Obituary: Edward Harrison / Former basketball player at Laurel Highlands, Pitt

Died Oct. 6, 2013

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Andy Warhol once said "everyone will be world-famous for 15 minutes" -- and while Edward "Buzzy" Harrison's brush with fame was short lived, he managed to stretch it to 40 minutes, or the length of a college basketball game.

Mr. Harrison, who played basketball for the University of Pittsburgh for one season but had one of the school's best individual performances in one of the most important games that season, died Sunday in his sleep. He was 62.

A 6-foot-4 swing player, Mr. Harrison was a standout player at Laurel Highlands High School. During his junior season, he was a key cog in the Mustangs' 1968 PIAA championship, as he averaged 13.4 points per game and locked down Cheltenham standout Craig Littlepage in the championship game.

A few years ago for a "Memory Lane" piece in the Herald-Standard, he told George Von Benko, a broadcaster, former classmate and the co-founder and co-chairman of the Fayette County Sports Hall of Fame, that his motivation for that season was he felt he was snubbed as a sophomore when he was put on the junior varsity team.

"When I was a sophomore I made coach Harold 'Horse' Taylor a promise," Mr. Harrison said to Mr. Von Benko. "I promised that I was never going to sit the bench again, because I felt like I should have been a part of the team before that when they made the great run in '66-'67. I told him at the end of the season that it was simple -- that was my last time sitting on the bench for anybody, so everybody better come prepared."

Mr. Von Benko said that although there were two bigger name stars on Laurel Highlands' 1968 team -- Wil Robinson and Jim Hobgood -- Mr. Harrison may have been the most important player on the team because of his versatility and ability to defend.

"Buzzy was a great player, a team player. He did what it took to help his team win," Mr. Von Benko said. "Even though he was a role player, he was catalyst for that team because he could score, and so he made it difficult for teams to focus on the other two guys as much. He did a lot of the dirty work, but he was also very talented."

Mr. Harrison decided to play college basketball at Pitt -- even though he had offers to play at Naval Academy, Brown and Harvard -- because he wanted to play for Buzz Ridl.

He played one year on Pitt's freshman team, as all freshmen did, then joined the Panthers varsity squad for the 1969-70 season.

Mr. Harrison was a reserve that season, but mostly because he was a sophomore, as his teammates recalled he was one of the best players on the team.

"I came in the next year and I was a freshman who played a similar position as Buzzy and he baptized me on what it meant to play at that level," said Pitt associate athletic director Kirk Bruce, who was Mr. Harrison's teammate at Pitt. "I had to guard him every day at practice and try and score on him. He was really something and he taught me a lot about how much I needed to work to improve my game really quickly. He could flat out play.

"I was talking to Tim Grgurich [a Pitt assistant at the time who spent a lot of years coaching in the NBA] the other day about Buzzy and he said to me, 'Buzzy was a pro,' and he obviously knows what he is talking about. You talk to anyone from that era and they'll tell how good he was."

Mr. Harrison's talent was on full display that year in the "Steel Bowl" against powerhouse and rival Duquesne. He scored 25 points off the bench to lead the Panthers to a 70-58 upset of the Dukes, who saw their 20-game winning streak snapped.

"That was pretty special, a lot of fun to watch," Mr. Bruce said. "Then the next night against UCLA, he had another great game against the Bruins, who were the defending national champs. He was just tough, a big, physical guard, who could score and rebound.

"And he was a really good teammate, always encouraging everyone to keep working hard."

Mr. Harrison averaged 9.9 points and 5 rebounds that season as a sophomore off the bench and seemed to be poised to do big things -- but it never happened for him.

He left the school after that season and enrolled at a small school in Oklahoma (the University of Science and Arts) and finished his career in relative obscurity, although he did set a school record for rebounds in a game (24) and was voted the team's most outstanding player his senior year.

There were several theories floated about why Mr. Harrison left Pitt, and most centered on him having academic difficulties. But he told Mr. Von Benko that wasn't the case.

"The party line at the time was his academics, that he had flunked a course or two," Mr. Von Benko said. "But he said they basically brought in some other players who played his same position and he was sort of pushed aside and Grgurich helped him find that school in Oklahoma. It is one of those stories that probably the full truth will never be known, but I take Buzzy at his word as I knew him for a long time."

Mr. Harrison's words on the subject also were chronicled in that "Memory Lane" piece by Mr. Von Benko and he said that he wasn't bitter toward anyone at Pitt.

"It was more or less an organizational thing," Mr. Harrison told Mr. Von Benko. "Billy Knight he was going to be eligible to play and we basically played the same position and so I was told that my presence at Pitt was no longer required since I wasn't on an NCAA scholarship -- I was on an academic scholarship. It was them saying we don't think you want to play here."

Mr. Harrison returned to the Uniontown area and worked most of his life at various jobs in construction and had other business ventures. He most recently worked at RW Sidley in Greensburg. But he was active in the basketball community and became somewhat of a playground legend. Mr. Von Benko said he volunteered his time working with kids.

"He had a positive influence on a lot of people," Mr. Von Benko sa

Mr. Harrison is survived by a son, Eric, and a daughter, Ebony.

Visitation will be from 10 a.m. to noon today at Lantz Funeral Home, Uniontown.


First Published October 11, 2013 8:00 PM


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