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MAHONE: Paul Harrison has Clayton State moving in right direction

Derrick Mahone

Derrick Mahone

MORROW — To an outsider, Clayton State’s 8-13 record isn’t exactly how you would want a new era in basketball to begin.

But step into Paul Harrison’s shoes, and he sees things a little different. The first-year Lakers men’s basketball coach would like to see a lot more W’s on the team’s record, but he knows this is a work in progress.

At times this season, the Lakers looked like they could play with any team in NCAA Division II, and they have some wins and close games to back that claim.

There was the upset win over then-No. 24 Georgia Regents University-Augusta. And then the close loss on the road to No. 11 Montevallo.

Throughout the season, the Lakers have been in a position to win most games. But there were the missed free throws, bad passes and inability to make a key defensive story.

Harrison isn’t looking for excuses, and he’s now shying away from the fact that this team is good.

“In some games we just couldn’t finish strong,” said Harrison, a former assistant at Division I Wofford. “We have played well, but we let some games slip away.”

With four games remaining in the regular season, the Lakers will need a strong finish to make the Peach Belt Conference tournament. To do so in his first year would drive positive momentum into next season.

Harrison will have a solid year of recruiting under his belt to bring in his players. But he will be the first to tell you there was nothing wrong for the current group he has on the roster.

It is a combination of transfers that have blended together to learn a new system. They have looked like tournament-caliber players at times. At other times, they have looked like a group that is playing for a new coach, in a new system.

And that is to be expected.

Given time, Harrison can continue to build the team into an elite Division II program. With the metro Atlanta area filled with talented prospect, he won’t have to go far to make that happen.

Harrison has the blueprint it takes to build Clayton State into a contender. He was part of a Wofford staff that went to three NCAA Tournaments. The 2009-10 Wofford squad might have been the best in school history as it compiled a 26-9 record, winning 22 of its last 25 games.

Included in the wins for the mid-major program were victories over SEC schools Georgia and South Carolina. He was also part of a College of Charleston staff that won three conference titles.

In other words, Laker Nation just needs to be patient. The wins will come.

“This team has continued to get better,” Harrison said. “We have become a pretty good defensive team. We just have to take our time and finish strong. We are better than our record says. I’m just looking for the guys to step up and finish. We have to have some focus.”