says of driveway games with her brother.
So, with UCD at 4-3 and in fourth place in the Big West (9-11 overall), what’s ahead for Team Aggie? Is this a squad that can win conference, or at least get a good seed in the postseason BWC tourney?
“Yes. I’ll answer the question simply,” Harris replies. “It’s going to take a lot of work, but I think we can do it. We’ve shown we have that potential … (even in losses), we’ve been right there.”
Harris lives off campus with teammates Sydnee Fipps, Idit Oryon and Lauren Beyer. As serious as Harris is on the court, Fipps says her pal is somebody who keeps it loose away from basketball.
“I’m goofy, she’s goofy,” Fipps says with a laugh. “We have a lot of fun together … in the off time we’re just messing around all the time.”
But on the court, it’s a different story.
“(Kelsey) is one of those players who brings so much energy every day,” Fipps explains. “I’ve never seen her have an off day (in games or practices). She’s such a vocal leader and brings that energy.
“It is spectacular to see.”
Aggie fans know exactly what Fipps means.
Notes: Fipps says it’s getting hard for teams to double both Harris and herself and that the emergence of point guard Molly Greubel and post Alyson Doherty — with the steady play of forward Celia Marfone — is providing problems for league opponents. … Upon high school graduation, Harris had her No. 3 at Brea Olinda retired. … One last thing: “The No. 1 thing about Kelsey is her consistency, positive attitude and work ethic,” Gross says. “It seems like everybody has an off day. Kelsey doesn’t.” … Harris scored a career-high 19 in a 84-78 loss to Sacramento State on Dec. 28. A week later she canned 17 in a win over Simpson, so the Aggies know those points are there if needed. … Some of Harris’ teammates at Brea Olinda included Cal Poly guard Jonae Ervin and California’s Justine Hartman. Harris’ California Swish AAU roster included Stanford’s Bonnie Samuelson.
— Reach Bruce Gallaudet at email@example.com or 530-320-4456.