Final Four Focus provides coverage of the Final Four by standout students enrolled
in the John Curley Center for Sports Journalism at Penn State.
In its inaugural year of an agreement with the NCAA, the Curley Center provides students with the opportunity to work side-by-side with members of the media at the Final Four.
Matt Fortuna, from New York City, has worked for four years at The Daily Collegian, currently serving as arts editor after covering and editing sports for three years. His freelance work has appeared in the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, The New York Times and the Detroit Free Press, among others. Previously, he’s held internship positions at the Altoona (Pa.) Mirror and with MLB.com in Pittsburgh. This summer, he will return to MLB.com as an associate reporter covering the Yankees.
Nate Mink has worked four years at The Daily Collegian, currently serving as a copy editor after providing football coverage the last two years. His freelance work has appeared in The Chicago Tribune, Detroit Free Press and Baltimore Sun, among others. Previously, he’s held internship positions at The Morning Call in Allentown, Pa., and the Philadelphia Daily News. This summer, he will work as an associate reporter with MLB.com in Philadelphia.
By Nate Mink
Special to NCAA.org
HOUSTON — The white towel remained draped around his neck long after his final game in a Kentucky uniform ended in defeat.
Rubbing the shoulder of a teammate who just announced his uncertainty of choosing another season in Lexington over a possible career in professional basketball, the less-heralded senior leader on a team of rising young stars knew what this moment meant.
And how he would’ve given anything to see a last-second 3-point shot fall through the hoop. Not just because it would’ve secured another thrilling win in a tournament full of them.
“It would’ve meant the world,” Kentucky’s Josh Harrellson said. “Even if we wouldn’t have won the national championship, it’s just another chance to come out and compete for Kentucky.”
After four years in Lexington, Harrellson has seen firsthand the adoration Kentucky fans have shown — students walk around campus in jorts, the sometimes disturbing-turned-trendy style popularized by Harrellson’s appearance at a spring football scrimmage dressed in short, tight jean shorts.
It’s why he can envision a life in Lexington if an N.B.A. dream doesn’t come to fruition.
Even a run at governor of the basketball-crazed state?
“Maybe right around the corner, who knows?”
“Great people there, they love you no matter what,” he added. “They’ll always love you even if you’re done playing. I think I’ve become a fan favorite and a lot of people appreciate what I’ve done this year and how hard I worked, so Lexington is always a place I can call home.”
Before his run of success in the N.C.A.A. tournament, where he averaged 13 points and eight rebounds, Harrellson admits his future would likely not involve professional basketball.
On schedule to graduate this spring with a degree in corporate communications, Harrellson didn’t even know what life post-Kentucky hoops would be.
“A lot of people take care of the basketball players in Kentucky,” he said. “They love ’em forever, so hopefully going out and promoting something, getting a spokesmanship for a company. I love to talk to people. I love to meet new people.”
But after his breakout performance in March, the potential employers he’s looking to impress have the initials N-B-A stitched on their shirts. He plans to showcase his talents in front of scouts later this week at the Portsmouth Invitational Tournament in Virginia.
The four-year, albeit sudden, rise to notoriety isn’t lost on his teammates, not even at a school like Kentucky, which regularly exports young talent to the N.B.A.
Because while coach John Calipari continues to stockpile potential one-and-done-esque freshmen, a player such as Jarrod Polson can look at Harrellson and figure out hard work can yield similar results as natural ability.
“He meant a lot,” said the freshman Polson, a former walk on. “Just seeing him from last year to the beginning of this season to where he’s progressed now through hard work is kind of a sign to us that didn’t get to play this much this year that if you keep working hard, good things can happen.”
Harrellson walked down the hallway of Reliant Stadium late Saturday night, his right arm pressed against junior guard DeAndre Liggins’ right shoulder moments after his final game in the blue Kentucky uniform, a fleeting feeling of team. Even if a professional basketball career doesn’t pan out, Harrellson leaves a legacy of the consummate veteran, the kind not soon forgotten in a state that cherishes its hardwood heroes.
Nate Mink is a senior in the John Curley Center for Sports Journalism at Penn State University.