The Rebels' Mad Bomber
March 6, 2003
By Will Bardwell
Some Ole Miss basketball fans call Aaron Harper "The Assassin," but if stealth is a requirement for that nickname, Harper may soon be in need of another moniker.
That's because Harper, a native of Jackson, Miss., is no longer a secret weapon. Instead, the 6-foot-7 junior has become one of the Rebels' top scoring threats and one of the hottest three-point shooters in the nation.
The mild-mannered Harper said his recent successes haven't affected his personality on or off the court.
"I pretty much like to let my play do the talking," said Harper, who plays at both the small forward and off-guard spots. "If I make a certain play or make a big shot, I do get excited about the situation. But pretty much, I let my play do the talking."
Ole Miss' opponents are listening. Through Feb. 1, Harper was averaging 13.8 points per game and shooting a scalding 48.4 percent from three-point range-good enough for first in the SEC.
He also exploded for a career-high 28 points against Alabama on Jan. 21 in front of an ESPN audience in a game that he calls the highlight of his career. The Rebels posted an impressive 76-57 win over the Crimson Tide.
"It was on national TV and they were a ranked team," said Harper. "It probably doesn't get much better than that."
Harper then followed the Alabama game with a 14-point, 5-rebound, 8-assist performance in the Rebels' victory over Arkansas Jan. 25. The 8 assists were a career best, and his play that week not only earned him Southeastern Conference Player of the Week honors, but also drew praise from Ole Miss head coach Rod Barnes.
"Aaron is difficult to guard," said Barnes. "He went into the LSU game (Jan. 18) shooting 50 percent from the three, and you saw what happened against Alabama, and they put several guys on him. Arkansas came out and took the three (point shot) away from him, but he put the ball on the floor and made passes. He is now able to put the ball on the floor and make baskets.
"I don't know if he is unguardable, but he is difficult to guard. I have visited with him, and he told me that he could get better with some more work. With that type of attitude, he'll become unstoppable if he keeps working hard."
Harper's increased offensive production isn't the only noticeable change he's made. This season, he traded in his old No. 5 jersey for No. 1.
The reason for that change, Harper said, is clear.
"Obviously you've have to be kind of good to wear No. 1," he said. "I feel like if you're wearing No. 1, you've got to bring your A-game every night. I challenged myself, since I am wearing No. 1 now, to just play well every night."
Always quick to credit his successes to those around him, Harper said coming up through the Ole Miss program with fellow Provine High School graduates David Sanders and Justin Reed made his own transition much easier.
"My high school coach (and current Rebel assistant coach), Coach (Wayne) Brent, prepared us well for this situation," said Harper. "Coach Barnes is a great guy to be around and a good coach, and it's an honor to be here. I thank those guys for taking me under their wings."
It's the memories of his days at Provine High School that gave Harper the idea for a new nickname, now that his "Assassin" label may have become outdated.
"I prefer 'The Mad Bomber,' since that's what I went with in high school," said Harper. "Since people say I'm quiet, and I don't make too many expressions, they say I look mad."
It's that same quiet determination that keeps Harper from becoming complacent.
"I'm never satisfied," he said. "I believe I need to improve more on my shot, my ball handling skills, and my defense. You can get better in all aspects of the game. My teammates and I just try to get better every single day."
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