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Blue Demons Get Fired Up at Student-Athlete Orientation
Former DePaul basketball player Jon Harris, who works with professional and college athletes, spoke about grittiness during his presentation.

Former DePaul basketball player Jon Harris, who works with professional and college athletes, spoke about grittiness during his presentation.

Sept. 11, 2013

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CHICAGO - There was a whole lot of motivating going on Tuesday during the day-long DePaul Student-Athlete Orientation program at McGrath-Phillips Arena.

It began with inspiring words from DePaul President Rev. Dennis H. Holtschneider, C.M. and included a motivational presentation from former DePaul basketball player Jon Harris who works with NFL, NBA, college and high school athletes.

Blue Demon freshman soccer player Ana Greik was all ears during Father Holtschneider's speech.

"I was really impressed by Father Dennis' speech and what he said about how so many people get to know DePaul through the athletics program," Greik said. "It meant a lot that the president of DePaul would come and give a talk like that.

"It was great to hear stuff about athletics and to see how the president of the university cares so much about athletics at DePaul. A lot of people form an impression about our school from watching DePaul on TV and seeing us in airports.

"We didn't have this kind of exposure in high school. It's really cool that we could have an impact on a young child and could have kids looking up to us. It means we have to be a role model."

There were presentations from DePaul Athletics Director Jean Lenti Ponsetto, Associate Athletics Director Kathryn Statz, faculty representative Dr. John McEnroe, Dr. Wayne Steger on academic integrity, Sister Katie Norris on St. Vincent de Paul and Deb Schmidt-Rogers and Danielle Kuglin-Seago on the Strengths Quest program.

As a team-building and community-service project, Blue Demon student-athletes made 120 blankets which will be donated to charitable organizations.

Harris gave a motivational talk on how having the most talent doesn't always translate into having the most success.

"It's all about being gritty and super competitive," Harris said. "Research shows us that the most talented people do not end up being the most successful. I'm a prime example. I wasn't the most talented in grade school and worked harder than anyone else to become the captain of my high school basketball team.

"If you are the most talented and also the grittiest player on your team, there's no stopping you. That's your All-American. Let's say Charles McKinney is the grittiest guy on our basketball team. If I'm Cleveland Melvin or Brandon Young and I'm not the grittiest---I need to be.

"I think of guys like St. Louis Rams quarterback Kurt Warner and Bulls guard Jerry Sloan of being gritty and prevailing over more talented athletes. A more modern example is Bulls center Joakim Noah. He has terrible form on his shot and he can annoy you with the way he plays. But very few players work harder than Noah."

For Harris, when grittiness combines with superior talent, you have the perfect storm of sports.

"The ultimate example of grittiness and talent is Michael Jordan," Harris said. "He wanted to win at everything. Whether he was playing basketball, golf, a game of cards or shooting pool---he just wanted to beat you.

"After he was done in the NBA, he went back to school and got his degree. He wanted to go out into the business world and be taken seriously. Again, he wanted to win."

Harris played at DePaul from 1991-95 under coach Joey Meyer. Some of his teammates included Tommy Kleinschmidt, David Booth, Stephen Howard and Terry Davis. He cherishes a freshman season in which the Blue Demons beat Georgetown with Dikembe Mutombo and Florida State with Charlie Ward en route to qualifying for the NCAA tournament.

"Coming here without question is the best thing I ever did," Harris said. "To this day when I come back for orientation, it's like seeing family again.

"It's a university of 25,000 students where the athletic director gives me a warm hug and asks about my mom. It's good to see Eugene and Mike Lenti again along with Thad Dohrn, Marge Mazik and everyone else."

Harris worked on Project Academics, designed to help NFL and NBA athletes complete their degrees while also serving the community. It was such a success that in 2001, the NFL brought Harris in-house to run the program as manager of player development.

In 2004, Harris started his own company called AthLife that provides education services, life-skill programming, and career transition to professional, collegiate and high school athletes.

Greik will attempt to be at her gritty best in a 4 p.m. women's soccer match Wednesday against Green Bay at Wish Field. And much of what she learned at orientation will accompany her onto the pitch.

"This was a good opportunity to meet student-athletes from other teams," Greik said. "We have a lot in common with everyone in the gym, and it's good to bond with your teammates.

"I enjoyed making a blanket and came away realizing that everyone is always watching you. It makes me aware of what I'm doing and how I represent the school.

"It's like you always have that DePaul logo on your chest."