Small Town Shooters May Boost Hoos

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Joe Harris , from Chelan, is expected to have a big role for the Hoos.

Chelan sits in the upper reaches of Washington, a town in the shadows of the Cascades. Lake Chelan, the feature attraction, brings resort visitors to the pristine glacier-fed waters, creating a summer population boom. But make no mistake, Chelan is not a big city.

Nor is Merrill, Wisconsin. Situated near the banks of the Wisconsin and Prairie Rivers, the town’s roots run to days of logging and railroads. Only a few thousand more people live in Merrill today than nearly 150 years ago. It snowed in Merrill the first weekend of October, but it didn’t stick. So, like Chelan, Merrill isn’t a place bursting at the seams.

In these two humble hamlets at least halfway across the country, however, the Virginia men’s basketball program found a pair of prospects it wanted to lure to Charlottesville. Joe Harris , a native son of Chelan, joined UVa coach Tony Bennett’s first recruiting class while Paul Jesperson , a young man near Bennett’s own Wisconsin roots, followed a year later. Both brought sharp-shooting reputations to town, Harris the Gatorade Player of the Year in Washington, and Jesperson, the Gatorade Player of the Year in Wisconsin.

With a team unexpectedly sparse with upper classmen after a 2012 NCAA Tournament appearance, the Cavaliers hope the pair of small town shooters can help the program sustain success while a talented, though young, roster finds its way.

“I feel like one of my biggest strengths as a player is my shooting ability. It’s something I take a lot of pride in,” Harris said. “Obviously, you try to improve in all other areas. We’re pretty diligent at working on ball-handling as guards in the program and we consistently work on the defensive end.”

“I feel like definitely coming off screens is one of my strong points. Shooting the ball is obviously the strongest attribute that I have,” Jesperson said.