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Tyler Harvey is college hoops' best-kept secret

Eastern Washington guard Tyler Harvey is averaging 22.8 points per game this season. Michael Hickey/Getty Images

The nation’s leading scorer didn’t field a single scholarship offer. For Tyler Harvey, that wasn't just Division I offers.

“No Division II or Division III schools wanted me, either,” said Eastern Washington’s junior guard, who is now the nation's leading scorer at 22.8 points per contest.

Harvey was a scrawny 150-pounder and an undersized shooting guard from Bishop Montgomery High School in Torrance, California, outside of Los Angeles. His slight frame -- and the fact that he opted for family time in the summers over AAU basketball -- had left Harvey way off the recruiting radar. His father, veteran Division I referee Frank Harvey, had become increasingly frustrated by the lack of interest in his son by college coaches.

Then, in November 2010, came a chance meeting in Spokane, Washington. Frank Harvey was returning from officiating a San Diego State-Gonzaga game when he ran into Jim Hayford, the head coach of the Whitworth University Pirates, a team then ranked No. 1 in Division III. The pair had known each other for years, from the days when Frank was working NAIA games and Hayford was an assistant at Azusa Pacific. Harvey did what any proud father would do and performed his best sales pitch. It worked -- Hayford later made a trip to evaluate the younger Harvey in California's state tournament.

“He was so skinny,” Hayford said. “He looked like a long-distance runner for the Kenyan national team. He was awkward and needed to grow into his height.”

But Harvey could shoot it, and that was the type of player Hayford had thrived with at Whitworth. He made it clear he wanted Harvey, and after a visit to the school and virtually no other interest elsewhere, Whitworth was the way Harvey was leaning.

Days later, in March 2011, Hayford got the head job at Eastern Washington. Harvey was left in limbo, wondering whether his dream of playing college basketball was history.

“I’d probably just be a regular student somewhere or would have tried to walk-on to one of the local D-I schools like Long Beach State,” Harvey said.

But Hayford needed players at EWU, and knew Harvey could do at least one thing: make shots.

Hayford met with the Harvey family, and made an offer to Tyler: Come to Cheney, Washington, pay your own way as a walk-on, and sit out your freshman season as a redshirt while trying to develop your body.

“I’d never heard of Cheney or Eastern Washington,” Harvey said. “But it didn’t matter.”

An afterthought, Harvey was redshirted his first season at Eastern Washington. He was a non-factor for most of his redshirt freshman season of 2011-12. But that changed on Feb. 9 at Northern Arizona.

In the second half, with EWU down double digits, Harvey entered and hit 4 of 5 3-pointers, finishing with 14 points in just 10 minutes and leading the Eagles to a 77-74 overtime victory.

“The rest is history,” Frank Harvey said with a laugh.

“I would have played him earlier in his freshman year, but I had some poor coaching on other areas of the team to work on first,” Hayford joked. “Since then, Tyler has thankfully made me look much smarter.”

Harvey parlayed a strong finish to his freshman year into a 21.8 PPG sophomore season, one in which he ranked in the top 13 nationally in scoring, 3-pointers, 3-point percentage and free throw percentage.

That this season was going to be different came early, on Nov. 24 against Indiana, where Harvey dropped 25 points and Eastern Washington (21-8 overall, 12-4 Big Sky) ended the Hoosiers’ 43-game winning streak against nonconference opponents.

Harvey has had rough patches, missing three February games with a thigh injury and going just 12-for-48 from 3-point range in the games since he returned.

“Tyler is an outstanding shooter with unlimited range and has no conscience,” said Weber State coach Randy Rahe, who coached Portland Trailblazers star Damien Lillard in college. “He is one of the best, tough shot-makers we have played against in recent years.”

Harvey is unfazed by the attention. He had no idea he was leading the country in scoring when Hayford informed him in January. He didn't have a clue NBA scouts had been making their way to the small town of a little more than 10,000. Harvey wasn’t a silver-spoon recruit, and that’s why he still doesn’t take anything for granted.

“Such a blessing,” Tyler added. “I never dreamed of doing anything like this."

There's another elephant in the room, one that was welcomed in thanks to Harvey's success both on the floor and in the classroom. He graduates this spring. So he could take a shot at the NBA draft or could even transfer to another school and play immediately due to the NCAA’s graduate transfer rule.

“He could pick his school,” Hayford admitted.

But don’t be surprised if Harvey spurns the big boys when they come calling.

“There’s no reason to leave this place,” Harvey said. “And the only guy who ever believed in me and gave me a chance.”