Despite odds, students strive to become Division I athletes



By Kelly Saberi and Kunal Kohli

It is a Friday night, and only Tori Harris and the security guard can be found inside of Half Hollow Hills West High School. She glides across the hardwood of the red and gold gym in her pastel-colored Nikes. Standing at 5 feet 10 inches tall, Tori waits with her hands ready for the basketball to pop out of the shooting machine.

Her dad is looking for more basketballs. “We’re right here working,” Torrel Harris said.

He has been through this before with his five other children. Four of his kids have made it to at least the college level and his son Tobias plays for the Detroit Pistons. His last one, Tori, considered by some to be the best of the family, is being recruited by schools like Elon, Albany, Iowa State and Auburn.

According to NCAA statistics, only 1.1% of high school athletes will go on to DI women’s basketball. For men’s basketball, only 1% of them will compete in DI.

The chances of the Harris family children making it where they have, especially in the same sport, are slim, Theresa Tiso, former “Sociology of Sport” professor at Stony Brook University and scouting expert said . Each kid needs to have his or her own individual desire to pursue the sport.

“I can only imagine what a backyard basketball game would have been like at their house,” Bryan Dugan, the Hills West girls varsity basketball coach, said.

Of the almost 1,000 kids that she saw in her career, only about 50% of them were DI material, Tiso said.

“In any family dynamic you can’t push them to become the best if they don’t already have it,” she said. “You can’t compete at that level just because someone is making you do it. At some point you’ll just stop.”

Tori said she has two goals: to go to college on a full ride and to graduate.

With only 15 scholarship spots open, DI schools do not just take athletic ability into account, but academics as well. So Tori’s chances of getting a scholarship rest on both her 24.7 points per game and her 3.85 grade point average.

But scholarships might not even cover the entire cost of a college education. In DI, the average women’s basketball scholarship is $15,471. Other divisions give less to their athletes.

When they get to school, it can be hard to keep up with academics, NCAA states on its webpage. The graduation rate is only 84% for athletes over a six year period, as opposed to the traditional four year route. If students are receiving athletic scholarships, they only have five years of financial aid, according to NCAA guidelines.     

Student athletes need to balance being a full time athlete and a full time student.  According to the NCAA’s GOALS study, the average time commitment devoted to athletic pursuits for athletes in 2015 was 34 hours per week. Students travel for games and rarely see their families, requiring a certain mental toughness.

Dugan has seen this drive in four of the Harris kids. He has been coaching at Hills West for 10 years, nine of which were spent with the boys’ team. This is his first year coaching the girls. Dugan can see reflections of each brother in Tori’s technique.

“Tobias was tenacious. His competitiveness, his leadership skills, his drive to win, that’s there,” Dugan said. “Terry had a beautiful jump shot. Tori’s got that same jump shot. Tyler had a tremendous first step and Tyler was a great, great, great, defender.”

But Tori has a strong shot at getting to DI. Her family’s legacy rests on the walls of the gym at Half Hollow Hills West High School.

“[Hills West] retired my brother’s number, he was 12,” Tori said. “I wear 12 too cause I didn’t want to be the only one that didn’t wear 12. My brother Terry wears 12. Tyler wears 12. I’d want my jersey retired too.”