Troy Harper Jr. (above) is playing back home in Philadelphia after two years at Campbell. (Photo: Tommy Smith/CoBL)
Owen McCue (@Owen_McCue)
One of the things Troy Harper Jr. missed most about Philadelphia was the cheesesteaks.
Before transferring to Drexel in 2016, Harper, a Neumann-Goretti product, spent the first two seasons of his college career at Campbell University in Buies Creek, North Carolina — an area better known for its barbecue than sliced beef and melted cheese.
His favorite cheesesteak place in the city is 63rd Street Pizza, near his home in Southwest Philly, but any place in Philadelphia would do after what he had to deal with down in North Carolina.
“Down there, they were terrible,” the Dragons’ redshirt junior guard said.
The traditional Philly food wasn’t the only thing Harper missed about his hometown while in the Tar Heel State.
During his two years at Campbell, Harper’s parents only got to see him play about five times.
When he looked into the crowd on Friday night at the Daskalakis Athletic Center for the Dragons season opener against Bowling Green, there they were cheering him on, along with many other familiar faces. On Monday night against Arcadia at the DAC, he saw the same thing when he searched the stands.
After a redshirt season in 2016-17, Harper’s parents have seen him play five times already this year. His mother and father attended all three of Drexel’s exhibitions and the Dragons’ first two regular season contests.
His father, Troy Harper Sr., estimates there were about 30 family and friends in attendance at Friday night’s loss to Bowling Green. About a dozen showed up to watch Harper during Drexel’s 95-81 win against Arcadia on Monday.
“Going from playing at Neumann and seeing them at every game,” Harper Jr. said. “Then two years at North Carolina, looking in the crowd and there’s nobody that I grew up with or anything like that, just to come home and be able to see all my family and friends, I love it. It’s awesome.”
Harper, a springy 6-foot-1, 175-pound guard, was built to get out and run and attack the rim. Harper scored eight points in Friday’s loss to Bowling Green and followed with 17 in Monday’s win against D-III Arcadia, 10 of which came in transition.
At Campbell, the style of play was methodical. They preferred to slow the ball down and run offensive sets. In Harper’s two seasons there, the Camels ranked 311th and 168th in adjusted tempo, respectively.
Before coming to Drexel, coach Zach Spiker’s teams at Army ranked 14th in the category in 2014-15 and 25th in 2015-16. Spiker moved the Dragons from 327th to 68th in adjusted tempo during his first year at Drexel last season. The Dragons use the fast break to generate offense, which better complements Harper’s skillset.
“Spiker told him that he wanted to push it,” Harper Sr. said. “That was a big part of him deciding. It made it even easier to say, ‘Yea this is where I want to be at.’ That style of play fits him perfectly.”
Harper said Drexel’s fast-paced style of play reminds him of his days at Neumann-Goretti, where he ran the floor with talented guards like Ja’Quan Newton (Miami), Lamarr Kimble (Saint Joseph’s) and Quade Green (Kentucky).
He was a starter for Neumann-Goretti as a senior, when he earned first team All-Catholic League honors, but he came off the bench for the Saints as a junior during their PCL title run.
“I really liked his energy off the bench,” Neumann-Goretti coach Carl Arrigale said. “It wasn’t that he wasn’t good enough to start. That boost of energy really gave us a lift whenever I put him in the game.”
While Harper practiced on the scout team as a redshirt last season, Spiker noticed the same trait.
Harper averaged 13.5 ppg as a sophomore at Campbell and has started his first two games with the Dragons, but Spiker said he could use the redshirt-junior guard similarly to the way Arrigale did.
“He was an energy giver,” Spiker said. “The more guys you have like that. I don’t think Troy has an ego at all. He wants to do what’s best for the team, whether it’s starting or coming off the bench, putting him in a role where he can do a little bit more, but this is what’s best for the team, Troy does it.”
Harper Sr. said he and his wife will be at every home game this season, watching their son run up-and-down the court, something they haven’t been able to do since his Neumann-Goretti days.
“It’s great just to have my family and friends in the crowd, cheering my name and stuff,” Harper Jr. said. “It’s great. I love it.”