HOFFMAN ESTATES, Ill. — For BYU freshman Damarcus Harrison, playing in this weekend's Chicago Invitational Challenge will be a homecoming of sorts.
Harrison, a native of Greenwood, S.C., arrived in Provo last summer. Before the season started, he played in a series of exhibition games in Greece with his new teammates. A couple of weeks into his collegiate career, he wasn't able to go home for Thanksgiving. But, in a way, Thanksgiving is coming to him.
The Cougars take on Nevada today (4 p.m., MT, BYUtv), and Harrison's parents, Derek and Wanda, are planning to be here at theSears Centre Arena. And Harrison's older brother, D.J., who is serving an LDS mission in Chicago, is expected to be in attendance as well.
"I've got some tickets for him and my parents," Damarcus said, smiling. "Maybe I'll see my brother in the stands and wave to him. I'll get to see my family. It's been a while. I'm ready to see them. It will be like reunion."
Four games into the season, the 6-foot-5 guard is easing into his role, averaging a modest 11.5 minutes and 5.5 points per game. Harrison's first career points came on a 3-pointer against BYU-Hawaii on Nov. 15. In Tuesday night's 90-51 win over Prairie View A&M, he scored five points, grabbed one rebound, committed three fouls, had one turnover and one steal in 14 minutes of action.
"Really, I just want to score and play hard defense, find people for shots and make plays," Harrison said. "Playing with confidence is probably the toughest thing, just shooting with confidence and playing in a new system, trying to make the right plays."
"Each game he gets better," said BYU coach Dave Rose. "He's playing a lot more aggressive defensively. I think he's a lot better with the ball, especially on attack, to the rim. I think the more he plays, the better he's going to get."
The Cougars (3-1) meet Nevada (3-2) in the first game of an evening doubleheader, followed by a matchup between No. 11 Wisconsin (4-0) and Bradley (3-1) in the nightcap. The losing teams square off Saturday, followed by the Chicago Invitational Challenge championship game between the winners of today's contests.
Nevada escaped with an 80-78 victory over Longwood on Tuesday night. Guard Malik Story poured in 28 points as the Wolf Pack held on for the win. The Cougars defeated Longwood last Friday, 92-60.
"It will be a very competitive game. They have really talented players," Rose said of Nevada. "It will be a real challenge for us. We're looking forward to it."
The last time BYU and Nevada played, the Cougars won in a thriller, 110-104, in the 2009 Las Vegas Classic.
Should BYU play Wisconsin in the championship game, Harrison will see more familiar faces — the Badgers were one of the teams that recruited Harrison out of high school.
"It was real serious. They offered me a scholarship," he said. "They recruited me for a while, but they got two commitments before I committed. It pretty much came down to BYU, Clemson, Wisconsin and Florida State. I know the Wisconsin coaches real well. They used to come watch me play. They're known for how they play. They're in the Big Ten. It's always fun to play competition like that."
Harrison made his collegiate debut in the season opener, a 69-62 setback to Utah State in a raucous Spectrum in Logan on Nov. 11.
"I've seen some crazy fans before. I was excited. I like playing in games like that," Harrison said. "It's fun to get into it with the crowd. I wish we could have gotten the win."
Harrison said making the transition from high school to college can be difficult. "The big thing is getting used to the altitude (in Provo), then just getting used to the guys and a new group of people. And school is a big thing. It's hard. That's the biggest thing about getting acclimated to BYU."
His toughest class?
"History, by far," Harrison said. "I've got a tough teacher. We've had a lot of tests, like four midterms this first semester."
This weekend, he and the Cougars have a couple of challenging tests at the Chicago Invitational Challenge. And BYU is hoping that Harrison feels right at home in front of his family at the Sears Centre Arena.
Cougars on the air
BYU (3-1) vs. Nevada (3-2)
Today, 4 p.m. MT
The Sears Centre Arena, Hoffman Estates, Ill.
Radio: 1160 AM, 102.7 FM