When Penn State interim head coach Jim Ferry was asked to reflect on the development of senior forward John Harrar on Tuesday, he couldn’t help but be candid.
“I’m gonna be a little honest — no, I didn’t think he’d be able to be this good,” said Ferry, a day before the Nittany Lions’ 84-65 senior night win over Minnesota. “He came in as a football player — football body, too — when he got here. … He really worked to transform his body from a football body into a basketball body.”
Harrar, a 6-foot-9, 240-pound Eastern Pennsylvania native, posted 12 points and 11 rebounds against the Golden Gophers. It was his fifth double-double and his eighth time scoring in double figures this season. But it’s safe to say many people — his head coach included — didn’t think he’d be in the position he’s in today as he gets set to wrap up his collegiate career after this postseason.
Coming out of Wallingford’s Strath Haven High School in the Class of 2017, Harrar originally committed to play tight end at Army as a two-star recruit in January 2017 before switching his focus to basketball and committing to Penn State three months later.
“I got extremely lucky,” he said Tuesday, “and I’m very glad that I’m here right now.”
Harrar began his journey as a Nittany Lion by only averaging 1.6 points on about seven minutes per game as a freshman. But, when then-starting sophomore forward Mike Watkins went down with a knee injury late in the season, Harrar got his opportunity.
In Penn State’s final game that season, Harrar scored seven points and grabbed 12 boards to help the Nittany Lions win the 2018 NIT Championship over Utah.
Over the next two seasons, Harrar received sporadic playing time — starting a combined 32 games over his sophomore and junior years — and averaged less than five points and five rebounds.
But, this year, he took a giant step in his progression. Through Penn State’s up-and-down 9-13 season, Harrar has been one of the few points of consistency. He’s averaged career highs across the board: 9.1 points and 8.6 rebounds while playing 24.8 minutes per contest
The same player who came to Happy Valley as an unknown has received conference-wide recognition for being a force to be reckoned with on a nightly basis. Harrar has never cared for that, though.
“For me, it was never about respect,” Harrar said. “It was just about how many wins I can bring to Penn State in my four years here.”
While the stat sheet hasn’t always shown it, Harrar has certainly left his mark on the Nittany Lions’ program. Being a part of an NIT title-winning squad as a freshman and a team that went 21-10 last season — and was likely NCAA Tournament-bound before the coronavirus pandemic prematurely ended the season — has helped him cement his legacy at Penn State.
And although Ferry, who was an assistant coach in Harrar’s first three years, didn’t initially expect Harrar to grow as a player the way he has, he’d be lying if he said he’s all that shocked today.
“Once you got to know John, and really know him, and see him every single day in practice, nothing surprised me in the end,” Ferry said, “because just who he is as a human being, his work ethic, his drive and his unselfish approach to do whatever it takes to become a leader in the program and help the program win.”