The hugs are likely missed the most.
“There was always an embrace when those two saw each other,” Ingraham boys basketball coach Malcolm Mack said of Rams senior center Mitchell Saxen and former assistant coach Chris Harrison.
The last was in March. Harrison died that month at age 42 of a heart attack.
“He was at work (Boeing) and wasn’t feeling good,” North Idaho College coach Corey Symons told The Spokesman-Review. “He left to take himself to Urgent Care and had a heart attack in the parking lot.”
Harrison, a 6-foot-4 center, helped the Cardinals reach the 1997 NJCAA Tournament Final Four. He went on to play at Iona and Lewis-Clark State College.
Along the way, Harrison collected friends at each stop, connecting with Mack through high-school hoops in the Houston area. Harrison was brought on to the Ingraham staff as the junior-varsity coach in 2017 and bonded with Saxen, a 6-10 post.
“He had a good relationship with everyone,” Saxen said. “He was a super funny guy and a player’s coach. We connected with our dedication to basketball and how much we cared about it; goal-driven like that. He was a super-great guy, so it’s really sad.”
Ingraham dedicated its 2019-20 season to Harrison and there has been a scholarship foundation started in his honor. For the Rams’ home game against Cleveland on Dec. 20, the team unveiled new uniforms with Harrison’s initials and No. 24 jersey number displayed.
Players and Mack credit Harrison for helping propel a historic run for Ingraham last year.
The Rams advanced to the Class 3A boys state basketball tournament for the first time in 44 years. Ingraham lost 65-37 to Eastside Catholic in the quarterfinals at the Tacoma Dome and did not place in the tournament, finishing the season with an 18-10 record.
Ingraham got off to a 3-0 start this season and is viewed as a Metro League contender given Saxen and senior guard Coz Collins’ return. The Rams also picked up senior transfers in point guard Maui Sze (Roosevelt), wing Tyrell Moore (Chief Sealth) and guard Oscar Olson (Ballard).
The Rams are 5-5 after the holidays after losing four games to out-of-state teams at the Torrey Pines Holiday Classic in San Diego.
“We wanted to change the legacy of losing,” Collins said of his mindset with Saxen as freshmen when they won seven games. “Last year was good in putting us back on the map. Now we have a target on our back (and Harrison) is our motivation. We’re playing the season for him, so we don’t ever want to take any breaks.”
Saxen, who has signed with Saint Mary’s, has yet to make his senior debut. The three-star center, ranked as the No. 5 senior in the state according to 247Sports.com, suffered a back injury in September. Saxen is projected to return by mid-January.
The injury has helped Saxen work on being a more vocal leader on the sideline. He’s working closely with sophomore Malek Gomma, a 6-6 center, to help fill his position.
“Malek had some injuries that plagued him last year but was pretty dedicated,” Saxen said. “I enjoy working with someone like that way more than someone who’s a little bit better with natural talent but not as dedicated to it. And he’s doing a good job, he knows his role.
“We might not be the strongest early on, but hopefully we can get everyone healthy and ready to go for playoffs and make a run there.”
And if Mack sees any lapses in practice or games, simply mentioning Harrison gets the team refocused.
“I can’t say some of the things that Chris would have said,” Mack teased of Harrison’s spicy on-the-court persona. “We’ve taken the inspiration that he’s given us and really try to put it on the court. … We’re not settling for where we ended up last year.”