New Mexico basketball fans long will remember – Lobo fans fondly, Aggie fans not so much – Clayton Shields’ 55-foot buzzer-beater that gave UNM a 69-68 victory over NMSU in Las Cruces on Dec. 16, 1995.
Who, though, remembers the 5-foot-11 junior-college transfer point guard who led the Aggies in scoring that night, and seemingly to a victory before Shields’ desperation heave?
Shawn Harrington, says former NMSU assistant coach Rus Bradburd, was a really good basketball player – but a better person.
Sad to say, bad things happen to good people.
The morning of Jan. 30, Harrington, 38, an assistant boys basketball coach at Marshall-Metro High School in Chicago, was driving his 15-year-old daughter to school.
Harrington was waiting for a red light to change when, for reasons as yet unknown, a pedestrian walked up to his car and fired into it with a pistol.
Shielding his daughter, Harrington took bullets in his upper back and under his left arm. Though he somehow managed to drive away from further danger, he now is paralyzed from the waist down.
Deandre Thompson, 21, has been charged with attempted murder and is being held without bail.
Today at Marshall, Harrington’s alma mater as well as his workplace, a benefit alumni game is being played to help Harrington with whatever costs his insurance with Chicago Public Schools don’t cover.
A fund has been established at a Chicago bank for the same purpose.
“I’ve known him all his life,” said Marshall athletic director Dorothy Gaters, also a legendary girls basketball coach, who organized the benefit alumni game and established the bank account. “He’s a great guy.”
Bradburd, who recruited Harrington to New Mexico State 19 years ago, recalls a kid who played with all the toughness and grit one would expect of a point guard from Chicago’s West Side – but who was unfailingly polite, friendly and warm off the court.
“He was a good little player,” Bradburd said. “But what I remember about him was that he was a nice kid.”
Harrington came to NMSU in 1995, as the Aggies were forced to recruit virtually an entire new roster after an academic fraud scandal. Water-bug quick, he scored 19 points against the Lobos that night before Shields dialed long distance.
Harrington was leading the Aggies in scoring, assists and steals in mid-January when torn knee cartilage sidelined him for the rest of the season.
Then, Bradburd said, Harrington “sort of took his eye off the ball in term of academics.”
Declared ineligible at NMSU, he finished his college career at Division II Northwest Missouri State. After being named the Mid-American Intercollegiate Athletic Association’s most valuable player, he earned a bachelor’s degree in communications before returning home to Chicago.
At Marshall, Harrington is an assistant to Commandos head coach Henry Cotton.
Harrington and the Marshall players, Cotton said, had formed a special bond.
“He’s a motivation to them,” Cotton said. “He’s everything that they need. … He’s a teacher, a counselor, an uncle to those guys, everything that some of them don’t have at home.”
Like Gaters, Cotton has known Harrington for years. When Harrington was a player at Marshall, Cotton was the head coach at Chicago’s Westinghouse High School.
Thus, Cotton wasn’t surprised Harrington has reacted to crushing misfortune with grace and optimism.
“He’s been like that since I met him,” Cotton said. “… He has that same spirit (now.)”
The Marshall players, Cotton said, were devastated by the news of Harrington’s misfortune. But when they visited him at the Rehabilitation Center of Chicago, hoping to comfort him, he comforted them as well.
“That’s why everybody’s doing a lot better now,” Cotton said, “because everybody’s able to go see him. Hearing him talk, that’s what’s making us feel better.”
Harrington, in an interview with Chicago’s WGN Radio, said he doesn’t consider himself a hero. Shielding his daughter from those bullets, he said, in his mind was just what any father would do.
“I just looked at my daughter as being my first priority,” he said. “That was what it was about to me at that time.
“The fact she did come out unscathed is the reason why, spiritually, I’m in a better place.”
Harrington told WGN he fully intends to walk again, adding that the support he’s received since the shooting has bolstered his optimism and peace of mind.
“Ever since I’ve been home from college,” he said, “I’ve worked with kids – every grade from kindergarten to college. But I didn’t know I’d touched so many lives in such a positive way.
“With all the prayer, the love and support, I really haven’t had any dark moments.”