"For former Marshall coach, basketball helps reassemble a shattered life"
Shawn Harrington and Patrick Beverley have a West Side upbringing and Marshall High School basketball in common, along with a belief that ferocity trumps finesse in the game they love.
Beverley, cornerback-quick and linebacker-strong at 6-foot-1 and 185 pounds, has been proving the point in the NBA playoffs, the hard-edged leader of the Rockets' success in negating the triple-double firepower of the Thunder's Russell Westbrook.
That his protege's offensive punch would surprise the TV commentators brings a bemused smile to Harrington's expressive face. He coached Beverley at Marshall and has known the 28-year-old point guard since Beverley was a "shorty" learning the game on West Side playgrounds, where toughness was a requirement.
"Pat led the state in scoring his senior year at Marshall," Harrington recalled. "He played both sides of the ball — in the (Public League) Red West you had to. And once he got to the NBA, he realized he was only going to stick if he became a lockdown defender. But Pat was always a scorer."
Harrington, 41, was a Division II All-American at Northwest Missouri State, where he landed after playing at Mineral Area (Iowa) Junior College, then New Mexico State following graduation from Marshall in 1993. A 5-11, 170-pound frame deemed too slight for the rigors of pro ball curtailed his NBA aspirations, so he returned to the West Side and went to work in a community under siege, coaching hoops and serving as a classroom aide to special-ed students at Marshall while helping raise his daughter, Naja.
Harrington sees some of himself in Beverley, though it's hard to draw the parallel as he sits in his wheelchair inside a bustling West Side diner. On Jan. 20, 2014, he was driving 15-year-old Naja to school in a white rental car while his blue truck was in the shop for repairs. Two gang bangers mistook the car for a vehicle linked to an earlier shooting at the same Humboldt Park intersection.
As they opened fire, Harrington instinctively dived atop Naja to protect her. A bullet pierced his lower back and severed two vertebrae, leaving him paralyzed from the waist down. Naja was traumatized but unhurt. She's now a dean's list freshman at Illinois State.
Three years later, on Jan. 19, 2017, Cedryck Davis and Deandre Thompson were convicted of attempted murder and aggravated battery. They await sentencing, but whatever they get cannot possibly be as harsh as the profoundly altered future Shawn Harrington faces.
Basketball has been his lifeline. Rus Bradburd, the coach, professor and author who recruited Harrington to New Mexico State, reached out after the shooting and has been his advocate ever since. An article in the New York Times led to an interview with Bryant Gumbel and a sobering story on HBO's "Real Sports" that noted basketball no longer offers refuge from Chicago's gun violence.
Harrington knows: Five former Marshall players have been killed on city streets in the three years since his shooting. Two others suffered nonfatal gunshot wounds. Harrington's mother was a victim in 2003, killed by burglars when she walked into a neighbor's home as they were robbing it.
When I went away to school, my mom said she hoped I wouldn't come back because the violence was so bad," Harrington said. "Now it's worse."
Beverley managed to stay clear of it, and for that he credits his mother, Lisa, as well as Harrington and fellow coaches Lamont Bryant and Courtney Hargrays. They were enablers for his basketball passion.
"I have friends who are in jail now," he told the Houston Chronicle. "I have friends who got shot, friends who died, friends who got mixed up in drugs. A lot of people I know."
Bradburd's book on Harrington, "All the Dreams We've Dreamed: Hoops, Handguns and Hope on Chicago's West Side," will be out later this year. At Bradburd's insistence, Harrington will share in the profits. New Mexico State, where Bradburd teaches creative writing, invited Harrington to a game in January and staged a fundraiser while he was in Las Cruces.
"Rus Bradburd is a beautiful man," Harrington said. "I wouldn't be here today doing what I'm doing if not for him. He wouldn't let me quit on myself."
Through Bradburd, former LSU coach Dale Brown has also become a supporter. Harrington was Brown's guest at the 2016 Final Four in Houston, where he spoke at a coaches clinic, met dozens of basketball luminaries and left with a check for $40,000 from Brown and Shaquille O'Neal for the purchase of a wheelchair-accessible van painted basketball orange.
Brown continues to call regularly and texts almost daily with inspirational messages such as "Adversity only visits the strong. It stays with the weak."
"Shawn never asked me for anything, but I want to help him because I find his attitude, his courage and his spirituality monumentally inspiring," Brown said from his home in Baton Rouge, La. "I love this kid. I can't imagine facing a terrible situation with as much courage as he has."
There's no hint of sorrow or self-pity in Harrington's voice as he discusses what's next for him. The support he receives strengthens his resolve to continue the work that drew him back to the embattled community he calls home.
He'll continue coaching his Beverley-sponsored youth team, the Pat Bev Hoyas, insisting his players become true student-athletes, "maybe good enough to get their college paid for because education is the key to success in life."
Marshall remains close to his heart. Last week Harrington promoted a benefit doubleheader at the school to raise money for the family of Hargrays, a Marshall teammate and classmate who died in a car accident in January. Arthur Agee and fellow members of Marshall's 1991 "Hoop Dreams" squad participated, as did players from the 2008 state champions and 2010 third-place finishers.
Harrington was gratified by the turnout; more so by the number of his former charges who seem headed toward success in life.
"You're expected to win at Marshall," he said. "It's what you do afterwards that really matters. To see so many guys coming back with their degrees, doing well, being productive — that's what it's all about for me. It was awesome to see the kids mature into good young men."
Harrington is discussing a position as a restorative justice counselor with Chicago Public Schools. He would work with youngsters on resolving conflicts and considering consequences before they turn violent.
"Think before you act," he said. "Don't just lash out. Kids are killing each other over Facebook posts. That behavior has to change."
As he works at reassembling a shattered life, Shawn Harrington is more attuned to what he can give than to what has been taken from him.
"It's been one blessing after another, so the deal for me is to enhance and improve the lives of kids in the inner city," he said. "I'm going to keep helping kids expand their horizons. They can learn from my story."
Dan McGrath | Chicago Tribune