Everyone who probes into University of South Carolina basketball history knows Skip Harlicka could shoot, score, reap all-star honors and earn a place in both the USC and State of South Carolina Athletic Halls of Fame.
But do they realize he might have been a better baseball prospect?
Do they know he came within a whisker of playing for the University of New Orleans rather than leading the Gamecocks in scoring in each of his three varsity seasons?
Do they know that an assistant coach and not the head man made him part of Frank McGuire’s first recruiting class, which led to his becoming one of the program’s cornerstones?
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Do they know he became a success in banking and later in real estate development and the financial world?
Do they know that, at age 70, he remains active in the United States Basketball Association and conducts the organization’s clinics for youngsters?
Do they know he is a recently published author?
What? An author?
Naturally, if he has become an author, he writes about sports, right? He takes his readers behind the scenes in college basketball, right? Of course, he extols his shooting expertise and touts his All-American credentials, right?
Well … “No” to the above three questions.
He uses some of his basketball experiences to make points, but his book – “A Lifetime Journey” – is about life, about being the best a person can be and how to get there, and his points strike a chord.
He is writing to young people and their parents, he said, adding, “I wish I had had this information growing up. The benefits would have been unimaginable. I’m passionate about this; I want to use sports to help kids in life.”
Finding your fit
Harlicka lives in Raleigh, and his daily workouts at North Carolina State led to friendships with some of the university’s professors.
They talked. They swapped ideas.
“The most important thing I learned from them – and these are some of the smartest people in the world – is to think,” Harlicka said. “They said they give students a problem they know they can solve with effort and let them solve it. Eventually, they learn to give themselves problems, and once they do that, you know they’ll be OK in life.
“So much has changed through the years. A college degree used to be a ticket to a decent life, but the world is more complex now. A lot of college graduates cannot get a job in their field.”
The more he talked to his “workout buddies,” the more determined he became to share what he gleaned from their conversations.
“A Lifetime Journey – Find Yourself, Find Your Fit,” is the result. The paperback (available on Amazon) is not long, contains some quotes to remember and even some pictures from long ago of his deadly-accurate jump shot. The volume also zeroes in on six questions and six answers that can mold lives.
One professor told him, “There are a thousand books on what we’re talking about, but not one that includes everything,” Harlicka said. “Putting all those ideas in one place became my goal.
“If you wonder where the answers in life are, look within. The answers are within us, and the purpose of my book is to show how we can unlock that information.”
He writes about opportunities and overcoming hardships, courage and mentors, leading by example, adaptability and the importance of striving to be your best at all times. He used a personal example for the latter.
Then, Harlicka focuses on six areas and poses six questions in each one. “The six areas of life,” he said. “There are no wrong answers, just your right answers.”
An attitude adjustment
Harlicka got from his native New Jersey to South Carolina thanks to a coach named Ken Stibler, who recruited Harlicka for New Orleans. The head coach at New Orleans chose two other recruits, leaving Harlicka the odd man out.
“I wasn’t that highly recruited,” Harlicka said. “(Stibler) called me and told me he had good news and bad news. The bad was New Orleans picked the other two guys. The good was that he had taken a job at South Carolina (under McGuire) and wanted to know if I would I be interested in South Carolina.”
That’s seizing opportunity, he said, and used another famous name in USC basketball lore, Bobby Cremins, for another example.
The Gamecocks had suffered that crushing loss to N.C. State in the 1970 Atlantic Coast Conference Tournament in Cremins’ final college game, and his attempts to make the pros failed. He started thinking about getting into selling insurance or real estate.
Corky Cornevale, another former USC player, called to tell Cremins a team in South America needed a player. But the team wanted a 6-foot-6 forward and Cremins topped out at 6-2. Cremins tried out, got the place on the team and used that for a springboard to an outstanding college coaching career.
“That’s taking advantage of opportunity,” Harlicka said. “Life is not easy, and life is full of defining moments. Winners dare to be great.”
Life’s lessons are everywhere, and Harlicka discovered that in the first game of his senior year. He led the team in scoring for two years and admitted, “My ego may have needed some adjustment.”
McGuire saw the same thing. The coach who hated to substitute, especially early in games, pulled his leading scorer midway the first half. “I hoped he wanted me to get him a Coke and some popcorn,” Harlicka said. “If not, I knew I was in trouble.”
McGuire did not pull Harlicka to run an errand or to discuss strategy. Rather, he said, “It seems to me you don’t want to play tonight, so just sit here with me and enjoy watching the game,” Harlicka remembered. “After about 30 seconds, he turned me to and said, ‘Now, when you’re ready to play the way I know you’re capable of playing, let me know and I’ll put you back in.”
Of course, Harlicka went on to lead the Gamecocks in scoring again that season and became a first-round draft choice in the NBA.
“I tell that story to emphasize the value of staying focused and working hard to reach your goal,” he said. “That lesson may have been my greatest achievement my senior year.”
Oh, and about that baseball career. Harlicka, a center fielder, sparkled on the diamond his freshman year and looked forward to rejoining the squad after basketball season ended. He told the coach he would be on the field after a quick trip home after the ACC tournament.
“He told me he couldn’t allow that or everybody would want time off, so that ended my baseball at USC,” Harlicka said. “I don’t know for sure, but I suspect Frank McGuire’s hands were all over that decision.”
Another lesson: be the best you can be in what you do best. Good mentors guide in positive ways.
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