POULSBO — It’s been 44 years since Elgin Baylor played for Seattle University, but he’ll still make time for a Chieftain.
The 11-time NBA All-Star, now an executive with the Los Angeles Clippers, recently spoke about Jim Harney, who was a guard for the Seattle University Chieftains before becoming a longtime coach at North Kitsap High School.
“He was a good player,” Baylor said. “He was intelligent. He had a good feel for the game. And he was a tough competitor.”
Baylor said the qualities that made Harney a good coach were visible even when they played together for the Chieftains.
“He had ability, enthusiasm, a love for the game; there was no reason he wouldn’t be successful, given the right opportunity,” Baylor said.
Across hundreds of miles, the legend chuckled.
“Of course, there are a lot of other things that go with it, too,” he said.
Harney had most if not all of those ‘other things,’ a fact that will be on display June 20, when he will be inducted into the Washington State Basketball Coaches’ Hall of Fame.
Harney retired in 1997 after 24 years at North Kitsap High School and several postseason appearances.
While his teams were often, as Harney puts it, “snakebit” — a high-scoring forward lost 15 pounds due to chicken pox, a point guard broke his foot — they were some of the most competitive teams the Vikings have ever fielded.
The teams were often ranked in the state’s top 10, sometimes in the top five.
Harney feels bad about those breaks (“In those years, we had some hard luck”) but feels great about his ex-players, many of whom have gone on to become lawyers, or doctors. One is in charge of the West Coast Conference of the NCAA; another is a high school principal.
Jerry Hogan, who played for Harney from 1986 to 1990, remembers the coach producing a pair of keys and opening the gym before classes began so the players could get extra shooting.
The high-scoring Hogan bemusedly remembers Harney demonstrating the old-school two-handed set shot, the shot Harney used in college.
He credits Harney with helping him with his shooting. And he credits him for a lot more.
“A lot of things I got from him was teaching people life skills, not just the stuff on the basketball court,” said Hogan, now a high-school coach in Nevada. “Most kids don’t go on to play at another level, but everyone that comes through, you hope they become valuable members in the community.”
Harney grew up in South Seattle, and attended Seattle Prep, where he earned a baseball and basketball scholarship to Seattle University.
The 5’9” Harney excelled as an infielder, eventually playing semipro and playing for two national championships.
One day Harney walked into the gym after a baseball practice and saw one of the Chieftains’ new players, a 6’6” transfer from the College of Idaho.
It was Elgin Baylor.
“He had great vision, great shooting,” Harney said. “He was 20 years ahead of himself.”
With Baylor among the nation’s top scorers, and Harney playing the point guard before the term had been invented, the Chieftains were among the nation’s best, challenging Kentucky for the national championship in 1958.
While playing, Harney helped out his high school coach, Frank Ahern, whom Harney credits with teaching him the fundamentals of basketball.
Harney became an assist coach at Seattle Prep, where he coached several sports until 1968, when he became an assistant basketball coach at the University of Puget Sound.
Then, in 1973, he moved to North Kitsap.
Harney still lives in Poulsbo. He half-jokingly claims that he gets his exercise by chasing his two dogs — Polly and Anna — around the house.
More than anything, he credits his former coaches and his players for the Hall of Fame induction.
He has pored over his speech, making sure to name former coaches like Joe Budnick, John Goodwin, Al Brightman, and Joe Faccone; former players like David Lord, Jerry Hogan, Kasey Dunn, Billy Waag, and Horney’s sons Mike and Tom — almost too many names to name.
“I hate to leave anyone out,” said Harney.
The former point guard, still handing out assists.