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Houston’s Top 25 finish in final 2019-20 season polls reinforce Chris Harris Jr’s joy in program’s accomplishments

Senior center Chris Harris Jr. celebrating Houston's share of the regular-season championship. He first joined the Cougars in the 2017-18 season. | Mikol Kindel Jr./The Cougar

Senior center Chris Harris Jr. celebrating Houston’s share of the regular-season championship. He first joined the Cougars in the 2017-18 season. | Mikol Kindel Jr./The Cougar

The Cougars finished No. 22 in the final AP poll of the 2019-20 season and No. 23 in the USA Today Coaches’ poll, marking the third straight season in which Houston ends its campaign ranked.

In 2018-19, Houston finished the regular season No. 11 in the AP poll heading into the conference tournament and in 2017-18, it was No. 21.

The accolades by the Cougars reflect senior center Chris Harris Jr.’s positive outlook during his time with the team.

“I don’t think I could have asked for a better college career,” said Harris on Monday during the Kelvin Sampson radio show. “The way we play, I just knew we were going to be successful. Over the years, the accomplishments of the program, I (can) say I left it better than when I came.”

Harris played the final game of his collegiate career back on March 8 in Fertitta Center against the Memphis Tigers. While he knew that game was going to be his final one at home, no one knew that it was going to be the final contest of the season.

The team had spent the entire week practicing and preparing to compete in the American Athletic Conference championship tournament after finishing with a share of the regular-season championship with both Tulsa and Cincinnati.

Once the NBA suspended its season indefinitely after Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert tested positive for COVID-19, Harris and the rest of the team saw the writing on the wall, but it did not make the blow any easier to absorb once it finally it came.

“I kind of seen it coming when I found out the NBA was no longer playing,” Harris said. “We took it badly. We wanted to play. We basically had a spot in (the NCAA tournament). We wanted to go out with a bang.”

Instead of competing in the sudden death games that are synonymous with the excitement of “March Madness,” the Cougars got to stop at the Buc-ee’s in Madisonville on their way back to Houston after the AAC tournament was canceled, and started their offseason early.

An abrupt end that no one saw coming and that no one wanted.

For Harris, however, this was his final rodeo, and while he is sad that he did not get to “dance” in the big tournament one last time, he is excited for the future of the program and gave advice to the new players who will be joining the team in the future.

Your first month, you’re going to face a lot of ups and downs, and you have to get through it because coach is going to get on you but at the end of the day it is going to pay off,” Harris said.

Harris ended his collegiate career leading the team with two blocks per game in the 2019-20 season.

For head coach Kelvin Sampson, he is the final player, who helped completely rebuild the identity of the University’s program.

“Chris was the last of the kids that signed with us before we had any of our bells and whistles,” Sampson said after Houston’s win over Memphis on March 8. “He believed in us when nobody else knew who we were.”

The Cougars officially ended the season with a 23-8 overall record and captured their second straight AAC regular-season title with a 13-5 record in conference play.

The 6-foot-10 center, despite not being the most vocal person in the world, made his mark as a leader on the team, and for him, one of his biggest joys during his time with the Cougars came from getting to play in Houston where he grew up in.

“It means a lot to me to represent the city I grew up in,” Harris said. “To represent the city is a great feeling.”

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