It’s rare for a sophomore to be able to start on the basketball court for Christ the King. The New York high school is known as the home of Lamar Odom and Sue Bird, the winner of six city championships since 2010, and the frequent focus of ESPN-televised games and tournaments.
It’s even more rare for someone who started as a sophomore for the Royals to then willingly come off the bench as a senior.
A lot changed, however, for Jared Harrison-Hunte between his sophomore year in Queens and his senior season.
When he took over as a starting forward at Christ the King in 2016, Harrison-Hunte envisioned himself piling up Atlantic Coast Conference basketball scholarship offers.
By the time he helped guide the Royals to a city title in 2019, he had signed a national letter of intent to play football for the Miami Hurricanes. In between it all, he embraced his changing body to became one of the most tantalizing defensive tackles in the country and a sixth man unlike any other in New York City.
“Obviously, he’s not as good as Jimmy Butler, but he was like Jimmy Butler,” Christ the King boys’ basketball coach Joe Arbitello said. “Like, OK, what do I need to do tonight? Do I need to score? I’ll score. Do I need to just eat up some people? I can do that, too. Whatever you need, Coach.
“All this guy wanted to do is win basketball games.”
He was part enforcer and part mismatch nightmare — a playmaking wing trapped in a defensive tackle’s body — and it was enough to have dozens of college coaches, including Alabama Crimson Tide coach Nick Saban, calling Arbitello to ask about his 6-foot-4, 285-pound power forward.
In the end, Miami beat out the Ohio State Buckeyes, Penn State Nittany Lions and even Alabama to lock up Harrison-Hunte’s commitment. Less than two years later, he’s the No. 11 Hurricanes’ sacks leader in a reserve role.
“This is not what I envisioned. I thought I would be struggling at first,” Harrison-Hunte said. “When I first came here, I wasn’t very in tune with football.”
Recruiting in ‘the mecca’
There couldn’t have been more than few dozen people inside the St. Raymond Boys’ gymnasium when coach Manny Diaz and defensive coordinator Blake Baker traveled up to the Bronx, New York, to see Harrison-Hunte play.
The Royals had been invited to play in nationally televised Hoophall Classic, so Arbitello reshuffled Christ the King’s schedule, lining up a meeting with St. Raymond for a random Thursday in January.
“There was like nobody at this game and we got destroyed,” Arbitello said. “St. Raymond whipped our [expletive] like we’ve never been whipped before and I was like, Uh oh, I don’t know if Jared’s going anywhere.”
All it took was one play for the forward to flash.
Harrison-Hunte got loose on the baseline, drove to the rim and flushed home a poster dunk. It was pretty much the only highlight for the Royals.
“That was the cool thing recruiting him,” Baker said, “going to New York City and obviously the mecca of high school basketball, and watching him be the best player on the court.”
Harrison-Hunte was a basketball player virtually his entire life. He played one year of football when he was young for Brooklyn Pitbulls Youth Football, but otherwise stuck with basketball. He came to Christ the King as more of a small forward and even picked up a scholarship offer from the Iona Gaels.
Football coach Jason Brown spent years trying to convince Harrison-Hunte to try playing his sport and finally convinced him ahead of his junior year. Harrison-Hunte’s body was filling out and his jump shot wasn’t quite good enough to land those major-conference offers he hoped for, so he suited up as a tight end and defensive lineman.
His size and athleticism made him a natural. In one of his first practices, Harrison-Hunte was doing a defensive drill, rushing at a coach who was playing the role of quarterback. He got into the backfield, got in the coach’s face and leaped to try batting down the pass.
“He said Jared jumped so high, his crotch was at his face,” Brown said. “You don’t expect how high a guy that big can jump.”
Said Arbitello: “He was like a ballerina at his size. ... If he shot it better, you guys might not have him there.”
‘Jared’s still oblivious’
Harrison-Hunte’s transition started at tight end — a frequent entryway for former basketball players testing out football — and he often looked like a successor to Jimmy Graham and Antonio Gates. In one of his first game, he ran into the seam, caught a pass, broke three tackles and rumbled down the left sideline for a 70-yard catch without making any sort of juke or stiff arm.
Harrison-Hunte always had an edge to him, though. Arbitello could turn to Harrison-Hunte either when he needed an extra playmaking spark off the bench or some added physicality.
When Harrison-Hunte was a senior, he ceded his starting spot to Moussa Cisse, a five-star center now playing for the Memphis Tigers. Cisse was only a sophomore, so opponents often tried to rattle him. No one could knock around Harrison-Hunte.
“He was the enforcer,” Arbitello said. “He’d go up to rebound the ball, and there would be three opposing guys on the floor and we’d have the rebound.”
So far, the sophomore has been part enforcer and part ballerina, and he said a lot of footwork actually does come from dancing.
He has the finesse to play against pass-happy teams — and has three sacks and a forced fumble — but he also has five tackles for loss and 10 total tackles, proving himself capable even when teams try to pound Miami (4-1, 3-1 Atlantic Coast) on the ground.
As recently as 13 months ago, it seemed impossible to Harrison-Hunte. He made his debut last season in the Hurricanes’ blowout win against the FCS Bethune-Cookman Wildcats and played three snaps. They were, he admits, a disaster.
“I didn’t know what I was doing. I was scared. It just looked bad on film,” Harrison-Hunte said. “I just thought like, Wow, football might not be it for me, and then I just worked on myself.”
Now Miami ranks No. 28 in the country in sacks and is tied for No. 5 in tackles for loss, and Harrison-Hunte, in just his fourth year playing football, is in the center of it all.
Said Brown: “Jared’s still oblivious to what he can do.”