Martez Harrison had a breakout season a year ago in which he put himself at the pinnacle of the Western Athletic Conference and at the top of opponents’ scouting reports. The next steps in his development: delegating and including.
The University of Missouri-Kansas City junior guard was last season’s WAC Player of the Year, yet he still sees plenty of room for improvement.
“I need to work on my leadership and being better defensively,” he said, “and helping the other guys out any way I can.”
Harrison and the Kangaroos (5-4) return home after a difficult two-game road trip and host Southeastern Conference foe Mississippi State (4-3) Saturday at 5 p.m. EST on ASN.
“We have a lot of new faces,” UMKC coach Kareem Richardson said, “and with that there’s a lot of ups and downs. We’re trying to figure out chemistry and the right combinations, but I think we’re getting there.”
Harrison is a pretty fair building block. The 5-11, 200-pound guard, the program’s first Division I honorable mention All-American, averages 15.4 points per game and leads the Kangaroos in assists, free throws, free-throw attempts and minutes.
UMKC needs greater balance more than increased production from its star guard. Harrison was the team’s only double-figure scorer a year ago (17.5 ppg), and though he led the WAC in scoring, assists (129) and steals (60), he still needed to make good decisions more consistently and to become a better leader.
“He’s trying to be a little more efficient, offensively,” Richardson said. “He wasn’t always that efficient last year. … He came in as a freshman as a pretty quiet guy who led by scoring points. He’s got a lot of competitiveness, but he didn’t say much. His vocal leadership has improved tremendously.”
Harrison, a hometown product from Kansas City, has had to show the way on a roster with eight newcomers – six transfers and two freshmen. In addition, senior forward Shayok Shayok, one of the program’s most experienced players, missed the final 25 games last season due to injury.
Guard LaVell Boyd, one of the transfers, is the leading scorer (15.6 ppg). Three of the top six scorers are newcomers — Boyd, guard Dashawn King and forward Kyle Steward.
“We need those guys to be able to take some of the scoring load off of (Harrison’s) shoulders,” Richardson said. “Guys have to trust in each other and that’s getting better. LaVell has stepped up in that area a little quicker than the other guys.”
Indeed, Boyd, a 6-foot junior from Chicago, matched his season high with 25 points in Tuesday’s loss at South Dakota.
Richardson, in his third season, is gradually building the program. Last year’s 14 wins were the most since 2011, and UMKC’s 8-6 conference record was the first above .500 since 2005-06. The Kangaroos also won a WAC tournament game, the first postseason win since 2007.
Harrison chose UMKC in part because of the opportunity to help turn around a program. He has witnessed growth in the team, as well as himself.
“I’m a lot better player when it comes to passing the ball,” Harrison said. “The biggest thing is just helping my teammates get better. If I do that, it will help our team.”