By Mark Soltau
Parents aside, Gabriel Harris won't have any company Sunday afternoon when Stanford celebrates Senior Day in its regular-season home finale against Utah in Maples Pavilion at 2 p.m.
As the lone senior, he will be accompanied by his father Michael and mother Connie during the pre-game ceremony.
"It does seem weird," said the 6-foot-2 reserve guard from Birmingham, Ala.
Especially since Harris played in only 12 games last year due to knee surgery. Teammates call him the "Old Man,'' although teammate Elliott Bullock (Mormon Mission) is technically older.
"I'm just seen as the old guy and I love it," Harris said. "They're like my younger brothers and I will always treasure it."
Andy Brown, who has undergone three knee surgeries and experienced two redshirt seasons, enjoys rubbing it in. They have spent considerable time together rehabbing and become close friends.
"I kid around with him all the time," said Brown, who is two weeks younger than Harris. "We really haven't been healthy together until this year. We're always hanging out outside of practice. He's a real southern gentleman and I'm joking 24/7. I think that's why we get along."
Stanford head coach Johnny Dawkins chuckles at Harris' nickname.
"He's getting a bum ramp with that," Dawkins said. "Both of them (Harris and Brown), body-wise, are probably closer to my age. That's what I love about them. They love this game. He (Harris) wants to contribute and wants his team to be successful. He gives us what he has."
One of the top defenders on the squad, Harris smiles easily and looks too nice to be a stopper. Don't be fooled. He's one of the most competitive players on the team and hates losing.
"He's meant a lot to our program," said Dawkins. "The young man has come in and dealt with a lot of adversity. You learn a lot about guys when they go through stuff like that. He's been a good mentor for some of our younger players. He keeps battling back and brings leadership and steady play to our team."
Harris had never been seriously injured before last year, and admitted it was big adjustment being away from his teammates.
"It was hard to make sure I stayed around enough, but not in the gym," he said. "It was definitely trying to find a balance of what I can take but also what I can give."
Such is the dilemma of an injured student-athlete. Although you are part of the team, you primary jobs are healing and cheerleading.
"My teammates really helped me get through it," said Harris. "Really my mom and dad just talking to me every day, trying to keep my head on straight from running away or just lacing them up and playing again, even though I'm hurt."
Although Stanford (16-13, 7-9 Pac-12) has struggled at times this season, losing five games by five points or less, Harris has great memories about playing basketball on The Farm.
"Overall, it's been an incredible experience and I wouldn't trade it for anything," he said. "My teammates have been great."
One of the highlights was playing in the Dick's Sporting Goods NIT Season Tip-Off last season, when Harris hit a half-court shot against Colorado State en route to tying his career high with 12 points.
Although he was only a spectator, Harris returned to Madison Square Garden in March to help root the Cardinal to its second Postseason NIT title. He was in the locker room prior to the semifinal game against Massachusetts when Baltimore Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis made a surprise appearance and delivered an inspiring pre-game pep talk.
"We're all athletes, so we definitely picked up who he was," Harris said. "He's a lot shorter than I thought. He was incredible and really knows how to rally the troops."
Harris will never forget the time he came out early to shoot for a home game and the ball bounced into the stands. When he went to retrieve it, he was standing next to Condoleezza Rice.
"We grew up in the same hometown," he said.
Or the time he attended a weekend fraternity party and wound up sitting with Andrew Luck and Michelle Wie.
"He was just Andrew then," said Harris. "And Michelle was another person I never thought I would run into."
Such is life at Stanford.
"I've met some incredible people," he said.
Harris almost didn't make it to Stanford. He looked hard at Alabama and Georgia Tech, and playing closer to home had its advantages.
What was his biggest adjustment?
"Having my mom mad at me for the first month for leaving home," said Harris. "Not being able to depend on anybody but yourself. I didn't just go a state away; I went all the way across country."
Harris has already completed his degree in psychology and is co-terming toward a masters in communications. He would also like to give pro basketball a shot.
"Long-range, I'd like to attend business school or law school," he said. "My mom is an accountant, so she's pushing business school on me. Law school has always been in the back of my mind."
No matter which path he takes, Dawkins knows he will thrive.
"He's a great kid," Dawkins said. "Whatever he chooses, he's going to be successful."
Harris said he was ready for the academic rigors at Stanford. That said, he learned quickly that student-athletes must make good use of their time to excel at both.
"The amount of work you have to do is just incredible," said Harris. "Juggling that with basketball makes it even harder."
His favorite class was sports psychology taught by Professor Beverley Hartman.
Asked what he has learned most during his four years at Stanford, Harris thoughtfully considered the question.
"Sounds simple, but everything is not as big a deal as you think it is," he said. "People that you think are really big deals are just normal people. Basketball games are just basketball games, even though they are on ESPN or local networks. Everything is really what you make of it. Keep everything in perspective."