When adversity meets opportunity: Harris influences community through character

WKU’s senior guard Brandon Harris (12) cheers after a turnover during the second half of his last home game as a Topper, a 75-72 win over the University of Louisiana Lafayette Thursday, March 6, 2014 at Diddle Arena in Bowling Green, Ky. (Mike Clark/HERALD)

Elliott Pratt

It was 3:30 p.m. Ethan Warder and his sister Elizabeth, two Bowling Green children, were playing games at Chuck E Cheese’s.

Severe winter weather had kept the 10-year-olds out of school all week.

Their mother, Amanda Warder, a guidance counselor at Henry F. Moss Middle School, took her kids to school anyways for The Leader In Me Symposium. She told them if they did a good job she would take them to Chuck E Cheese’s.

So there was Elizabeth and her friend Will Faulkner, 10, with about 300 tickets won off games, trying to add up.

During the middle of a game, a stranger in a suit tapped Will on the shoulder. This stranger held just four prize tickets in his hand and asked the kids if they wanted to have them.

It wasn’t much, but they accepted.

Elizabeth didn’t think much of it until she went to cash in her 300 tickets when this stranger appeared again, this time holding an arm load of tickets – nearly 600 in all. He had emptied the basketball shooting game barren of prize tickets.

The man approached Amanda Warder and asked if he could give her children every one of the tickets in his hand.

“I said ‘who are you’, and what are you doing wearing a suit and giving away tickets at Chuck E Cheese’s,” Warder said.


Tajuana Brown had two sons, Randel and Brandon Harris, who were just a bit younger than the Warder children when they were homeless in Oklahoma City, Ok. in 1993

They stayed at a Salvation Army family lodge for a few months before Tajuana (known as “Tee” to her family and friends), saved up enough money to move into a one-bedroom garage apartment. From there she would walk Randel and Brandon to school every day.

Life presented its own struggles for Brown and her children. There were times when Tee didn’t have much food for all of them to eat. Thinking of her children before herself, she fed them first, but Brandon would say to his mother, ‘Mama, you take half my sandwich’.

Brandon Harris has never been the child to ask for more than he’s ever known. His character is original. Even in the hard times, he made the most of his genuine personality.

“He didn’t let us being homeless stop him from being who Brandon is,” Brown said. “Little kids would drop stuff on the floor and he would say ‘Oh, I’ll get it, let me do that’. It’s not just a plaything for him.

“People ask me if he’s playing or if he’s making this up. He’s always been that way. Even while we were homeless he was still the light of the world.”

Brown has been an ordained minister for over 15 years now. She instilled a foundation of faith in both her sons at an early age. Their faith, she says, is what has blessed them through the good times and the bad.

Brown taught her son to look forward rather than back, but at the same time, she wants him to never forget where he came from.

“My mom told me you have to think about life like sand paper,” Harris said. “When it rubs on you it hurts you the wrong way, but eventually you’re going to come out smooth and polished. That’s how I look at the obstacles in my life and say to myself, ‘you’re going to be better because of this’.”


Three hours before his first college basketball game, Brandon Harris was called into the coach’s office at Northwestern Oklahoma State University to be told he had been redshirted.

Before that confrontation, Harris was planning to make the most out of an NAIA program that gave him what he called the only opportunity to play college basketball.

A year passed and basketball wasn’t working out for Harris.

So, he quit.

“I was scared,” Harris said. “I hadn’t talked to any other schools at all and I wasn’t happy. I prayed about it because I said it wasn’t for me. I said I was done with basketball and I told my mom I was going to find a job and find a way.”

Harris came back and instead took a leap of faith and transferred to Otero Junior College in Colorado before receiving an offer to play at Western Kentucky University.

If you had asked him four years ago after quitting an NAIA team if he would one day play a vital role in WKU’s second straight Sun Belt Conference Tournament role, he probably would have sworn at you to take your ideas somewhere else like he did with Bradley Franz.

Franz, who at the time was the vice president of student affairs at NWOSU while doing side work as a junior college scout, understood his frustrations with life, but saw the potential in Harris even when he didn’t see it in himself.

Franz was sold on Brandon’s character that echoed the embodiment of success.

“Brandon is the type of guy that I’d hire in 30 seconds as an employee,” Franz said. “He’s loyal, he’s very smart, he’s got tremendous work ethic and he’s got great character. In all that, I never said anything about him being a great basketball player.

“All the things I said embody whether a person is going to be successful or not. I figured if he went out and played like I thought he could play, instead of quitting and hanging it up, then he’d probably go to a D-I school.”

Quitting isn’t in the routine vocabulary of Harris; his character doesn’t allow it.

According to Harris, his character tells him that staying the course will make things better in the end.

