Protecting the Paint
Lawrence North Alum Wins Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year
Writer: Seth Johnson
Photography Provided by Purdue University
Following the conclusion of this past Big Ten women’s basketball season, Purdue University’s Ae’Rianna Harris was named the conference’s Defensive Player of the Year, making her just the third sophomore in Big Ten history to win the award. Long before she reached this impressive feat, however, Harris could be seen on the court at Lawrence North High School, where she gained a solid set of skills prior to moving on to the next level.
“As far as individual development goes, any of the coaches that we had could help you in whatever area you needed help in,” Harris says. “For me, it was working on post moves and different stuff down low.”
After an impressive sophomore season at Purdue, it would seem that Harris has continued to build on the basketball know-how she gained while at Lawrence North. Named second-team All-Big Ten by the media and coaches, she has the most rebounds (491) and blocked shots (180) of any player in Purdue program history over their first two seasons. Harris also broke the Boilermakers’ sophomore rebounding record, pulling down an impressive 304 boards over the course of the 2017-18 season.
Having played basketball for the majority of her life, Harris remembers being introduced to the sport at a young age.
“My dad played basketball, and I wanted to be like him,” she says. “I kind of got the hang of it, and then fell in love with it, so I continued to do it.” While at Lawrence North, she especially gained a lot from her strength and conditioning coach.
“She made a lot of crucial changes as far as how I grew gaining weight, gaining muscle and stuff like that over the two years I was there,” Harris says.
Prior to her time at Lawrence North, Harris attended another high school in a nearby township. While at Lawrence North, she really cherished being a part of a team that had a clear vision.
“Without knocking the school I was at before, it seemed like we had our goals, and for the most part, we met them,” Harris says of her time playing basketball at Lawrence North. “The only thing we didn’t get was our state championship rings that we wanted.”
For Harris, playing basketball at Purdue had always been a dream. “I had been wanting to go here since I started playing basketball,” she says. So when that fateful day finally came, she was ready to commit.
“Throughout the recruitment process, their letter was the one I was looking for,” she says. “And then, once I finally got it, that’s when I decided, ‘Alright, I’ll reach out and get a visit set.’ When I came here, it was no different than I thought it would be. It was actually much better. So it made the most sense to come here.”
For the Purdue women’s basketball team, the 2017-18 season was one filled with obstacles. The team finished tied for 7th in the conference, with an overall record of 20-14. Regardless, Harris is still proud of how everyone in the locker room fought through adversity.
“As a team, I’m proud that we stayed on our two feet,” she says. “I’m pretty sure half of us were injured, and everyone was going through something, whether it was mental or physical. There was just a lot going on this past year.”
Despite the impressive stats she racked up, Harris herself was dealing with a rather significant injury that she had to fight through.
“Personally, I’m most proud of all the accomplishments I had given my situation,” she adds. “I was playing the last couple of months with a broken foot and still did some really good things.”
Looking ahead to next season, the Purdue women’s basketball team will look to improve on last season with the ultimate hope of being crowned Big Ten champions. As for her own goals, Harris would like to build on what she did in her sophomore year.
“Individually, I definitely want to maintain Defensive Player of the Year, as far as the Big Ten goes, as well as go up in numbers,” she says.
A fan of WNBA greats like Diana Taurasi and Tamika Catchings, Harris hopes to one day play basketball professionally, either overseas or in the WNBA. For now, though, she’s just focusing on another season with the Boilermakers.