It may still be a four-hour drive according to Google Maps, or closer to three hours if you ask Montrezl Harrell, but D.C. is still a lot closer than anywhere Harrell has played in his professional career. He began his career in Houston, then went further west to play for both L.A. teams. Even in college, at Louisville, he was far.
For Harrell, who grew up in Tarboro, NC and played some of his high school ball at Hargrave Military Academy in southern Virginia, getting traded to the Wizards feels in a way like going home. When he arrived in Washington for his physical, his brother met him there. They then drove together back to Tarboro for him to continue his offseason training program.
"The District is about to be real heavy with my family. I’ve never really been this close as far as playing-wise in a city," Harrell said at his introductory press conference on Wednesday.
Harrell, 27, says he expects to have plenty of family and friends at home games. He is also going to be closer to his kids, who live in Atlanta. Being in the same time zone will help him be more connected to them from afar.
D.C. may be a much bigger city than where Harrell grew up, but he seems some similarities in the values.
"I’m really big on family, loyalty and just hard work and dedication. I just feel like that’s definitely something that the whole D.C. area represents. The whole District area is just built on that grit, determination, hard work ethic and just overcoming all the obstacles that are faced in front of you," Harrell said.
All of that is important to Harrell, who carries the impact growing up in Tarboro had on him everywhere he goes. It's not an easy place to grow up, he says, as a small rural town of about 12,000 people.
Harrell has since gone on to make millions in the NBA, all while keeping a reputation as a gritty, hard-nosed player. Last season, he was second in the league in charges taken and plays with a lot of energy and effort on both ends of the floor.
"[I play hard because of] where I’m born and raised, man. This is tough environment to kind of make it out of. We don’t have many people that make it out of our area doing really anything. I’m blessed and fortunate to be able to make it out this area to play a game that I love in basketball. It’s a small amount of people that have made it out," Harrell said, pointing to NFL running back Todd Gurley as one of the few.
"I learned from a long time of just seeing my family struggle through the situations of growing up. The day-to-day life struggles, I didn’t want that for my family for the rest of our lives and I didn’t want that for my family. Just being around this area, man, it will teach you to build character. It will build work ethic, it will build the drive and the will to want to make it out or it will swallow you whole. I just wanted to work on the thing that I loved to do. I’m blessed to be able to call it my job."
Harrell is now about to spend the next year in D.C. It's close to North Carolina, but it's different. Harrell said he has enjoyed the city so far and is already a big fan of the rapper Wale. He added he plans to learn more about Go-Go music while living in the area.
"It really has that homegrown feeling," he said.