“During that time I continued to pray and trust in God,” Harris said. “He gave me the opportunity to play and continue my basketball career.”


Harris was going to be WKU’s starting point guard at the beginning of this season. The senior was entering his second and final year with the Hilltoppers coming off an impressive junior year, his first year on the Hill.

When coach Ray Harper previewed Senior night, he didn’t know what Harris’ role was any more on the team.

“He should’ve been the starting point guard from the beginning, but he wasn’t there and we found other guys that were better,” Harper said.

On paper, his numbers are underachieving of what he was able to do last season, but the circumstances were much different.

Harris hasn’t been asked of a lot in his senior year due to a deep, healthy WKU roster.

In 2012-13, he was thrown into the starting point guard role when Jamal Crook, a four-year senior starter, went down with an injury. He started 25 games as a junior and averaged 8.2 points and 5.6 rebounds per game.

A reliable second-string is what Harris is used to. He doesn’t mind not being the starter or logging a lot of minutes, he only wants to do what coach believes is best.

“When I came here, I came here to play basketball,” Harris said at the beginning of the year. “I’ve told everybody that I don’t care if I start, coach controls that. Coach (David) Boyden talks to me about that, you have to control the controllable. I came here saying ‘I’m going to do whatever you ask me to do’.”

Two days before his final game in Diddle Arena, Harris mirrored that statement.

“Whatever coach asks me to do, that’s the kind of person that I’ve been,” he said. “If he asks me to come off the bench, wring a towel, ring a bell, I’m going to do the best I can do, the best job I can do doing it.”

Franz knew Harris wasn’t the player that is going to put up eye-popping numbers on a box score, and Harper isn’t asking that of Harris either. Franz told Harper when Harris was being recruited by WKU that no matter what he did on the court, they would need a personality like him on the team.

“Bottom line is I told him they weren’t going to find a better person or player who is going to try his damnedest to please you as a coach,” Franz said.


At about 3:30 p.m. on a Thursday, three-and-a-half hours before he and his team played Louisiana-Lafayette on Senior night, Brandon Harris introduced himself to Amanda Warder at Chuck E Cheese’s.

Will Faulkner knew who Harris was when he tapped him on the shoulder, but he didn’t say anything at first, perhaps he was star struck.

For Harris, acts of kindness are first nature.

“He told us that when he was little they didn’t have a lot of money,” Warder said. “but for one of his birthday parties his mom took him to a place that was similar to Chuck E Cheese’s and he had run out of tokens and being a little kid he started crying and this kind stranger had given him a big bucket of tokens. Now when he’s around any place like that he tries to do the same for a kid in that place.”

Harris’ social media feeds flood with outpouring gratitude and appreciation of his random acts of kindness.

Harris has a picture on his Twitter feed of him posing with two younger boys, with a mother’s caption that says “We need more Brandons in the world.”

Another is a screen shot email addressed to him from a mother who took her boys to Hilltopper Hysteria. The caption reads they “were mesmerized by your enthusiasm. Always remember, that there is ALWAYS someone watching you…even when you don’t see them. Good luck this year ! Keep making a difference.”

There’s a message from a young man who plays basketball who hopes to meet Harris and told him, “You are my role model because (you’re) talented and Christian man that’s the best part”

For Brown, this is nothing new to see out of her son, but it still makes a mother proud.

“There’s not even words to express how proud I am of him because when I read Twitter and people say ‘We really love your son. We love him on the court and off. We wish we had him for two years’. It’s not a surprise to me that they’re saying these things about my son because I know who he is.”

Harris knows there’s a purpose to his life. It doesn’t matter whether he’s the starting point guard on a D-I basketball team or sharing his faith with others to be an influence on the youth of Bowling Green.

“I question (my character) the whole time,” Harris said. “Especially as a younger adult, but I think older people do it as well, you always question who you are, and that’s just a part of life. Am I doing the right thing? Am I in the right profession? Is this my purpose in life?

“…You can do the right thing, but why are you doing the right thing. I’ve realized in life I was doing the right thing because I thought I had to, then I grew up and realized this is what God wants for me, to serve Him and to do His will and throughout my whole journey, my faith is why I’ve made it this far.”

Harris’ contribution came just a day after Amanda Warder decided to give random acts of kindness for Lent.

“We were just talking about random acts of kindness before Brandon walked up to me,” Warder said. “It was kind of ironic because my kids had just attended a leadership symposium and then they got to see a leader in our community do something nice for somebody.”

Elizabeth and Will already redeemed their prizes and were done with the games, but Will kept finding tokens scattered in places on the floor.

He could have played more, saved his tickets for a bigger prize for himself one day. Instead, he and Elizabeth found other children in the gaming area, and gave the tokens to them.