Boise State Basketball

He played 99 minutes in two years. Now Idaho native aims for breakout year at Boise State.

Malek Harwell and the Boise State men’s basketball team opened the season with an exhibition game against Vanguard on Monday at Taco Bell Arena.
Malek Harwell and the Boise State men’s basketball team opened the season with an exhibition game against Vanguard on Monday at Taco Bell Arena. kjones@idahostatesman.com

Malek Harwell’s senior season at Century High in Pocatello included one distinction after another.

The Diamondbacks’ all-time leading scorer was chosen as the state’s player of the year by the Idaho Statesman and USA Today, and he was rated the No. 1 prospect in Idaho by ESPN.com after averaging 25.7 points, 9.5 rebounds and 3.5 assists per game.

But Harwell’s first three years with the Boise State men’s basketball team have come and gone without much fanfare.

A knee injury has a way of sweeping the confidence right out from under your feet.

After tearing the ACL in his right knee during October practices, Harwell ended up redshirting his freshman year (2015-16) at Boise State. He then appeared in nine games as a redshirt freshman (2016-17) and 16 games last season (2017-18) for a total of 99 minutes over two years. He also played with a torn meniscus as a senior in high school.

“A big part of his career has been his injury setbacks,” Boise State coach Leon Rice said. “He did so great coming out of the gate, and then he got hurt. Those knee injuries have just set him back, and that messes with a guy’s confidence.”

[Related: Pat Dembley’s early turmoil helped him mature]

Going into Saturday’s home game against Central Washington (4-4) at 2 p.m., Harwell is averaging 3.0 points and 12.6 minutes per game. The 6-foot-5 guard already has set single-game career highs for minutes (21 vs. Illinois State), points (7 vs. Grand Canyon), rebounds (3 vs. St. Bonaventure) and free throws made (4 vs. Grand Canyon).

“Freshman year was tough just because I was so young and I couldn’t really see the bigger picture,” Harwell told the Idaho Statesman on Tuesday. “But in the grand scheme of things, I think it was a blessing in disguise, just being able to sit back and take the game in more from a mental aspect and see how it’s played at this level.”

While he hasn’t yet cracked the starting lineup, Harwell has played significant first-half minutes in each of the Broncos’ games this season. He even made two clutch free throws with 10.9 seconds left against Grand Canyon that brought the Broncos within 68-67.

He’s finally starting to look and feel like the highly recruited player Boise State fought off teams such as Colorado, Wyoming, Utah State and San Francisco to get.

“I think his confidence level is probably his biggest thing that holds him back,” Rice said. “The more confidence he can play with, the better he is.”

Harwell says his confidence is building with every game, and he no longer finds himself worrying about re-injuring his knee. The redshirt season also allowed him to get ahead in school. He’s on track to graduate with a degree in business marketing this spring and plans to get his master’s in business administration next year.

“Not every day is going to be easy. A lot of the time it’s going to be hard,” Harwell said. “But you push through that and get over the hump, you never know what’s on the other side.”

Witnessing the metamorphosis of some of his teammates firsthand — including former roommate Chandler Hutchison, who is now with the Chicago Bulls — has helped Harwell stay the course even when playing time was hard to come by.

He’s hopeful his time to shine isn’t far off.

“We had a bunch of talent last year and the year before that,” Harwell said. “I’ve been around a bunch of guys who have just been blessed with talent. To see them come up and grow just kind of pushed me to keep at it and keep working.”

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