Most NCAA basketball players run drills and chase down loose balls every day, but not many run down crooks or pull over members of their own coaching staff.
College of Charleston center Latisha “Tish” Harris has been there/done that, though. The player who has patrolled the paint for the Cougars the last three years spent this past offseason riding in patrol cars with more than a dozen officers from the Charleston Police Department. Harris was there for everything from service calls to traffic stops – she even witnessed on-foot pursuit. And, yes, she busted her coach…sort of.
When she wasn’t riding with an officer, Harris organized case files in the homicide department as part of a 120-hour internship to fulfill requirements for her minor in crime, law and society.
“I always wanted to pursue law enforcement because some of my family members were police officers,” Harris said. “It was awesome going on ride-a-longs and getting perspectives from different officers and hearing about the reasons they got involved in the field.”
Harris shared a strong bond with one officer in particular. Melinda Fife, now in her second year with the department, is also a former basketball student-athlete and coach who played at VCU for one year before transferring to West Chester, a Division II school outside of Philadelphia. Fife said she and Harris had a lot in common.
“Being a former student-athlete and former coach, we would talk about basketball and preseason,” Fife said. “Little things her coach would mention she found interesting, and I would say the same things. A lot of our conversations were about being attentive to your surroundings, because as a police officer, you have to be.”
Whether on the basketball court or in the classroom, Harris prioritizes the little things. As a senior, Harris has had to adjust the technical aspects of her play due to a coaching change. Harris’ attentiveness and listening skills have resulted in a smooth transition for first-year head coach Natasha Adair, who coincidentally shares Harris’ birth date (Sept. 7).
“As a senior, most of their tendencies are already set,” Adair said. “To have someone come in and change almost everything that was done previously, it takes patience and it takes maturity on the players’ part to trust us and want to do it. Latisha provided a good example.”
Harris’ 8.8 points per game last year is up to a team-high 13.1 this season for the squad that was 13-14 through Feb. 25. Harris scored 11 points and collected eight rebounds in her home finale on senior night against Wofford.
The 6-foot-3-inch post player also leads Charleston in the rebounding category with 8.7 boards per contest. In Southern Conference play, Harris ranks fifth.
Working with officers of different styles and backgrounds parallels the different leadership and playing styles Harris’ teammates have. The Aynor, S.C., native has taken her experiences with the officers to her leadership role as a captain on the basketball team.
In one particular instance, Harris was on a call that led to an on-foot pursuit when an individual fled his vehicle. In this case, the officer called in for backup and emphasized the importance of communication.
“You need to have each other’s back,” Harris said. “One person goes to the call, and unless you come in on the radio saying you’re OK, you have two or three other cops coming to back you up. On the basketball court, you have your teammates rotating in help or to crash the boards for rebounds.”
Harris’ internship has also allowed her to become more comfortable with her new coaching staff – comfortable enough for a little practical joke, in fact.
One morning Harris was on a ride-a-long and noticed associate head coach Bob Clark with his morning coffee on the opposite side of the street. After noting this aloud, the officer said playfully, “You wanna get him?”
Before Harris knew it the siren was blaring and Clark was next to the patrol car looking nervous. The officer leaned out of the car and said, “Sir, I am going to have to ask you to get off the side of the road because we’ve been told about a suspicious male carrying a coffee cup.”
Clark remained astonished until Harris leaned forward with a wide grin saying, “It’s me, coach!”
Harris’ mentor quickly regained his composure and chuckled, “Oh, well in that case, officer, you should arrest her for her free throws!”
While many situations Harris encountered were pressure-filled, she still found ways to have fun while establishing professional relationships with the officers. Even after the end of the internship, officer Fife still sees Harris frequently, as she attends all of the Cougars’ home games.
“We’ll have a discussion about the game and I’ll say, ‘Remember we talked about the little things and paying attention to detail,’ ” Fife said. “I think when she graduates she’ll look back on this experience and how it helped her be more vigilant with the decisions she makes.”
Harris referred to her time with the Charleston Police Department as getting the “tip of the iceberg of knowledge” that police officers need to understand in order to secure civilians’ safety. Harris is much more aware of her surroundings after being exposed to individuals who pick up on the slightest detail.
“Driving down the road I’ll think to myself, ‘Oh I would totally pull that person over,’ ” Harris said. “I notice so many little things I never would’ve noticed had I not done the internship.”