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Scott G. Winterton, Deseret Morning News
Mountain View's Michelle Harrison, who will play college basketball at Stanford, is this year's Deseret Morning News Ms. Basketball.

A little girl was asking Michelle Harrison for her autograph in the same gymnasium where, just a few minutes earlier, parents heckled the teenage basketball player any time she missed a shot or made a mistake.

While they yelled about her not looking much like an All-American, little girls were telling her they wanted to be like her someday.

That's what being a superstar is like. People look at you with envy and admiration and talk about you with compliments and criticism. You are constantly being measured, tested and scouted. If you are as good as they say you are, you aren't allowed to be mortal.

This year's Deseret Morning News Ms. Basketball has earned nearly every accolade a high school player can — including being named a McDonald's All-American. And while the one goal she set for herself this season eluded her — a state title — that doesn't change how she feels about her prep career. She does not hear or see the hecklers; she only sees the smiling little girls, the possibility, the opportunity.

"I feel so lucky," said the 6-foot-2 Mountain View forward, whose senior year was peppered with experiences like signing with Stanford in October, breaking the state's blocked-shots record in December, helping her teammates deal with the controversial loss of their head coach in January and leading her teammates to a region title and second-place finish in the 5A state tournament in February.

"I dreamed about it when I was younger, and I wanted it, but I never thought I'd be here. I'm very, very grateful. I don't think I'd change anything — even losing the state game. It has all made me a better person and a better player. I've met a lot of great people through the process, and it has all been a great experience."

Harrison played in 94 games in her high school career, scoring 1,682 points, which is fourth most all-time. She had 1,053 rebounds, which is second all-time in the state. She's now No. 1 in career blocked shots with 463.

In her senior season, she scored 674 points, with a 17.8 points-per-game average and a 53 percent field-goal percentage. She averaged 11.9 rebounds, 3.6 assists, 2.4 steals and 4.9 blocked shots per game. She was an adidas All-American twice, was invited to participate in USA Basketball's development festival and was named a Street and Smith's All-American two years in a row.

For some, carrying the expectations of others would be a burden, but Harrison sees it as an honor. She's done it for so long, and just like those double- and triple-teams down low, she doesn't know any different.

"It's just my life," Harrison said when asked what it was like to have hundreds of college coaches e-mailing, calling and writing. "Sometimes it seems surreal, and a little overwhelming, but I know I'm getting an opportunity not a lot of players get. I'm just trying to enjoy it."

She navigated the recruiting process with the same grace she displayed over and over when the fans, parents and sometimes coaches of opposing teams would harass and belittle her.

"People are just so overly dramatic about it," she said with that teenage giggle. "It really never bothers me."

Older sister Kara Harrison has been Michelle's club coach for the last three years and has taken her around the country with her Utah Sky basketball program. Not only did that introduce the world to "the girl from Utah" but it also showed Harrison what was possible for her if she worked hard.

"She was like a little pony at first," Kara said. "She had to grow into her body . . . She'll be successful because she has all of the intangibles. She has it all: size, skill, athleticism and she has the desire. Her golf game has taught her composure and she's never allowed (the hype) to consume her . . . If she had, she would have negated her growth."

While her family cringes when they hear some of the things people say about her, Harrison just shrugs them off.

"I think Michelle is really amazing," Kara said. "It's not always fair, but she realizes she's been given a lot and that's what she focuses on. She's going to do whatever she sets her mind to because she has the heart of a champion. She just says, 'I'm going to have to deal with this and it's OK.'"

Harrison's high school career began at Lehi in 3A. She showed up to a camp that then first-year coach Mike O'Connor advertised for future Pioneer players.

"She showed up and I knew we were going to be good," O'Connor, now an assistant at Mountain View, recalled. "I was taller than her then, but she was already playing well against the older kids . . . I never thought she'd get to where she is, but I knew the future was going to be good."

Harrison was named the 3A MVP as a sophomore, but she didn't care about the individual award. She wanted only one thing — to lead her teammates to a title. When O'Connor was caught up in a controversy with parents at Lehi and eventually fired, Harrison decided to leave the school rather than deal with the insults and complaints of those same players and parents on her own.

She chose Mountain View because she knew some of the players from summer camps, and she hoped to find teammates and a student body who would just love and accept her as part of their community.

"The thing she cares about most is being around girls she cares about and enjoys playing with," O'Connor said.

She found acceptance among her new teammates and classmates, but the drama would continue as her new high-profile head coach, Dave Houle, ran into trouble with the Utah High School Activities Associations for comments he made to one of its members. He was suspended for five games at the beginning of this season and then retired from teaching and coaching amid more controversy in January.

"Those who didn't experience it as part of the team," said Harrison, "will never know how hard all of that was."

Through it all, coaches and administrators turned to Harrison to bring the players together and help them salvage their season. She didn't disappoint, helping the team come back from its first region loss since the late 1990s to earn a region title. Then they went to the state tournament, where the Bruins lost to Skyline.

Harrison's only regret was that she felt she'd let her teammates down. If she was the state's best player, why couldn't she give the girls she loved most the one thing they all wanted above anything else?

"I've made peace with that," Harrison said. "It was really hard at first, and every time someone brought it up, it would bring back the regret. But I have to move on."

She is moving on in a big way. In two weeks she'll represent Utah women for the first time in the McDonald's All-American Game in San Diego. She will register for Stanford's summer school program in April.

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"I've gotten a lot of opportunities, and I hope it all makes me a good person," she said. "I think I'll always be who I am."

Her favorite memory of her high school career is, "my whole senior year. I just enjoyed the company of my team, even going through the hard stuff. I have the memories of how we pulled together and then did so well at state."

A local McDonald's will throw a party for Harrison and her teammates on the eve of her departure to San Diego. That was her request — a way for them all to share in an honor.

O'Connor said his favorite memory is simply knowing Harrison.

"It's a coach's dream to coach a player of Michelle's caliber," he said. "My best memory is just who she is . . . the culmination of everything. She's unique. She's the kind of player who keeps us in coaching."


E-mail: adonaldson@desnews.com