Journey brings Wave's Haris a long way



Jan. 29, 2003

This story originally appeared in the Jan. 24 issue of the Times Picayune.
Reprinted by permission.

Sometimes, when the defensive pressure is just a little too intense, or that jump shot isn't as automatic as in practice, Muci Haris remembers how lucky she is.

Tulane's feisty shooting guard, in her first year with the Green Wave, began playing basketball in Hungary at age 9. Her father, Ferenc, was the national coach. The family moved to the tiny country of Luxembourg when Haris was 10 so Ferenc could coach the Luxembourg national team. He also coached his own rising star, teaching his daughter the fundamentals and the fun of basketball, before succumbing to cancer nearly seven years ago.

"I even remember a couple of the last games when he said he almost couldn't walk anymore, and he still came to my games," Haris said. "He was like, 'This might be the last game I can come and watch.' It was just really hard for me to play and know he was sitting up there. . . . I think I took the good things out of it. It was always his dream to come to the States. He never was able to. I think I live his dream right now. Sometimes, I tend to forget how lucky I am."

Haris, who has the second-highest scoring average on the team at 9.0, said she often thinks of her father, and her mother and twin sister still living in Luxembourg.

"I know how my mom and dad wish to be here, sitting there and cheering me on," said Haris, 24. "Sometimes it gets me. And I think that's when my best games come out, when I really think about it."

Haris has been a dazzling contributor for the Wave (12-4, 3-0 Conference USA) this season, her first after transferring from Arkansas-Little Rock. The 5-foot-7 junior has started every game, scoring in double figures in six of them. She's also a bundle of energy on defense, Coach Lisa Stockton said.

"She's an excellent defensive player," Stockton said. "Many times you have a pure shooter who's just that, but I think she's helped our defense tremendously."

With her quick-draw shooting release, Haris has 26 3-pointers to lead the team. Her 40.6 percent shooting from 3-point range is 12th best in C-USA.

One of her roommates is another long-range shooting threat, forward Britt Themann. The two became close friends on Haris' recruiting visit.

"Since Day One, it's been a total blast," Themann said. "Muci's the domestic person."

When Haris is not threading the needle with slick passes at Fogelman Arena -- she's third on the team with 36 assists -- she's threading needles at home. She sews, cross-stitches and latch-hooks. She makes 3-foot by 5-foot rugs, and drapes, too. Haris is Martha Stewart with a jumpshot.

"She always has these little projects," Themann said.

But right now, Haris is proud to put on the olive green and sky blue. She shows it on every dive for a loose ball and every fight through a pick. She should be proud; it was a heck of a journey to get to Willow Street.

After moving to Luxembourg, Haris was placed two grades lower because of the language barrier. While playing in high school, an American coach advised her to move to the United States.

"I was like 'Why would I?' " Haris asked. "He said, 'To go play basketball.' I said, 'I can play basketball here.' He said, 'They'll pay for your school, too.' I said 'Oh, really. Now we're talking!' "

Luxembourg schools go to grade 13. So when she left Luxembourg early, despite passing the American GED test, they said she couldn't go to an American college because she hadn't graduated from high school. She finished in Luxembourg and ultimately ended up in Little Rock, Ark., following a coach from Texas A&M, Tracy Stewart-Lange, who got the head coaching job there.

"I didn't really know a lot about schools," Haris said. "I didn't know the difference between conferences. For me, it was just a school and basketball."

The team had planned on having 10 players. But with numerous European players backing out, the team was depleted.

"We had six players," said Haris, who was named Sun Belt Conference Freshman of the Year. "Two more players kind of helped us out a couple of times. They were on the volleyball team. They just traveled with us so we'd have at least have eight people on the bench."

After two seasons, she started searching for a new home. She found New Orleans. Stockton, who hit the jackpot with transfer Teana McKiver, Tulane's top scorer, got another pull of the lever with Haris.

"That was a real fortunate thing for us," Stockton said. "That was kind of lagniappe for us. It was a really nice surprise. She's such a hard worker. She's so small (5 feet 7) and everything, but she's such a good athlete and very quick."

Or, as Themann put it: "As little as she is, she's big. She's definitely feisty."