On Tuesday afternoon, as practice gets underway for the Lake Clifton basketball team in preparation for the next day’s trip to Richard Montgomery High School in Rockville for the 1A state semifinal game against CMIT North, head coach Herman “Tree” Harried starts running the squad through the various offensive sets that they plan to run.

The mood is calm and relaxed on purpose, with the lanky, angular Harried wanting his players to mentally focus before the workout eventually reaches a frenetic, fever pitch.

“Let’s walk through Horns Down,” Harried said. “We don’t run that too much, but we’ll run it at times tomorrow.”

When the offense flows to his satisfaction, he directs the defending 1A state champion Lakers to run Motion Two, then Baseline Special, One Out of Bounds, 21 Cube and Press One Attack before an overview of their various full-court press defenses.

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It’s a clinic on basketball teaching and instruction, with Harried pointing out minuscule details that the casual eye would miss, such as spacing and the proper placement of one’s hands and feet, exhorting his players at various junctures, his voice rising with each passing minute, to “Relax, slow down, wait for the screen, take your time.”

Coach Herman “Tree” Harried gives instructions to his players on March 7, 2023 as they prepare for a semifinal game the following night. Harried serves Lake Clifton as a coach, athletic director and mentor, and he is widely considered in the national basketball community to be one of the very best coaches in the country. (Paul Newson/The Baltimore Banner)

After the 20-minute walk-through, the team gathers in a circle to stretch. That’s when Usher’s “You Don’t Have to Call” comes blasting through the overhead speakers and Harried starts to really get his juices flowing.

When the stretching is complete, the players sprint out of the gym momentarily, reappearing with bricks in each hand. They sprint full speed for a dizzying fifteen minutes with their arms extended, from sideline to sideline and baseline to baseline, as gravity and the weight of the bricks conspire to become more than just a simple nuisance.

And when that’s done, that’s when the real practice begins.

***

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Herman Harried grew up in East Baltimore in a rowhouse on the corner of Homewood and Greenmount. The neighborhood was rough, but it was also a caring community where people looked out for one another. His father, Herman Harried Sr., was a truck driver with a profound work ethic. His mom, Esther, took care of the home and their five children.

“My parents were working class, hardworking people,” Harried said. “My father worked a full-time job since he was 12 and he was always working. He never finished school, but education was stressed in our home. Our house was always clean, we always had nice shoes and clothes, we always had food in the fridge and me and my sisters never went without.”

Some neighbors surmised that the family was rich, as Herman Sr. would regularly pile his family into one of his beloved “Deuce-and-a-quarters” — the four-door, full-size Buick Electra 225 with whitewall tires for trips to the beach or weekends in Atlantic City.

When some neighbors would have their power shut off, Esther could be seen running extension cords down the block to assist them until their bill could get paid and their power could be restored.

“People thought we had it like that, but looking back on it now, they were just making ends meet,” Harried said. “But I saw the teamwork and how they worked together to make things happen. There were expectations and standards, you had to be accountable and handle your business in school. A lot of what I do as a coach with my players today is from that parental and family lens.”

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Coach Herman “Tree” Harried gives instructions to his players on March 7, 2023, as they prepare for a semifinal game the following night. Harried serves Lake Clifton as a coach, athletic director, and mentor, and he is widely considered in the national basketball community to be one of the very best coaches in the country. (Paul Newson/The Baltimore Banner)

Harried caught the basketball bug at an early age on the neighborhood’s asphalt playgrounds. An older teenaged neighbor named Mikey, who came from a family that was known for being bad and rough, pulled him aside at the age of 9.

“Meet me on your porch tomorrow,” Mikey told him, Harried recalled. “I’m taking you down to Cecil-Kirk to try out for the team.”

“Mikey was gifted basketball-wise, but he was in the street and not going to school or doing the things he was supposed to do,” Harried said. “But he had enough love and respect for me to make sure that I was doing what I was supposed to do. He was murdered years later.”

Mikey introduced Harried to one of the youth coaches, then turned around and left. The coach gazed at the tall skinny kid and immediately gave him the nickname that would stick with him for life.

“Michael Jackson was the biggest thing in our community back then and I had this huge afro like him,” Harried said. “It was this big old circle, and it was glistening too, my mom kept it clean and shiny. The coach took one look at me and said, ‘I’m gonna call you Tree.’”

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By the time he was 15, he was soaring through the air for gravity-defying, rim-rattling dunks and recognized as one of the best young up-and-coming players in the city.

At Paul Laurence Dunbar High School, he played on what is universally recognized as the greatest team in the history of prep basketball. On that 1983 national championship squad, he played alongside Muggsy Bogues, Reggie Williams and Reggie Lewis, his former teammate at the Cecil-Kirk recreation center.

