LOUISVILLE — Montrezl Harrell has been a monster in the middle since arriving at Louisville.
Now, the 6-foot-8, 240-pound junior power forward from Tarboro, N.C., may be a threat from the outside, too.
The Cardinal with a 7-foot-6 wingspan threw down a school-record 97 dunks last season while shooting .609 from the field. He fired three three-pointers over two seasons, making two.
The three is a new weapon in his arsenal this time around, shocking even some teammates.
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"Physical. A beast," guard Chris Jones said when asked to describe Harrell. "Dunks everything, but now he knows how to shoot the three. It's scary. I'm shocked. He shoots it so consistent. Last week we had a scrimmage, I think he had 4-for-7 from the three so I'm like 'wow! Where'd he get that from?'"
From countless hours of practice after opting not to enter the NBA draft.
"I kind of felt like that I wasn't ready to take that step to the NBA," Harrell said. "I kind of felt like I had some things in my game that I needed to work on and get better. ... The NBA is a business. So if they feel like you can't get the job done, you either go to the 'D' league or you get cut. That's not one of the places I want to be. I want get in the NBA and be able to provide to a team — to be able to come off the bench or be able to do whatever they need me to do to help the team win."
Coach Rick Pitino, who called it "great news" when Harrell announced in April that he'd return to U of L, likes what he's seen since that day.
"Montrezl has worked at making his game better, very similar to Gorgui (Dieng, a former Louisville big man)," Pitino said. "I'm real proud of him."
Harrell and senior Wayne Blackshear are the only holdovers from U of L's 2013 national championship team, a fact not lost on Harrell.
"Me and Wayne, we've walked the journey to winning a national championship. We know what it feels like, and we want to get back there," Harrell said. "... There's never going to be a better feeling than winning a national championship and cutting down the nets at the end. So we're trying to get those (younger) guys to understand that. With the team that we have, we have the chance to go back there. It just all depends on how much they want to learn and how much they want to get back."
So Harrell is doing his best to lead a team that is top-heavy with freshmen and sophomores. He teaches mostly with tough love.
"He's tough. He's a great player," said Jaylen Johnson, a 6-9 freshman. "To me, he's the best forward in college right now. It's just a great experience to go under him. He's teaching me like a big brother to his little brother. It's all fun. ... When we go at it, we go at it. It's all for the good, though, to get me better and to get him better."
Chinanu Onuaku, a 6-10 frosh, says Harrell plays hard and tries to muscle everyone. What does Harrell do best?
"Probably rebounding," Onuaku said. "He tries to bully you. That's probably what he does best, bully people."
The comment was made in admiration. Onuaku was quick to add that Harrell is a great leader who "teaches me some of the plays if I don't know them."
Harrell produced a dozen double-doubles last season, including 11 in the last 22 games. He wound up averaging 14.0 points and 8.4 rebounds. He says he'd like to top 100 dunks this season. His main goal, though, is to win.
"By me being able to hit my 15-footer and also stepping out behind the three-point line, that's not my game — that's not what everybody knows Montrezl Harrell for," he said. "I'm known for physical around-the-basket power play. So by being able to step out behind the three-point line, it's just going to make it even tougher to guard me. So I just feel like having that asset in my game is going to make me a better player. Not only make me a better player, make our team better."