An undersized front court player who doesn’t shoot 3-pointers and rarely hears his number called for a play, Montrezl Harrell has found a way to thrive in the NBA as a reserve.
Here are 10 things to know about the LA Clippers’ forward and his path to the NBA.
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What’s in a name?: His first name is pronounced mon-TREZ and the “L” is the only silence for a player who is fond of making a fuss in the paint and supplying a primal scream to emphasize one of his baskets, dunks or blocks. That mysterious “L,” though? It’s not a misprint on the birth certificate or anything. His father just thought of adding it to make the first name unique.
Harrell is the picture of hard work, a player without natural basketball gifts but became valuable for his energy, determination and ability to learn the game’s nuances. His production has risen every season since his rookie year; for six straight seasons now Harrell has seen an escalation in scoring and rebounding averages, from 3.6 and 1.1 in 2015-16 to 18.6 and 7.1 in 2019-20 — much of this due to being traded from the Rockets to the Clippers in 2017. The last two seasons have especially been bountiful for Harrell as his playing time increased once the Clippers parted with Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan.
Friends for life: Along with his family members, he has tattoos of the names of his AAU team: Aaron, Da’Cor, Mike, Myles, Tabias, Terrill, Tevin and Tyrie. “I got all my brothers’ names tattooed on me,” Harrell told ESPN. “We started off playing AAU, and we created a bond that’s unbreakable.” They call it “B4L” — brothers for life. They use the three characters or the complete phrase as a salutation to end most conversations. “It’s just a code, one of the things to say, ‘I love you’ without being sentimental,” All eight are from the small, rural towns of Rocky Mount and Wilson, N.C. They’re the guys who keep Harrell grounded. They’re also the guys who push him to be greater. “They always bring me back to reality,” Harrell said. “And the best thing about them is they never really harp on what good I’ve done. They harp more on the bad things I’ve done in a game.”
Home-grown talent: Harrell grew up in Tarboro, N.C., a town of about 11,000 people located about 100 miles east of Chapel Hill. Arguably the best athlete to ever come out of the town was Kelvin Bryant, who starred at running back at North Carolina and then starred the USFL and played in the NFL from 1986-90. Harrell is making his case to carry the town’s title as best athlete now, but he has competition from a high school rival. Atlanta Falcons running back Todd Gurley, like Bryant, played at Tarboro High School. Gurley is a former NFL offensive player of the year and offensive rookie of the year and he and Harrell are good friends.
From football to hoops: Harrell played football at North Edgecombe High School through his junior season and was recruited by NC State. He conceded it was always a tough matchup because his school played 1A, the state’s smallest classification, and Tarboro was one notch above it. His team never beat Gurley’s team on the gridiron. “You see how explosive he is now, he was even more explosive in high school because he wasn’t playing all these big, ranked teams like he’s playing now,” Harrell told ESPN. “That was a tough game for us. Basketball? Now that was a different thing right there.” When it came to hoops, Harrell said he only lost to Tarboro once as a freshman. The rest of his three years on varsity, “we destroyed them,” … including a year where the game at North Edgecombe had to be postponed.
Humble beginnings: His father, Sam, worked for a custom door manufacturing company, and his mother, Selena, is a nurse at an assisted living facility. His paternal grandmother, Mamie, ran the show, overseeing a household of nine that included Harrell, his two younger brothers, his parents, his two aunts and his grandfather. “It was definitely country,” Harrell told The Washington Post. “That’s how we were raised up: a tightknit group all in the same house. I wasn’t going to bed hungry, but we didn’t have five-star meals laid out every night. … We were regular people who did what we could to get by.”
Home is where the heart is: Rather than attend the 2015 Draft where he was chosen 32nd overall by Houston, Harrell stayed in Rocky Mount in part because it kept him near grandmothers who were not healthy enough to make the trip. In 2020, Harrell left the NBA’s restart at Walt Disney World when one of his grandmothers lost her life. She had a major influence on his youth basketball career by introducing him to the game and also supporting him on AAU teams. “I love my family in general and everything I do is for them and trying to put them in a better situation,” he said.
Harrell’s love of a family has stayed with him to this day. He has a 1-year-old son, Amari, and 6-month-old daughter, Alyeshia. They live with their mother in Kentucky, but he stays in touch with the help of social media during the season. After a recent practice this season, he received a text message from Alyeshia’s day-care center, which included a detailed breakdown of her nap times, meals and potty usage.
A life-saver: Not long after leaving Louisville for the draft, Harrell was back on campus visiting when he sprung into action — not on the floor, but on the road. Harrell helped pull a motorist from an overturned, smoking car near the campus. Harrell and friends kicked in a window, then ran to a nearby store to get a fire extinguisher, then waited by the car for authorities to arrive.
One step back, two steps forward: Harrell spent his first two seasons in Houston, but was the victim of the numbers game there as the Rockets had Clint Capela, Ryan Anderson and Nene already playing in the frontcourt. So Harrell requested to get sent down to the NBA G League — a rare request from a player. Speaking to Quentin Richardson and Darius Miles on the Knuckleheads podcast, Harrell talked about how he asked management to send him down to the G League to get an opportunity to raise his game and confidence. He split time in his rookie season with the Rockets and the Rio Grande Vipers, yet once he returned to the NBA, he never left again.
Respect from the Rockets: Harrell was marginal piece at the time in the eight-player deal that brought Chris Paul from the Clippers to the Rockets in exchange for Harrell, Lou Williams and Pat Beverley. A year later, he improved and became one of the NBA’s best bench scorers. His former coach, Mike D’Antoni of the Rockets, said in March, 2020: “He’s developed a lot. I think his confidence is soaring. Obviously, it should. He’s gotten, I wouldn’t say unstoppable, but close to it inside. He was good for us. He was just in that third spot behind Nenê and Clint (Capela) and we didn’t get to him all the time. He was somebody it would have been nice to have kept, but you couldn’t do it because of the trade. He’s improved a lot. He’s really good.”
Sneaker head: Harrell is big on custom-made sneakers and goes a step further by creating his own styles. Harrell makes his own designs an alerts sneaker customizers whose work he finds on Instagram. During the preseason he estimated customizers were working on 20 pairs whose designs will pay homage to some of his favorite shows and movies, such as “Rick and Morty,” “Family Guy,” “The Boondocks” and “Good Burger.”
But he has plans to go high-tech, telling the Los Angeles Times: “The ones you really got to pay attention to is the ones that’s going to have the monitor in it because it’s going to actually have video clips and actual game highlights from situations of the game playing on the shoe. So, it’s going to be real dope.”