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The Legend: John Harrar

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The beauty of college sports.

NCAA Basketball: Nebraska at Penn State Matthew OHaren-USA TODAY Sports

This is the first basketball column I’ve ever written here.

Not to make this about me, but I just want to put this into perspective: I am not the biggest Penn State hoops fan. Sure, I watch some of their games and certainly root for the team, but I am not one of the psychos (I say this lovingly) that lives and dies with Penn State basketball. I mean, at this point, I can’t do that to myself. So generally speaking, I leave the basketball things to Tim, Eli, Marty, and Lando — the “psychos” who watch every game.

But I felt compelled to write about John Harrar for all he has done for this program. And I get that a lot of other fan bases would scoff at the notion that this scrappy, grinder means this much to Penn State basketball, but I would respond to them this: you don’t get it. Penn State basketball is not flashy. It is not sexy. It is not easy. But you know what it is? It’s for those who don’t quit. For my entire lifetime this program has struggled to be much of anything. I am 28 years old and as a sports fan, I have seen one Penn State March Madness game: 2011, Temple. I skipped school (blame my mom she let me!!!) to finally see the Nittany Lions partake in March Madness. They lost, of course, on a heart-breaking buzzer-beater but in the grand scheme of things that didn’t matter because finally Penn State was there. Since then, Penn State had close runs in 2018 and 2020: the former being a Josh Reaves administrative issue away from dancing and the latter being a literal global pandemic.

I mention all of this to say: being a Penn State basketball supporter isn’t for the faint of heart. To quote the great Des’ree in “You Gotta Be”...

You gotta be hard, you gotta be tough, you gotta be stronger
You gotta be cool, you gotta be calm, you gotta stay together
All I know, all I know, love will save the day

Take any of those descriptions above and it fits with Penn State basketball and all it entails. Nobody has exemplified that better than John Harrar. Whether it’s the toughness, the strength, the calmness, or — most importantly — the love, Harrar has meant everything to this program. His play on the court showed this tenfold, but in my opinion, it was everything off the court that makes him a legend,

Let’s say the names: Jamari Wheeler and Myreon Jones. They made their decisions and they had every right to do so. The moving on from Chambers and the answers Penn State’s administration had in the aftermath were apparently not great and upset the team as a whole greatly. Those guys had every right to feel the way they did: untrustworthy of those in charge.

But despite all that, Harrar stayed in Happy Valley. His decision could be summed up simply: “I couldn’t leave this place,” Harrar said last spring. “I’ll play 1-on-5 if I have to. I’m playing in a Penn State uniform.”

That type of commitment resonates in an era where jumping from team to team is at an all-time high. Harrar had his opportunity to pick a Top 25 program with much better chances at NCAA Tourney hopes. He could be gearing up for an exciting Selection Sunday. But in the end, there was too much Penn State in Harrar to leave.

Of course, John Harrar was not alone in this. Myles Dread, Seth Lundy, and Sam Sessoms made similar decisions — and hopefully, will make similar decisions this offseason — and their commitment to Penn State should be commended too. But from the outside looking in, it’s clear that Harrar was the emotional leader of the team. He was the heart and soul of Penn State basketball, and despite the fact his career will end without an NCAA Tournament appearance, he has set this program up for years to come.

Make no mistake about it: Penn State will go to the NCAA Tournament under Micah Shrewsberry. Although John Harrar won’t be on the roster for that game, the appearance will have been built on his back. The humility he showed. The passion he played with. The love he had for this school.

Thank you, John. Penn State forever, indeed.