June 29, 2014

Harrison the Ultimate Role Player for Team USA

by Matthew DeFranks | LaxMagazine.com | Twitter | World Lacrosse 2014

Though known primarily as an offensive player in his career, Kyle Harrison is a tough defender and looks to make Team USA by utelizing the two-way nature of his game on the defensive half. (Greg Raymond)

Dave Pietramala could see Kyle Harrison's basketball skills translate to lacrosse.

When the Johns Hopkins coach was recruiting the future Tewaaraton Award winner, it was a high school basketball game that sealed his scholarship.

"That was the day we decided the level of scholarship we were going to offer and how we felt about him," Pietramala said. "He just had a fabulous game, offensively, defensively. We felt like with his acumen for basketball, his athleticism and his work ethic, he'd be a perfect fit for lacrosse."

Now, Harrison may have to rely on his basketball skills again to make Team USA's 23-man roster as a defensive midfielder.

The 31-year-old midfielder said his basketball background helps him stay in front of people on the defensive end. LXM Pro Tour and Ohio Machine teammate Peter Baum agrees.

"I've had the misfortune of having to guard him in basketball a number of times and also trying to score on him," Baum said. "His feet are so good, he's so hard to get past. I think he's very aggressive and when he gets in that mode that he just wants to beat you up, basically, in lacrosse, his defense in phenomenal.

"He's just one of those guys you know you're really going to have to earn it against because he's so quick."

While Harrison is mostly known for his exploits on offense, he said flipping the defensive switch will not be new.

"There were days where I played a lot more defense than offense and then there were clearly days where I played a lot more offense than defense," Harrison said. "I'm comfortable playing defense. It's something I've done my entire career."

At Hopkins, where Harrison won an NCAA championship and the Tewaaraton in 2005, Pietramala asked Harrison to close out quarters and games on the defensive end simply because he was good at it.

Harrison is no stranger to multiple roles. He has been a faceoff man and a goal-scorer. He has been a dodger and a shooter. He has been a pioneer and an ambassador for the game in general.

He has been anything that's been asked of him.

"He's willing to assume whatever role he needs to assume," Pietramala said. "He's been egoless. I remember talking to him about Team USA and I said 'You'll have an opportunity to make it as an offensive player but if you don't, you're going to have an opportunity to make it as a defensive player.' His exact answer was 'Coach, I don't care what I have to do. Whatever it takes to make the team and help the team, I'm happy to do that.'"

So what does Harrison need to do to make Team USA? To erase memories of a missed gold medal in 2010, when he didn't make the cut?

"He has to fill a role," said Pietramala, Team USA's defensive coordinator. "The role for Team USA is one that's on the defensive side. Having a player with versatility, a player like him who knows the way we want to play defense because he's played it here, knows the concepts and knows me, that makes the transition a bit easier and provides him with maybe a little bit of an advantage there."

Harrison's versatility on both sides of the ball stands out especially with a thin 23-man international roster.

"You want to have guys that give you versatility because with a 23-man roster, you lose one or two middies to injury and oh, boy," Pietramala said.

But Harrison is much more than an insurance policy — he's a threat in transition with a lethal shot and a scary split-dodge.

"Once he pushes transition, coming down in a four-on-four, nobody's going to stay in front of him," Baum said.

This story originally appears in the June 2014 issue of Lacrosse Magazine. Start your subscription by joining US Lacrosse today!

Harrison will get to test his skills against more stout defenses as he transitions back to the MLL after a five-year hiatus. An agreement earlier this year between Adrenaline, which operates the LXM Pro Tour, and MLL has allowed players to compete in both entities. Harrison, who is based in California, was a co-founder of LXM in 2009, the last year he played in MLL.

"I was hopeful that, at some point, there would be some sort of relationship figured out because I enjoyed my time in the MLL and I missed it," Harrison said. "From the beginning, I've been hopeful there was going to be a relationship between the two."

Nine years after going No. 1 overall in the MLL draft, Harrison again was the top pick, this time by the Ohio Machine in February's special waiver wire draft. But Harrison said he is a different player than he was last time he was in MLL.

"I understand how to play better, if that makes sense," Harrison said. "From angles while playing defense to dodging angles, to understanding slide schemes to understanding where I should go with the ball before it happens, things like that."

Pietramala said Harrison's return to MLL should help him in June, when Team USA will gather again for training camp.

"I think he's shown his commitment to doing whatever it takes and now here he is going back to the MLL, to play at the highest level, to train and be ready going into the last leg of Team USA's training segment," Pietramala said.

Despite the uncertainty surrounding his ultimate fate with Team USA, Harrison said he was not focused on one thing to make him stick out.

"I think the second you start thinking 'I have to do this to stand out' is when you're going to be in trouble," Harrison said. "You just have to go out, listen to what the coaches would like to see and make sure you understand the schemes and then execute the game plan.

"Whatever happens happens after that."

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