Troy Harper was a football player. He wasn’t a basketball player. It was just something to do in the football offseason. He played AAU and he played for his school, but it wasn’t serious. Basketball was merely for fun. Football was his love since he was 5 years old.
He was in seventh grade when his classmate at Greenfield Elementary School asked Troy if he wanted to come to a workout at Philadelphia Catholic League powerhouse Neumann-Goretti. They had been asking about Troy.
It was a good workout. The players were big, strong, and talented. It didn’t mean much to him though, it was merely for fun.
It stayed purely fun until that summer when his AAU coach brought him and some other guys to a Hoop Group camp. Troy Harper entered the camp as a kid who just wanted to enjoy himself. He exited the camp ranked as a top 10 player in the Tri-State area.
Throughout the next year, Troy started focusing more and more on basketball. He noticed that basketball was his calling. In his eighth grade season, he was unstoppable, tearing up the middle school league. He dropped 47 points one game, in a gym that didn’t even have a three point line, continuing to catch the eyes of the Neumann coaches.
After enrolling at Neumann, he decided to drop football altogether. He was too skinny and dedicated to basketball to play the sport that he had once lived by. With his allegiance to football out of the way, he began to fully focus on basketball.
“I was just a little guard,” Troy remembers. He was blazing fast and, as a former running back, he was used to aggressively sprinting full speed through whatever holes in the defense he could find. But he hadn’t yet developed a jump shot and could run out of control. Patience was not in his vocabulary yet. Part of that was because up until the summer going into his sophomore season, basketball wasn’t his life. He knew he was good, but it didn’t consume him.
“I never really had a college basketball dream growing up,” Troy says. “I never really thought about it until sophomore year when I got my first offer.”
He was lucky he chose the right place. At Neumann, he was able to elevate his game, going up against the likes of current Saint Joseph’s sophomore Lamarr “Fresh” Kimble, Towson senior John Davis, and Miami junior Ja’Quan Newton, whom Troy considers the best offensive player he has ever faced.
“I learned how to be patient and wait for my turn,” Troy says. “On the court, try not to go for the home run play because in eighth grade, we were so advanced compared to other kids, so you could go for the home run play and be fine. Then when you’re a freshman, you’re playing against guys older than you, so you have to learn that you can’t always go for the home run play. I learned how to be patient on and off the court.”
Despite their talents as a team, it wasn’t always perfect. The players would go at it every practice, which would sometimes escalate into fights from the intensity.
His junior year, the Saints were one of the top teams in the nation, compiling a 23-6 record and capturing the Catholic League title. Harper played a smaller role, averaging only 7 points per game.
While being patient, Harper found a more spotlight role his senior season. He averaged 12 points per game and scored 379 points, second on the team to Newton. The team, as a result, flourished, and earned national recognition.
“We went to City of Palms in Florida,” Troy says of the tournament. “It threw me off when little kids would run up to us and know our names.”
He helped lead the nationally ranked team to a 27-4 record, along with his fourth Catholic League title and a state championship, earning third team All-State at the same time. Coach Chris Clark, who played at Temple and St. Joe’s Prep, down at Campbell University called, offering him a scholarship to attend the school. Coach Clark and Troy had a bond from the get go. But Clark would only stay for one more year at Campbell, instead opting to become the video coordinator at Temple for the 2015-16 season.
Troy, however, found consistent minutes in those two years at Campbell, playing an average of 22 minutes per game and improving in two major categories of his between the two seasons: two point field goal percentage (32% to 45%) and free throw percentage (60% to 76%). The speedy guard relied on contact and his ability to finish and get to the line for his success, averaging 13 points per game his sophomore season.
“My pick-and-roll IQ has gotten better from having the ball in my hands more,” he says of what he absorbed from his time at Campbell. “I learned not to go for the home run play as much as I did in high school.”
Despite the valuable lessons he learned, Troy didn’t know if he could stay in North Carolina for another two seasons.
“After our conference tournament, it was our spring break so I was home,” he said. “I told my parents that I wanted them to come to more games and we started talking about it then.”
For his family to come and see him more often, however, he had to make the “tough” decision to transfer. When Coach Clark heard, he gave Troy another ring: he had just joined the Drexel staff, which had been rebuilt after the firing of coach Bruiser Flint, and is now ran by former Army coach Zach Spiker. They wanted Troy to come up to Drexel and return home.
With the patience he had learned at Neumann and over the years at Campbell, he made a thorough decision. In the end, he fell in love with Drexel, accepting the offer over another one from Monmouth, and finally returning home so his family could see him play. It won’t be too hard for them to make it from their Southwest Philadelphia residence just 20 minutes away.
Troy will have to continue staying patient though, as he is going to sit out a year due to NCAA transfer rules. Despite that, he is getting ready to go, already working on his standstill jumpshot that the coaching staff wants him to improve. Although he isn’t enrolled and cannot play this season, he likes the system they will have in place and how he fits in.
“Coach Spiker and coach Clark told me that they want to play fast,” Troy says. “That’s what I like to do. That’s how we played at Neumann. That’s how I played my whole life.”
Ever since his days as a running back, Troy Harper has liked going fast.
Photo: Will Bratton
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