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Sencire Harris brings boundless energy to Illinois men’s basketball

CHAMPAIGN — It took some energy early in the second half of Illinois’ game against UCLA.

Brad Underwood knew who to turn to. It was Sencire Harris, a security guard who has shown energy and tenacity since Underwood and Chester Frazier recruited him.

“I mean, he’s trying to rip the JV players’ heads off in practice,” Underwood said. “He kicks his butt and then it’s who he’s playing, it’s just that mentality. And I tend to kind of like these guys.”

UCLA Illinois Basketball

Illinois coach Brad Underwood speaks with guard Sencire Harris, second from right, after Illinois defeated UCLA November 18 in Las Vegas. Illinois surpassed UCLA by 16 in Harris’ 10 minutes off the bench.

Chase Stevens, Associated Press

Freshman Harris was up to the challenge, snagging a rotation spot off the bench with the tenacity Underwood craves.

“I’ve always been like this,” Harris said. “I always want to play against the best player.”

He provided a spark, and Illinois had a great run in the second half to win a then top-10 team and nearly won two games against top-20 teams in Las Vegas last weekend. It helped No. 16 Illinois climb the rankings and the tournament was used as a benchmark for a relatively young roster.

Harris was notable for his energy. He’s given himself an opportunity to be in the rotation and will likely be asked to bring some juice off the bench for the remainder of the season, starting with the Illinis’ game against Lindenwood (8 p.m. Friday on Big Ten Network+).

“It’s everything,” Underwood said. “We’re looking for guys like that. We’re looking for those brave, tough guys who, you know, can make a difference in a game without having to hit it all the time.”

Underwood said Harris talks more trash than any other player in America, but he’ll take it with the rest of Harris’ energy.

UCLA Illinois Basketball

UCLA guard Tyger Campbell (10) drives against Illinois guard Sencire Harris during a game November 18 in Las Vegas. Harris has been an energizer for the Illini so far this season. (AP Photo/Chase Stevens)

Chase Stevens

“He and I are going to have some fights here, and yet the only thing I love about him is that he’s an ultra competitor,” Underwood said.

Harris silenced UCLA All-Conference Guard Tyger Campbell in the second half to help Coleman Hawkins and the rest of the Illini press turn the tide.

“By the end of the UCLA game, we had … he had them exhausted,” Underwood said. “Tyger was exhausted.”

That performance meant he received a shout-out from Lebron James, an alum at St. Vincent St. Mary High School, which Harris attended.

“That means you hear a lot about LeBron,” Harris said. “Actually, that’s my guy, so sometimes we talk when he comes back.”

That’s a bit of a contrast to Harris’ style of court. Fellow Jayden Epps says he has the same level of energy off the court but without as much bite.

“Every time you see him he smiles, he’s always joking,” Epps said. “He’s always full of energy. Maybe when you’re down or not having a good day, he’ll help you have a good day. He just brings energy on and off the pitch, he just brings happiness and a spark to the team.”

UCLA Illinois Basketball

UCLA guard Jaime Jaquez Jr. (24) attempts a shot while Illinois guard Sencire Harris (1) defends during a game November 18 in Las Vegas. Harris was brought off the bench to defend himself and be the forefront of the Illini press. (AP Photo/Chase Stevens)

Chase Stevens

This level of energy has given the Illini a boost and makes it an important piece for the future.

“We made a unique find there, and they’re hard to find,” Underwood said.

Follow Anderson Kimball on Twitter at: byAndy Kimball

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