Eric Harris was the point guard that helped lead Clem Haskins’ Gophers to the Final Four in 1997, but he lost touch with his former coach in the decades since his playing days.
All the old memories came back when Harris, along with about 20 of his former players and assistants saw Haskins on Wednesday night during a gathering for the ex-Gophers coach at J.D. Hoyt's in Minneapolis.
“It was a cool time,” Harris said. “I hadn’t seen him in years. He was just saying he loves me and I told him I love him back. He saw some of the things I’ve done. He had some kind words, so did his wife (Yevette). It was just a good time.”
Harris recently moved back to the Twin Cities, went back to school to finish his degree at the U. He’s starting a basketball training program and does an alumni video podcast with the Golden Dunkers men’s basketball booster club.
Harris and Quincy Lewis were members of the vacated ’97 Final Four team to meet with Haskins on Wednesday night, but other players catching up with their old coach included Jim Shikenjanski, Richard Coffey, Arriel McDonald and Randy Carter.
“His assistant coaches were there, too,” Harris said. “It was just good catching up with all of those people. I missed their reunion last time, but I can only imagine that’s kind of how it was. It was just full circle. It was a great moment.”
Haskins, who coached the U from 1986-1999, last came to the Twin Cities in October 2017 when about 30 of his former players honored him at a dinner and tailgate reception before a Gophers football game. Haskins was also invited by Richard Pitino to attend a basketball practice and spoke to the team.
Earlier that spring was the 20th anniversary of his Final Four team that was wiped from the record books after an academic scandal. Haskins saw six of his Gophers seasons erased, but he still has 111 wins to his credit, including the 1989 Sweet 16 and 1990 Elite Eight. Haskins, who lives on his farm in Kentucky, coached for 18 seasons, but hasn’t returned to coaching since resigning at Minnesota in 1999.
“I was giving everything to the University of Minnesota to make that program to what it became,” Haskins told the Star Tribune in 2017. “It takes a lot of effort, a lot of time, a lot of sweat, a lot of headaches, a lot of disappointment, a lot of ups and downs to get it to the point it’s at. We had one of the elite programs in the country.”
Two years ago, Haskins said he felt his former school should reach out to him to welcome him back on campus, because “befriending me or making me feel welcomed back is very important particularly to my players."
Gophers officials said then that he would be invited back to campus if they honored any of his non-vacated teams again. The Final Four banner, though, is still in a facility closet somewhere on campus collecting dust.
“I’ve moved on,” Haskins said in 2017. “You have to learn to turn the page. Unfortunately, it happened the way it did then, and I was sorry I left that way. But I was ready to move on.”