As basketball practices go, the nearly three hours put in by the Winthrop Eagles on Thursday were pretty grueling.
In addition to working on preparation for Saturday's game against 19th-ranked Miami, toughness was tested on a rebounding drill.
And concentration got a workout at the end, when the Eagles had to make 10 out of 13 free throws, with each player shooting once, to avoid running wind sprints. The players weren't very happy about having to sprint and even less happy to hear coach Randy Peele say "we're staying until we make it."
It took four tries.
You couldn't blame Antwon Harris for laughing after it was over.
Sprints? You want sprints? Antwon Harris knows sprints.
One year ago Thursday, Harris understood the real meaning of sprints, the kind where you run so many you're crawling on your hands and knees to the nearest trash can.
The kind of wind sprints that can make you quit -- not just running, but quit the team.
After Thursday's practice, as he sat on the floor of the West Center, pulled off his shoes and cut the tape off his ankles, Harris was asked if he remembered what he was doing exactly a year ago.
His face widened into a big smile.
"Vividly," he said.
So, here's the story.
After the Eagles had gone on the road Dec. 21 to beat East Carolina -- a game Harris played 11 solid minutes getting seven points and three rebounds -- the team broke for Christmas. Harris went to Tennessee to spend time with family.
Players were due back on Dec. 26 for a 6 p.m. practice. But Harris, driving from Nashville to Knoxville to catch a ride to Rock Hill, got caught in a traffic jam. He missed his ride. He called his mother who wired him bus fare. He caught a Greyhound to Charlotte.
He knew coach Gregg Marshall wasn't going to be waiting at the bus station to give him a ride home and ask if he got everything he wanted for Christmas. During a couple of cell phone conversations with teammates as he rode the bus, they told him Marshall would be waiting at practice.
"They told me he was going to run me until I quit," Harris said. "I'd had a wonderful Christmas, but I was coming back to hell."
Harris hadn't helped his situation by not playing particularly well the first 11 games and having some problems with workouts early in the season.
"I didn't know what I'd gotten myself into at first," Harris said at the team's preseason banquet in November. He called getting to Winthrop "a unique journey" then described a couple of incidents he called "mess ups."
"I had a hard time adjusting, couldn't survive the (preseason) workouts," he said. "And I was going against Michael Jenkins every day, and he was killing me."
His struggles didn't go unnoticed.
"That first week I was sitting there going 'oh boy,'" Randy Peele, now Harris' head coach, said. The "oh boy" was of there's no way this kid lasts variety.
As preseason practice and the games began, Harris, a junior college All-American at Highland Community College in Tennessee, was upset with his playing time at small forward behind senior Torrell Martin. According to Marshall, Harris even suggested he needed more minutes.
So, by the 9 a.m. practice on Dec. 27, Marshall was ready with a little running drill called "eights." Run the length of the court up and back four times.
In 47 seconds. Try it some time.
Every time Harris didn't make it, another was added.
Harris lost count, perhaps because of he was too busy trying to suck down enough air to keep his lungs inflated.
"It was probably between 20 and 25," he said. "He was determined to run me to death."
But Harris was just as determined to keep going. He finished the sprints, then went through the two-hour practice. He ran again after practice. He ran again the next day.
Marshall didn't run him out of town.
"I'd never run that much in my life," he said. "It was terrible. But I had some pride, and I wasn't going to quit."
Harris wasn't sure if Marshall really wanted to run him out of town, or if he was searching for something more from him, trying to test his toughness. Marshall was a master at pushing the right buttons with players, and that one may have been the right one with Harris.
"I didn't know what he'd do," Harris said, "but I was still scared. I wasn't going to quit and go back to Tennessee, sit around and do nothing."
There is one thing he does know.
Dec. 27, 2006 was the turning point of his Winthrop career.
"That was it," he said. "After that, I started to play with a little chip on my shoulder."
In the 11 games prior to Dec. 27, Harris averaged three points, 2.9 rebounds and 9.7 minutes per game.
After not getting off the bench in the Dec. 29 win at Old Dominion and playing just three minutes in a Jan. 2 loss at Texas A&M, Harris got a chance and responded by hitting 10-of-11 shots, scoring 22 points and grabbing six rebounds against VMI in the Big South Conference opener.
Those were big numbers because Martin suffered a foot injury in the first half and would miss the next seven games. Harris would start all those games.
On Jan. 25 in a crucial road game at High Point, Harris posted up the Panther guards for 9-of-13 shooting and 21 points in a 64-63 win.
He averaged almost eight points a game in regular season conference play, and in the first two games of the conference tournament had 22 points and 13 rebounds to help the Eagles win their third straight Big South title.
In the final 21 games, he averaged 6.7 points, 3.4 rebounds, 15.1 minutes and shot 57 percent. He even survived getting booted out of late-season practice.
"He matured so much," Peele said in November. "He fought hard all year."
That's carried over to this season. He's started the past four games at small forward averaging 10.7 points and 3.7 rebounds during that stretch and 8.1 points, 3.5 rebounds overall.
His play is usually a success gauge for the Eagles. He had nine points, six rebounds in a win over Akron, 17 points and three rebounds in a narrow loss at Mississippi, 13 points and four rebounds in a win over Old Dominion.
And four points, two rebounds in 20 ugly minutes in a loss at Mount St. Mary's.
"When he has a good game," Peele said, "we usually play pretty well."
On Thursday, a year after the day that turned his career, Harris was out front with fellow seniors Chris Gaynor, Jenkins and Taj McCullough, telling guys to "listen up." He knows he hasn't got much time left in his college career.
He also sent a message to the freshmen before last week's Christmas break.
"Told them not to be late," he said.
"Made sure this time," he said. "I flew back."