From redshirt to record-breaker, Tyler Harvey has always believed
Tyler Harvey can pinpoint the exact moment his life changed forever.
Sitting on a basketball court in Wollongong, the franchise star of the city’s NBL team, the Illawarra Hawks, Harvey has a resume few can match. He has amassed records, awards and achievements at almost every level of professional basketball.
But that’s not how it should be for the Californian.
In fact, he almost didn’t play Division I basketball at all; a last-minute coaching job at Easter Washington University provided him with a lifeline and set in motion the events that would dictate his professional life.
“After high school, I didn’t have any scholarships to play, so I really wanted to play Division III basketball,” Harvey said.
“The trainer [of Whitworth] At the time, Jim Hayford was at a Division III college, it was one of the top two Division III colleges in the country, so I wanted to go there, but I think about a week or two before I got there, he got the job in Eastern Washington which was about 45 minutes from there, so I got the call from him that he was no longer training at Whitworth, he was taking himself to Eastern Washington.
“In the back of my mind I was kind of in limbo of ‘Where will I be? Will I still go here or will I hopefully get a chance to play Division I basketball?
“He told me he was going to take me, but I had to be a walk-on … so I jumped at that opportunity, my goal as a kid was to play Division I basketball, so I saw that as an opportunity to do that as a kid, I did.” fulfilled my dream, so I did that, I moved on.
For two years, Harvey did just that, as part of the Eastern Washington University basketball team as a walk-on player. He had no scholarship and no court time. It was during these times that he was at his toughest, and his ever-strong belief in his abilities began to chafe at a lack of opportunity.
He quietly began to wonder if his chance would ever come.
Then, on February 13, 2013, his prayers were answered in the form of a 13-point deficit against Northern Arizona to play less than four minutes.
For some, this could be viewed as trash time, the period of the game when the outcome is already decided and players on the bench are given a run, mainly to rest the starters. But for Harvey, this was the moment that would change the trajectory of his life.
“We had about eight games left in the season and I hadn’t played at all, we were down in the second half so usually a red shirt or someone who doesn’t play comes in, hopefully just to boost that confidence a little bit” said Harvey.
“I had the opportunity to play the last few minutes of the game went crazy, I think I had five or six threes in that span of time, we came back and won that game in overtime and to be honest , my life is not the same since that moment.
“The next year I got a scholarship, the next year I was leading the nation in goals, and the next year I was drafted into the NBA, so I like to tell people you never know when that opportunity is going to come, you don’t know how it’s going to happen.”
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From here, it was a meteoric rise for Harvey that would literally take him to the pinnacle of college basketball.
In 2015, Harvey led the nation in Division I scoring 23.1 points per game for the Eagles. He also led the nation in made three-pointers, and EMU’s 26 wins was a school record, enough to win the Big Sky Conference tournament title and subsequently his school for the NCAA tournament, aka March Madness, to qualify.
“When we went to March Madness it was the second time in school history. So when you’re in a mid-major like Eastern Washington, you have to be the best team in that conference, you have to win the tournament, there’s a Big Sky tournament and at the end of the year – when I was there – the eight are playing best teams in this tournament to hopefully get that March Madness bid,” said Harvey.
“We had to win three games and we won our last game in Montana to win the championship and then that gave us a chance to play at March Madness.
“It was a mix of many emotions, from going for a walk to being able to play March Madness, which was a childhood dream that not many kids get, it’s just the nature of it, you won’t wake up, college basketball play and have a chance to play March Madness, you can’t do that.
“It’s hard to win your conference, it’s hard to compete at this level every year, so to get this opportunity was an incredible feeling, we actually got to play in Portland, which isn’t too far from eastern Washington was, so we had a nice following there.”
Spurred on by that historic season, Harvey and the Eagles took on college basketball superpower Georgetown Hoyas, and despite a valiant effort, they fell 84-74, despite a game-high 27 points from Harvey, including 6-12 from three.
There was an option to backtrack with EMU, but Harvey knew what he had to do and decided to strike while the iron was hot and get his name in the NBA draft.
“It was difficult, I didn’t know if I wanted to come back, your emotions are still high from March Madness and you want to go back and win a game in this tournament, but it’s also not too often that you will be the lead the nation in scoring,” said Harvey.
“I think that was my best shot at getting drafted into the NBA, which is also hard to imagine, from a walk-on to earning a scholarship, to playing in March Madness, to being drafted into the NBA, which was next step, so it was time for me to test those waters and eventually I was drafted.
A whirlwind would greet Harvey when he entered the world of professional basketball; Drafted by the Orlando Magic in 2015, he played in the D-League/G-League with the Eire BayHawks and the Memphis Hustle and had stints in Italy, France and Germany before joining the Illawarra Hawks Down Under.
Now three years into his NBL tenure, it’s the longest he’s spent with a team since college, and Harvey says he sees a number of similarities between the EWU and Illawarra fan bases.
“Wollongong audiences are very into community and that’s what I love most, of course the location doesn’t hurt either, it’s a beautiful place but they really have your back and we’ve had such a tough year , and one of the things What I appreciate most about this city is that they’ve stayed with us through it all,” Harvey said.
“We’ve had some unfortunate events that happened with injuries but the crowd and the fans still came to support us and as players we look at that and we want to take them into account every time we step onto that pitch because At the end of the day, basketball is entertainment and we want to entertain our fans, but we also want to win for them.
“If that doesn’t happen then you don’t want to lose the fan base because of that and they’ve been incredible, they’ve kept us through what has been a really challenging year and that’s why I love it here.”
The 2022/23 season presented a unique challenge for Harvey and the Hawks; After back-to-back semifinals, the Hawks lost four imports to injury and ended up with their worst record ever, 25 losses and just three wins.
Despite it all, Harvey is as content as he has ever been in his career, having found a home at the Illawarra both on and off the pitch, perhaps for the first time since his historic college days.
Like everyone else, the 29-year-old will often find himself reminiscing about his college days, but he knows he needs to look at it with a wide lens. Tyler Harvey never stopped believing, and he won’t stop now.
“I ended up leading the nation as the top scorer and it’s incredible to look back on that now and think about it, but I didn’t even really think about it at the time, so of course everyone’s talking about it now and it’s pretty wild for me, even just that to think that happened to me, but it’s something I’ll definitely cherish.”