Hempfield grad Kason Harrell helping put IPFW on map
Outside of the state of Indiana, IPFW barely exists.
But Kason Harrell is helping to try to change that perception on the basketball floor. If you've been tuned in to some of the seemingly endless games on TV night after night, you might have caught the former all-state guard from Hempfield flashing across the screen.
The 6-foot-2 junior is thriving at IPFW, where he's the team's second-leading scorer (13.3) and finished last season fifth in career 3-point percentage for active Division I players at 45.3 percent.
“It's a good fit. He loves the school, the team, the coaches and the professors,” said his dad, Louis “Rick” Harrell. “He's very settled there.”
Kason Harrell lost a tooth when he took an elbow from a Kentucky player in November but still managed four 3-point shots in an 86-67 loss to the Wildcats.
Against Indiana — Yes, Indiana. Does IPFW sound familiar now? — it was Harrell's 3-pointer in the final seconds of the first half of a 92-72 upset of the Hoosiers that kept IPFW within a point of the lead at halftime.
Harrell shot 6 of 11 from 3-point range and finished with a career-high 28 points in that game for IPFW, which refers to itself more and more as Fort Wayne.
It was the second time in as many years that Harrell and IPFW knocked off cross-state giant Indiana. In last season's 71-68 overtime victory, the Mastodons took the lead for good against then-No. 3 Indiana on a Harrell basket early in the second half.
He finished with 13 points, including a key 3-pointer in overtime.
“We've been saying since the IU game that we don't want that game to define our season,” Harrell said. “We kind of did that last year. We didn't look forward to what we were able to accomplish. We weren't able to make the NCAA Tournament. This year, that's our focus.”
IPFW finished 20-13 in 2016-17, splitting a pair of games in the Collegeinsider.com Tournament.
It was at the AAU national showcase in Louisville, Ky., where Harrell caught the attention of IPFW coaches. He also was courted by North Carolina-Wilmington.
“He's very similar to a lot of the recruits we get in here,” IPFW coach Jon Coffman said. “His situation isn't unique to us, the fact that he didn't know anything at all about us. We've done a really good job of getting guys from the state of Indiana, but when we go outside of our region, we need to sell ourselves. We've got a great campus, which helps.”
IPFW, a member of the Summit League, stands for Indiana University Purdue University Fort Wayne. The Mastodons (12-7, 1-1) returned home Sunday from a two-game road split against Oral Roberts and Denver, where Harrell shot 7 of 12, including four 3-pointers Saturday in an 82-63 victory.
“The funny thing was when IPFW first contacted me, I didn't know anything about them,” Harrell said. “I wasn't really going to give them the time of day.”
But after his dad encouraged him to “see what they're all about,” Harrell found IPFW won 25 games in 2013-14 — his junior year at Hempfield but lost in the Summit League tournament.
“I thought, ‘Wow, they're Division I. They're serious.' They almost got to the NCAA Tournament, which is a dream of mine,” Harrell said. “The day we came back from a visit, I'm in the car praying, ‘God, is this where you want me to go?' And I was getting a good feeling.”
Soon after, he committed.
“Anything good that you see in Kason, my wife and I don't take any credit for that,” said Louis Harrell, who, along with his wife, Terri, works in evangelism at Calvary Chapel of Westmoreland County. “That is all the Lord. Our job was to introduce him to the Lord, and yes, he's always been a very humble kid. We all prayed about where he would go and asked God to send him to the right school. We wanted him to flourish on and off the floor, and that is exactly where the Lord has put him.”
For Kason Harrell, IPFW has been a blessing. Coffman calls Harrell “a consummate teammate.”
“When I lost my tooth,” Harrell said, “I came over to the bench and was like, ‘Did we get the turnover? Did we get a charge out of it?' Somebody said we got the turnover but not a charge. I was like, ‘OK, so we didn't get a foul on it but we did get the turnover. OK.' ”
But afterwards, he was reminded of reality.
“My mom wasn't happy,” he said. “She was at the game (at Kentucky), and the first thing she said to me afterwards was, ‘Why don't you wear a mouthguard?' I wear one now.”
While Harrell's offense flourishes, he's become productive on the defensive end.
“He's got a pro work ethic. More often than not, he's on the team's best player,” Coffman said. “If you would have said to me when he got here that he'd be on the opposing team's best player, I would have chuckled three years ago.”
After averaging 25.2 points as a senior and 23.9 as a junior at Hempfield, Harrell played sparingly in his freshman year at IPFW. A year later, he started 29 of 33 games with a season-high 21 points against Austin Peay.
Harrell's offseason workouts included a total of more than 40,000 shots. He said he put up more than he could count during one late-night session on campus and couldn't feel much of his arm the next day.
“It was actually one day where I didn't feel bad that I didn't do anything,” he said. “I needed to recover.”
Dave Mackall is a freelance writer.