Jim Hill coach, Vicksburg native Harris dies at 47

Published 12:00 am Monday, July 27, 2009

Jim Hill basketball coach Fred Harris, who led Vicksburg High to the 1980 Overall state championship before embarking on a successful coaching career, died Sunday after suffering a heart attack at his home in Jackson.

Harris was 47. The Vicksburg native was pronounced dead at University of Mississippi Medical Center in Jackson at about 5:30 p.m.

Harris was the starting small forward on the Vicksburg High squad that captured the Class AA and Overall tournament championships in 1980. He averaged 10 points in five state tournament games for the Gators, and scored nine in the Class AA championship game against Callaway.

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“He was a team player, no doubt. He’d do the other things guys didn’t want to do,” said Michael Phelps, the starting center for that VHS championship team. “Every team we came up against in the three-spot, Fred was the one who was going to shut him down. He was our defensive guy.”

After playing college basketball at Jackson State, Harris went into coaching and enjoyed similar success. He spent a year as a graduate assistant at Jackson State before taking over as Jim Hill’s coach in 1989. Over the next 20 seasons, he compiled a 325-254 record and took the Tigers to five state tournaments in the Mississippi Coliseum.

Jim Hill never won a state championship under Harris but did finish as the runner-up in 2005, losing 69-46 in the Class 4A championship game to a Lanier team led by future NBA star Monta Ellis. Harris only had six losing seasons out of his 20 as Jim Hill’s coach.

“He was such a classy guy and a great mentor. His kids were always well-disciplined,” said longtime Vicksburg High coach Dellie C. Robinson, whose teams often faced off against Harris. “His teams were always one of the smartest teams we played because he demanded they be successful in the classroom.”

Robinson added that Harris’ demeanor, success on the court, and his players’ success in the classroom made Harris a popular member of Mississippi’s basketball coaching fraternity.

“He was a well-liked guy. He was quiet and never really did a lot of talking,” Robinson said. “He’s definitely well-respected. Fred’s teams played in the Coliseum plenty of times. He had a good program over there. They’re going to miss him.”

Harris also served as an assistant principal at Jim Hill for the past five years. He is survived by his wife, Areda, and four children — Bracey, Morgan, Cole and Madison.

Funeral arrangements are still pending. A memorial service will be held Wednesday at 7 p.m. on the steps of Jim Hill High School in Jackson.


Contact Ernest Bowker at ebowker@vicksburgpost.com