“Herm was an unbelievable player,” said his assistant coach at Lake Clifton, Kevin McDuffie. “He was so long with the wingspan of a seven-footer, he could jump through the roof and rip the rim down and he was an exceptional defender. It was hard to get a shot off against him.”

McDuffie, who attended Lake Clifton, grew up playing basketball with Harried at the Cecil-Kirk recreation center. They met on the first day that Harried got there, the day he got his nickname. After that first practice, they started talking and walked over to a nearby deli to grab some sandwiches.

Longtime assistant JV coach Stephen Hill at Lake Clifton High School in Baltimore, Maryland, on March 7, 2023. Hill comes to as many practices as he can to support his old teammate and longtime friend Coach Herman “Tree” Harried. (Paul Newson/The Baltimore Banner)

“We became the best of friends from that day forward,” said the towering, muscular McDuffie, who played his college basketball at Northeastern University for Hall of Fame coach Jim Calhoun.

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Coming out of high school, Harried was one of the top players in the country. The founder of the legendary Five-Star summer camp, Howard Garfinkel, gave him another nickname after he dominated every season and won every award the camp had to offer.

“I tore Five-Star up that summer before my senior year, and that’s when Garf started calling me ‘The Helicopter,’” Harried said.

After taking recruiting visits to Villanova, Wake Forest and the University of Virginia, he took his final visit to Syracuse University.

“As a 17-year-old kid from the inner city, when you walk into that Carrier Dome it’s a wrap,” Harried said. “In Baltimore, I shared a bedroom with my cousin and we had twin beds. At Syracuse, the basketball players lived in the Skytop Apartments, so when I saw how beautiful the campus was and that I’d be living in a two-bedroom townhouse apartment with a dining room and a living room, I knew that’s where I was going.”

He walked into a program during the golden age of the Big East conference and was teammates with one of the most electrifying players in college basketball history, Dwayne “Pearl” Washington.

Harried had a solid freshman year as a role player and was poised for a breakout sophomore campaign. But during a pickup game at the Carrier Dome while attending summer school, he suffered a devastating, gruesome knee injury. He missed the entire next season while undergoing a rigorous rehabilitation.

By the time he returned for the 1986-1987 season, the explosiveness and above-the-rim pyrotechnics were gone. He wasn’t the same player, couldn’t do the same things.

The team brought in heralded freshman recruits Derrick Coleman from Detroit and Stevie Thompson from Los Angeles. And with Rony Seikaly developing into one of the best big men in the country, Harried’s minutes would prove scarce.

Coach Herman “Tree” Harried gives instructions to one of the players on his team on March 7, 2023. Harried serves Lake Clifton as a coach, athletic director and mentor, and he is widely considered in the national basketball community to be one of the very best coaches in the country. (Paul Newson/The Baltimore Banner)

While others might have angrily pouted, he focused on being the best teammate he could be while giving his all in practice.

“When I got to college, Herm lived right around the corner from me,” said Derrick Coleman, the 14-year NBA veteran who is thought of by many as one of the most talented big men to ever play. “He was our DJ, with his own turntables in his apartment and I spent a lot of time with him there. My thing was soul music, that Motown sound. He introduced me to Chuck Brown and The Soul Searchers and go-go music. Every record he’d put on, he’d look over at me and say, ‘Man, you don’t know nothin’ about this here!’

“Herm has always been a great dude, a great friend, a great brother, a great teammate. The best years of my life were spent at Syracuse and Herm was a big part of that. The brotherhood is very special.”

That season, the Orangemen advanced to the national championship game against Indiana, losing 74-73 after Keith Smart’s buzzer beating jump shot.

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After graduating, with his knee coming close to being fully healed, Harried spent five years in Europe playing pro ball. He won championships and MVP awards in the British Basketball League, averaging an astounding 24.6 points and 13.7 rebounds per game.

But a phone call from former Loyola University Maryland head coach Brian Ellerbe would change his life’s direction.

“When Brian Ellerbe asked if I was interested in joining his coaching staff, I felt like God was saying, ‘I have the next chapter ready for you,’” Harried said.

After a year at Loyola, the Lake Clifton job became open. In Baltimore City Public Schools, you don’t have to work in the school system in order to coach. Harried insisted that he needed to be in the building on a full-time basis.

“I didn’t want to be some person that showed up at 3:30 to coach and then left,” Harried said. “I had a vision for what Lake Clifton could become, not just the basketball program but the entire school. In order for that to happen, I had to be fully invested in the school community.”

