LOS ANGELES -- Julian Harrell is not one of those flashy type of basketball players. Fundamentally sound more accurately describes his repertoire on the hardwood, a rare trait in this day and age when most individuals are trying to become the next Internet sensation.
The senior from Los Angeles Loyola understands the nuances of the game and does the little things that don't necessarily show up in the box score. Hustling and diving for loose balls comes naturally. Another redeeming quality is a no-nonsense approach to playing defense.
Rest assured, Harrell can also stuff the stat sheet. One need not look any further than his team highs in number of different categories this season for proof. Whenever the Cubs need a big bucket, someone to crash the boards or a timely assist, they typically turn to him.
Considering everything that Harrell brings to the table, you begin to understand why the University of Pennsylvania commit is regarded as one of the Southland's premier players and why Loyola is thought to be one the premier programs in the greater Los Angeles area.
“Julian, we like to call him Ju Ju, has done some extraordinary things in his time here with us, that's no exaggeration either,'' Loyola coach Jamal Adams said. “He's not going to end up on some And1 mix-tape or anything like that. His highlight film is done differently, and if you ask me or any other hoops fan, his moves are just as entertaining as anyone else out there.
“He's a throwback in a lot of ways. Ju Ju is well-rounded and can do just about anything asked of him. He's played all five positions on the floor for me. He's versatile. I love his game. He's efficient. There's not a lot of wasted movement. All of the intangibles are there. He's a coach's dream. We are going to miss him once he graduates and moves on the next level.''
In the meantime, its business as usual for Harrell & Co.
Loyola (14-2 overall) got off to somewhat of a slow start this season with a couple of surprising losses in the traditionally tough Mission League. The setbacks are nothing more than a distant memory for the Cubs, No. 5 in the ESPNLosAngeles.com top 20 rankings.
Next up: Two important league games, the first on Saturday night at La Canada St. Francis. Thereafter, a showdown at home against Encino Crespi, No. 4 in the recent ESPNLosAngeles.com rankings, looms large on Jan. 23. Harrell will be expected to carry the load for the Cubs, of course, similar to how the 6-foot-5 shooting guard has done so many times in the recent past.
“I don't worry about numbers, my only concern is wins, I have always been that way,'' Harrell said. “I don't worry about the hype out there either or what people say. I know that if I take care of things on the court, everything else will fall into place off the court.''
So far, so good. The plan, after all, has worked since Harrell joined the program at Loyola and made his varsity debut toward the end of his freshman year. An increased role happened the following season and he took the next step in his development as a sophomore.
No one, however, could have predicted how well Harrell performed as a junior. He emerged as a leader for Loyola and averaged 15.7 points, 6.1 rebounds, 2.4 assists. On the defensive end, Harrell added close to a pair of steals and block every game.
There has been little, or no, drop-off this time around as Harrell has had a couple of eye-opening efforts this season. He finished with 13 points and 13 rebounds in early December against Mission Hills Alemany, No. 11 in the ESPNLosAngeles.com rankings. Two weeks later, Harrell had 11 points, nine rebounds, five assists and three steals against Jesuit (Fla.).
“Julian plays the game with purpose in mind,'' said Joel Francisco, an analyst for ESPN Recruiting. “He affects the game with physical play, slashing moves and leadership qualities. He's a winner. He projects as one of those perfect glue-type guys for the next level.''
Harrell compares rather favorably to some of his Southern California counterparts at his position. Only Santa Ana Mater Dei's Katin Reinhardt is ranked higher than Harrell by ESPN Recruiting. And in terms of players on the West Coast, he is No. 54 overall.
Division I college coaches and scouts, alike have expressed interest in Harrell for quite some time now. He had scholarship offers on the table from a number of West Coast Conference schools, most notably St. Mary's. Also worth mentioning is several Pac-12 Conference schools kept in constant contact with him the last few years with Stanford leading the charge.
Given the fact that Harrell has many interests aside from those on the basketball court, ultimately, Penn proved to be the best fit. Keep in mind, we're talking about a student-athlete who carries a GPA higher than 3.5 and scored close to 2,000 on his SAT.
“Julian is going to Penn for a reason,'' Adams said. “He is a savvy kid, you've heard him, he is well-spoken and works well with the media. I have never seen anything like that, especially for a kid his age. His biggest muscle is in between his ears. Really, I think that helps him more than anything when he is on the court. He is a natural-born leader, in my book.''
“Don't let him fool you though, this kid can ball. I've seen Ju Ju windmill dunk in a game before. He caught five alley-oops another time. He is athletic. It's just that everything he does is so smooth, he is deceptive like that. Don't let him catch you sleeping though.''
Harrell is the catalyst for Loyola, there is no doubt about it. He has his share of help too, with a pair of more than capable seniors Jacob Hazzard and Justin Childress running alongside of him. Sophomore Parker Jackson-Cartwright is another piece of the puzzle.
In the end, the Cubs figure to go as far as Harrell takes them.
“Being flashy is fine for some people, I've never bought into that style of play,'' Harrell said. “I think my strength is being versatile, a complete player. I'm not worried about points or accolades. In the end, you're measured by wins and losses. Everything else is secondary.
It is difficult to argue with his game-plan.
The formula has worked out well so far.
Sean Ceglinsky covers preps for ESPNLosAngeles.com. Follow him on Twitter.