The moment was at once ridiculous and sublime.
Almost exactly a year ago, with Eastern Washington trailing by 18 points with 7 1/2 minutes to play in a must-win game at Northern Arizona, coach Jim Hayford needed a miracle.
He got more than that: Enter freshman bench-warmer Tyler Harvey, who scored 14 points in the waning moments of a game the Eagles eventually won in overtime, 77-74.
“It was pretty surreal. They were leaving me pretty open, the rim opened up and the shots were going down,” said Harvey, whose fondest memory of the game is being lifted on the shoulders of his teammates in the raucous Eagles locker room.
Best of all, after elevating his game in the rarefied air of Flagstaff, elevation 7,000 feet, Harvey never really has come back to earth.
A year later, Harvey, a redshirt sophomore guard, is the leading scorer in the Big Sky Conference and the offensive engine that drives the Eagles. Going into home games against Sacramento State and NAU, Harvey is averaging 21.1 points per game and shooting 44.3 percent from 3-point range – and ranks 13th in the nation in both categories.
Last year, on the drive from Flagstaff back to Phoenix, Hayford said to himself, “You know, Jim, all of your good players have been overachievers, so why should you be surprised by that?”
Not bad for a late-blooming kid from Southern California who couldn’t get a sniff at a Division I scholarship; that he ended up in Spokane is a story in itself, born of a decades-old friendship between Hayford and Harvey’s father Frank, a college basketball official.
In 1991, Hayford was launching his own career as a coach at Azusa Pacific as Frank Harvey was trying to break into officiating. They met that summer.
In the meantime, young Tyler grew up watching his dad, and wondering whether he’d ever grow past his dad’s 5-foot-8 frame. As a high school freshman at Bishop Mongomery High in Torrance, Calif., he was behind the curve at 5-4.
Then came the growth spurt, more painful than most. En route to growing 10 inches in three years, he had to sit out part of one season “because my bones weren’t catching up,” Tyler Harvey said.
A late bloomer in every sense of the word, Harvey was overlooked by almost everyone.
But in 2010, Hayford – then the coach at Whitworth – was on the same plane flight as Frank Harvey, who had officiated a Gonzaga home game the night before.
Old ties were rekindled, giving Hayford a chance to bring Tyler, then a senior, to Whitworth for a visit.
“We thought he might fall through the cracks,” Hayford said of Harvey, who was rail-thin at 6-foot-2, 150 pounds.
“I liked Whitworth, but my dream was to play Division I basketball,” said Tyler Harvey, for whom the planets aligned again when Hayford took over the program at Eastern.
Along with teammate Parker Kelly, Harvey followed Hayford to Cheney as walk-ons; but unlike Kelly, he redshirted as well.
That made sense. “We had a lot of guards, but I knew that one day I would have my opportunity,” said Harvey, who added 20 pounds as well as some refinements to his game.
Harvey played sparingly until that magical night in Flagstaff, then moved to the front of the depth chart this season. He’s versatile enough to play either guard position – “coach calls me his 1.5 guard,” Harvey said – and shoots 44.2 percent from the field, which is slightly less than his average from 3-point range.
Harvey broke into the Eastern record books twice earlier this season; he hit a Big Sky record 20 of 20 free throws in a home win over Southern Utah on Jan. 9, and tied a school record by making 10 3-pointers (out of 15 attempts) two weeks ago in an overtime win over Northern Colorado.
“I really think the sky’s the limit,” Hayford said.