TARBORO, N.C. -- Montrezl Harrell has truly arrived.
He leans back in the tan metal chair inside the vacant lobby at North Edgecombe High School, interlocks his fingers behind his head, crosses his legs and smiles.
Perhaps it’s fitting that he’s lounging in the school where he dominated for three years in front of fans who never quite understood why he wasn’t getting much national hype because now the hype machine is about to overheat.
“I’ve always felt like I was underrated,” said Harrell, a 6-foot-8 forward who recently finished his senior year at Hargrave Military Academy (Chatham, Va.). “So it feels good to be getting all of this attention now even if it’s because of things I had no control over. I’m starting all over with my recruitment, and this is a different level, but I like it.”
Harrell, who is ranked No. 89 in the class of 2012 ESPN 100, originally committed to Virginia Tech last March, and was the prize of the Hokies’ 2012 haul -- a relentless workhorse who earned a reputation for his versatility and power dunks.
In February, Harrell threw down 18 dunks in a 122-119 overtime win over Fishburne Military School (Waynesboro, Va.). He finished with 51 points, 17 rebounds and six blocks.
“I was definitely ready to put that kind of work in at Tech,” Harrell said. “I liked it there so much I committed without ever going on an official visit anywhere. I loved Tech.”
That all changed on April 23 when Virginia Tech fired its head coach Seth Greenberg, who, Harrell said, was the main reason he picked Tech.
“Montrezl got really close to Coach Greenberg,” Harrell’s father Samuel Harrell said. “So when he was gone, Montrezl knew right away that he wanted to open things back up.”
Harrell eventually received a release from his scholarship on May 16, which green-lit calls from Louisville, Kentucky, Florida, Alabama, LSU, South Carolina, Xavier, Cincinnati, Auburn, Illinois and Baylor. North Carolina State also expressed interest in Harrell, but due to ACC rules, Harrell would have to sit out one year if he chose to transfer within the conference, unless he’s granted a waiver.
“I was definitely interested in State, but I don’t want to sit a year,” Harrell said. “I’ve got a lot of big time schools recruiting me now. It’s another level.”
Still, don’t get him wrong; Harrell is fully aware that he’s reaping the rewards of the recruiting dust settling.
“Some schools didn’t get the guys they wanted and now here I am,” Harrell said. “Now they want me. I know that. It definitely doesn’t bother me because I’m a confident player. Honestly, I kind of look at it like it’s about time.”
That’s the best approach, according to ESPN.com recruiting analyst Paul Biancardi.
“There’s a reason that he’s in this position,” Biancardi said. “When that kind of size and skill is on the board at this stage of the game you’ve got to have it. True, some teams didn’t get their guy, but he shouldn’t be concerned with why he’s getting the attention now. It’s here and he earned it, but he can’t let the attention get to him.”
Nerlens Noel concurred, and he would know.
As the top player in the ESPN 100, Noel received the recruiting process’s star treatment from some of the same schools before picking Kentucky.
“It can be stressful if you let it,” said Noel, a senior center at Tilton (N.H.). “Montrezl just has to do what’s right for him. Of course I think that’s Kentucky, but no pressure. When you’re getting this kind of attention it’s just a different level.”
Harrell certainly put up high-level numbers to validate the attention.
He averaged 28 points, 13 rebounds and three blocks for Hargrave, whose only loss came to Brewster Academy (Wolfeboro, N.H.), 87-76, in the National Prep Championship on March 7. In two postseason games – the Jordan Brand Regional and Capital Classic -- Harrell averaged 23 points, 10 rebounds and six blocks per game. He took home MVP honors in both.
“I worked hard this year,” Harrell said. “I feel like all this is just a sign that’s it’s paid off. It’s weird having to go through the process all over again. I definitely learned a lesson though, and that’s to hear everyone out. I’m sticking to that plan.”
The short-term plan is to take three visits, the first of which will be to Louisville from May 31-June 2. Harrell has yet to decide which of the other schools will get the last two visits.
“I’ll decide that in the next week or so,” Harrell said. “But, like I said, I definitely want to go through the process because I didn’t do that last time. So nothing’s gonna stop me from doing that.”
Not even if Florida’s Billy Donovan will be his coach at the Team USA U18 National Team training camp in Colorado Springs, Colo., from June 5-12.
“I guess that could be a little awkward since he’s recruiting me now,” Harrell said of Donovan. “But I’ll be OK. I’ll just be down there ready to learn. He’s a great coach. I’m not gonna let anything be stressful about my second recruitment. I’m in the position that I worked hard to be in. I’m happy even if I think the schools caught on late.”
Better late than never.