For two weeks, he worked as a hall monitor, roaming the halls with a walkie-talkie on what he described as the absolute worst wing of the building. When a physical education teacher fell and injured his back, a position opened up in the department. Now, 27 years later, he’s still there, serving as the athletic director along with being the head basketball coach.

Coach Herman “Tree” Harried gives instructions to one of the players on his team on March 7, 2023. Harried serves Lake Clifton as a coach, athletic director and mentor, and he is widely considered in the national basketball community to be one of the very best coaches in the country. (Paul Newson/The Baltimore Banner)

“Lake Clifton, outside of the great teams that they had in the ‘60s, ‘70s and ‘80s, had a history that wasn’t very good,” Harried said. “When I first started, I had guys that were stealing cars, getting locked up, doing some real criminal stuff in the street. I had some thugs man, thugs playing basketball.”

“I’ve been coming to the games and supporting Lake Clifton from the day that Herm became the coach, way before the Josh Selbys, Will Bartons and national ranked teams,” said his former Syracuse teammate Billy Owens, who played in the NBA for 12 years. “I’m not surprised by his success because he knows how to motivate people.

“When I was a freshman at Syracuse, he was an incredible mentor and teammate and a person that everybody looked up to,” Owens continued. “I tried to emulate everything he did. During games, he’d be in my ear telling me, ‘Go to work! They can’t guard you! Can’t nobody guard you!’”

By his second year at Lake Clifton, Harried won his first state championship. His Laker squads have reached the state semifinals five years in a row and a total of 14 times now. This year, he’s shooting for his seventh state championship.

***

As Tuesday’s practice wraps up, the last ten minutes are for shooting drills. Harried bounces from basket to basket, rebounding for his players, offering encouragement as the music continues to blare.

At one basket, senior Quinton Monroe is going through his routine at the free-throw line: a couple of dribbles, knees bent, smooth release and follow through. He makes 85 out of 100 shots.

a basketball court reads Coach Herman "Tree" Harried
Coach Herman “Tree” Harried’s name is painted on the Lake Clifton High School court, pictured here in Baltimore, Maryland, on March 7, 2023. Harried serves Lake Clifton as a coach, athletic director, and mentor, and he is widely considered in the national basketball community to be one of the very best coaches in the country. (Paul Newson/The Baltimore Banner)

“This experience playing for coach Tree has been so amazing for me,” Monroe said. “Coming to this school has been the greatest thing that ever happened to me. Coach teaches us and gives us so much outside of basketball. Life lessons. Life skills. He’s a father to me because I never had a dad at home to teach me about doing things right, getting good grades and just being a good man.”

Harried has long been a giver; it’s a lesson he learned from his mom when she’d run those extension cords all the way down the block.

“Tree has always been a giving person,” McDuffie said. “When we were kids, I was playing in canvas Converse shoes. I couldn’t afford leather sneakers. We were at his house and his mom said, ‘Go upstairs and get those red and white Nikes that you don’t wear anymore and give them to McDuffie.’ He gave me my first pair of leather sneakers. I’ll always remember that. That’s who Herm is, that’s who he’s always been.”

He’s also been a change agent who has helped Lake Clifton transform into a much different place than the one he originally walked in to.

“Tree is a jewel in terms of being a mentor to African American males,” said Lake Clifton principal, James Gresham. “He always tells me, ‘Doc, I’m not just a basketball coach, I’m a life coach.’ The example that he sets for his players sets the tone for our entire building. The last five years, our valedictorian has been one of his players. The climate and the culture here have changed, our graduation rates and test scores are increasing and he’s a huge factor that has contributed to that success.”

Herman “Tree” Harried — the all-time winningest coach in Baltimore City history with over 500 wins — wears his Maryland state championship ring from 2022 as he stands in his office at Lake Clifton High School in Baltimore, Maryland, on March 7, 2023. (Paul Newson/The Baltimore Banner)

The squad closes out practice by standing in a circle as Harried goes through the next day’s itinerary. He reminds his players to pick up their sweatsuits before 9 a.m., that they’ll eat lunch together between 12:40 and 1:30 p.m. and that the bus to Rockville pulls out of East Baltimore at 3 p.m.

“This is the Final Four, the last teams standing,” Harried tells his team, with all eyes staring at him with an evident focus. “You don’t make it this far without doing something right. Y’all have grown up throughout the season. Tonight, I need you go home and show up here in the morning as a grown man. A grown man on a mission.”

***

On Wednesday night in Rockville, led by Quinton Monroe’s 23 points, Lake Clifton beat CMIT North 75-68 to advance to Saturday’s state championship game, where they’ll face city rival Edmondson-Westside High School at the University of Maryland in a rematch of last year’s title game.

alejandro.danois@thebaltimorebanner.com