Ewing. Mourning. Harrington.
Such were the expectations placed upon the nation's #1 high school player in 1992 when he signed with Georgetown University. Othella Harrington was a different kind of athlete, however, and while he never reached the heights of a Ewing or a Mourning, his overall numbers rank among a select group of Georgetown's best big men.
Harrington came to the Hoyas from Jackson, MS, averaging 29 points, 25 rebounds, and six blocks a game, and dazzled the 1992 McDonald's All America game with 19 points and 21 rebounds. He opened his freshman season with similar promise, picking up double figures in points and rebounds in three of his first four games and 20 or more points in five of his first eight. In his Big East debut, Harrington scored 16 points, 13 rebounds, and five blocks versus pittsburgh, following it up with 27 points, 13 rebounds, and five blocks versus Miami. At season's end, Harrington had double figure scoring in 30 of 33 games, double figures in rebounding in 14, and was named Big East Rookie of the Year as a result.
Together with fellow freshman (and high school All American) Duane Spencer, the freshman duo averaged 25.5 points and 15.9 rebounds for Georgetown, but it was not enough to prevent the Hoyas from missing its first NCAA tournament in 15 years. Shooting woes from off-guards John Jacques (36.2% in Big East play) Eric Micoud (34.3%), and Irvin Church (17.9%) hurt the Hoyas down the stretch en route to a 17-12 record. While comparable to an 18-12 record which got the Hoyas into the NCAA's two years earlier, the 1993 team was stung by a sub-.500 conference record and an excessively weak non-conference schedule, with three sub-Division I games.
Despite the NCAA detour, Harrington helped carry the Hoyas to the brink of an NIT championship. He scored 25 points and 18 rebounds in a tough 78-68 win at Arizona State, and picked up 20 rebounds in the next two games with UTEP and Miami (Ohio). Following an 11 point, five rebound effort to lead the Hoyas past UAB in a grueling defensive match, 45-41, Harrington scored 17 points in the NIT final versus Minnesota....and 19 would have won it. On the last play of the game, having held the Gophers scoreless in the final 4:27, Georgetown was figured to get the ball inside to Harrington, but without a shooting guard to lean on, forward Kevin Millen took a long shot from outside, which missed, and a late pass to Harrington was deflected at game's end.
The absence of a clutch shooting guard in 1993 led to a subtle change that slowly diminished Harrington's impact for the rest of his college career. The Georgetown offense began to move away from the "feed the big man" strategy, and focused on up-tempo guard play -- first with junior college guard George Butler, and later with players such as Allen Iverson, Victor Page, and Shernard Long. With the change, Harrington was moved squarely into the pivot, sending the taller Duane Spencer to the bench.
Despite Harrington's 16 point, 15 rebound effort in the season opener, the 26 point debut effort by rookie Joe Smith propelled Maryland to an overtime win, 84-83, and with it, Harrington's mystique as The Next Big Thing began to decline. Despite playing nearly 30 minutes a game, his scoring numbers dropped by about 25 percent for the first half of the season. Entering mid-January, he led the team in scoring in only one game compared to six for Butler, and his relative lack of quickness in the up-tempo offense were a source of discomfort to many fans.
Some of the criticism was based on Harrington's slower reflexes and his habit of putting the ball on the floor rather than going straight to the basket on an interior pass-- the trait of a forward, not a center. With the decision to focus on Harrington as a center having been settled, his play began to improve. He scored in double figures in 14 of the last 15 games that season, with by a 27 point effort against Syracuse, back to back 17 rebound efforts, and a career high 31 at Madison Square Garden against St. John's that proved vital for the Hoyas' NCAA hopes. Harrington won the scoring and rebounding title and was named second team all Big East that season.
The move away from the middle continued in 1994-95 with the debut of Allen Iverson. Harrington's numbers declined further as Iverson dominated the scoring charts. Harrington's 12.2 points and 6 rebounds were career lows, but Harrington never complained or sought to make an issue of it. Instead, he rededicated his efforts for a senior year that reestablished his place on the Georgetown landscape.
Despite as many as four regular scoring options on the floor for the powerhouse 1995-96 squad, Harrington improved his numbers across the board--shooting percentage, offensive rebounds, and free throw shooting--to where he was in 1993. While it was assumed that Allen Iverson would dominate every game, Harrington could put up the numbers as well: in a near-upset to Duquesne, Harrington scored 25 points and 12 rebounds, and had a 23 point effort in a big win over Syracuse. (Harrington was particularly effective against the Orangemen in his career, averaging 17 points and posting three 20+ scoring games.)
Harrington's two best games of his career came late in the 1995-96 season: a 27 point, 10 rebound effort against #15 Memphis, and a 23 point game in the NCAA regional semifinal against Texas Tech. With his 13 point finish against Massachusetts, Othella Harrington wound up his career as a top five player in points, rebounds, and blocked shots.
The early NBA word on Harrington was inconclusive, and he slipped to the first pick of the second round, chosen by the Houston Rockets. Eleven years and five teams later, Harrington continues to be the hard working, productive presence he was at Georgetown. After a peak of 13.1 points and 6.1 rebounds a game in 1999, Harrington averages 7.7 per game for his career, and enters his 11th season as a backup, averaging 2.7 points per game as a journeyman for the Charlotte Bobcats. In each of his prior ten NBA seasons to date, Harrington has shot 48 percent or better, making him a consistent and valuable role player.
In hindsight, the riddle of Othella Harrington's college career can be summed up in one word: position. Harrington was really a power forward in the role of a center. Adept at the 10-15 foot jumper when it availed itself, much of his time was spent muddling in the middle, where he was often outsized by taller players.
Of the 20 high schoolers who played alongside Harrington in that 1992 McDonald's All Star Game, only seven ever made it to the NBA, and only three others are still playing ten seasons later. To his credit, Othella Harrington's dedication and perseverance led him to become one of Georgetown's best big men, and a veteran NBA career which follows to this day.