Looking to put the program on the right track, TJ Harris enters his first season at the helm of the Northland Prep Spartans girls basketball team.
A former All-Frontier Conference point guard at the University of Great Falls, Harris knew he wanted to coach early on and found an opportunity after moving to Flagstaff.
“I knew since I was younger that I wanted to coach; I tell everybody that I teach so I can coach,” said Harris, who teaches chemistry at Northland Prep. “It’s kind of the same job, they relate to each other very well. I really love teaching and it meshes well with coaching.
“I had the keys to my team,” added Harris, who averaged 14.6 points and 4.0 assists per game as a senior at Great Falls. “So it is nice to have the keys to another one, just in a different position.”
With a combined record of 8-44 over the past three years, while bouncing between different conference and division alignments, Northland Prep has struggled mightily since a 7-10 record in 2013-14. After playing with a roster that included four freshmen and two sophomores a year ago, Harris has five sophomores and two freshmen on the 10-girl varsity roster. The program’s junior varsity team includes another four sophomores and five freshmen.
With the school’s other girls teams finding plenty of success -- the girls soccer and cross country teams won state titles in the fall -- Harris said he hopes to build on that in the basketball program as well. Junior Emma Blair, an All-2A Conference forward for the soccer team, is among the team’s returners from a year ago.
“We are trying to speak the same language that they are used to. I’ve got girls on the soccer team and they are saying check left and check right, we are introducing that,” Harris said. “Maybe we are looking that way or cutting, but at the same time trying to speak their language so we can get it to translate as fast as we can. We have got some athletes here, we are just really trying to change the reputation and the attitude toward the girls basketball program.”
A native of Montana before attending college in the state as well, Harris said he landed in Flagstaff because his wife is enrolled for her master's degree at Northern Arizona. A former Northland Prep player herself, Harris said there is plenty of motivation to bring the Spartans back to the state tournament as they were when his wife attended the school.
Northland Prep opens the season at home against Tuba City on Nov. 25 at 5:30 p.m. Two more freedom home games follow, against St. Johns Nov. 28 and Holbrook Indian School Nov. 30, before the Spartans open Central Region play at Chino Valley Dec. 8.