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Cherokee High School’s Russell staying busy

Tanner Cook • Jan 31, 2019 at 12:52 AM

Cherokee senior guard Harper Russell has a busy schedule almost daily it seems.

She really doesn’t get that tired, either.

Russell splits most of her time between basketball, studying and trying to squeeze in a short run every now and again.

“It’s very time consuming,” she said. “Distance running is something you have to put a lot of time into, and so is basketball with all the hours off the court spent shooting or doing ball-handling drills.”

“It’s been a lot of fun to have Harper on the team the last four years,” Cherokee head coach Jason Lawson said. “She’s very talented, and you don’t get an opportunity to coach kids of her caliber very often. It’s been rewarding because we’ve been able to put the program back where it’s supposed to be through a lot of hard work.

“She’s pushed her teammates to where our program is relevant again. … Her splitting time between distance running and basketball is odd, but I never have to worry about her getting tired during the game.”

Russell hardly ever comes off the floor for the Lady Chiefs, unless she gets in foul trouble or injured. Cherokee (16-7, 5-4) quietly sits in fourth place in the Big Seven Conference with a key home game on Thursday against Dobyns-Bennett that could help vault them into better position as the season winds down.


Besides having a standout senior season and averaging 19 points per game, Russell has eclipsed 1,500 points and recently passed Casey Ryans for second all-time at Cherokee for career points with 1,586.

She is currently 160 points short of tying Teresa Kincaid for the most all-time, and she has an outside shot of accomplishing the feat if the Lady Chiefs were to keep playing deeper into the postseason.

“I started playing basketball on a travel team when I was in second grade,” she said. “I played with fourth- and fifth-graders because they were my friends. Basketball is kind of a family thing for me because my older sister played and I wanted to be like her. She taught me how to shoot my first layup in the driveway on an outdoor basket. My dad loves basketball, and our entire family loves watching basketball.”

This season, she is Northeast Tennessee’s second leading scorer and ranks inside the top 10 in steals as well.

“When we’ve made it to the regional the past two years, that’s been great,” she said. “It’s been totally different this year. We all want to be here and we love it. We all love our coaches and we want to make them proud. We want to come out ready to play every single game.”


Russell has been running almost as long as she has been shooting hoops and, again, it all traces back to her big sister.

“My sister ran track and our neighborhood is exactly a mile around,” she said. “I just wanted to go out one day and try it with her. I made it all the way around without stopping and my mom said that maybe I should try running, too.

“We then got into AAU and when I was younger, I had to do shorter distances. When I got older, I could do longer stuff like the mile or other middle distance events.”

Russell says her favorite event is the 800 meters, which is an event that not too many distance runners like. So why that particular event?

“I like it because it’s a gutsy race. You don’t really have a second to take off,” she said. “You can’t have a mental lapse for two laps. You have to go out there and gut it out. You have to be sprinting the whole time.”

Unfortunately, Russell has been one of the first individuals out in fifth or sixth place the past two years in the 800, barely missing the state meet even with a personal best of 2:19. She also has a 5:14 best in the 1,600, which she accomplished freshman year.

However, she did qualify for the state meet in cross country for the first time in the fall, finishing ninth in 20:28. In Nashville, she finished 69th in 21:05 on the difficult Percy Warner course.

“It was a very rewarding experience,” she said. “I worked so long for that and to finally have it happen was awesome.”

It’s hard going from cross country in the fall into basketball in the winter and then back to running in the spring for track because there is hardly ever a break. Coaches really never have to worry about her conditioning, though.

“I’d love to make it to state in the 800 this year,” she said responding to what her immediate track goals were.