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Sibling of women’s basketball standout has passion for drums

February 22, 2018

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. (AP) — The Gold and Black Sound — the pep band for the Purdue women’s basketball program — was playing in the hotel lobby.

This was nearly one year ago when the Boilermakers were in South Bend for the NCAA tournament preparing to face Notre Dame in the second round.

As Ae’Rianna Harris and her teammates exited the elevator, the music grew louder as they finally walked into the lobby.

“They’re blocking the drums,” Harris recalled, mystified why that was the case.

Behind those drums was an 8-year old boy, keeping up with the rest of the band and enjoying every minute.

“Xavier is there, sitting in a pink headband and playing the songs,” Harris said.

Xavier is Ae’Rianna’s younger brother. He’s a year older now and has elevated his love for playing the drums to a new location — Mackey Arena. He plays with the Gold and Black Sound before and during women’s basketball games as his sister and her teammates go through pre-game warmups.

As the Boilermakers pounded Penn State last month, Xavier is front and center playing the drums. He knows the school song and other selections. He’s wearing an oversized pink T-shirt as the rest of band plays. He brings his own sticks.

Xavier has a bigger goal in mind.

“I want to drum at a boys game because it would be packed,” Xavier said.

For now, he’s happy and content playing the drums anywhere. At home on the pillows sitting on the couch, on drum pads or on his coat spread over the Mackey Arena seats while his mother, Erica, tries to explain her son’s passion for drums.

“I can’t tell you that,” Erica said.

Music runs in the Harris family.

Xavier has his drums. Ae’Rianna plays the piano. Her father, LaJuan, also plays the piano.

“They all play by ear,” Erica said. “Ae’Rianna didn’t have instruction in piano until she was a junior in high school.

The rest of the family?

“We sing,” Erica said, laughing.

It’s quite the jam session.

When Xavier turned 1, Erica started noticing ink stains around the home’s wood fireplace. This is when Erica knew she had a drummer in the family.

“He would beat the tins with pens,” she said. “I noticed I had ink all over the place. He was drumming with the pens and they were busting and that’s how it started.”

The family decided to fuel his passion.

One of his Christmas presents eight years ago was a plastic set of drums. On the surface, that was a mistake but it also served as a gauge to Xavier’s real interest.

“Within 20 minutes, the set was demolished,” Erica said. “We bought him a real set. He’s been playing it since then.”

Which eventually led to Xavier’s tour of pep bands.

Up first was Ben Davis where Ae’Rianna played her freshman and sophomore seasons. The pep band gave Xavier a single drum to play during his sister’s games.

“The drum was bigger than him,” Erica said, laughing.

Next stop? Lawrence North where Ae’Rianna spent her junior and senior seasons. Once again, Xavier worked his way into playing the drums with the pep band.

“He would sit by the drums, stare at them until someone said something,” said Ae’Rianna, who is averaging 12.4 points, 8.6 rebounds and is shooting 53.7 percent from the field this season.

But Xavier doesn’t look to join just any pep band. Ae’Rianna has to be playing basketball. The two would go to boys basketball games at Ben Davis and Lawrence North but Xavier showed no interest in joining those bands.

Which brings us to Purdue.

During Ae’Rianna’s freshman season, Xavier never approached the pep band, staying next to his mother in section 18. Too shy. Scared. Intimidated. Plenty of reasons. However, he watched and listened from the other side of the arena.

Following the NCAA tournament first-round victory over Green Bay in South Bend, Erica and Xavier were moved to a holding area along with the pep band. They struck up a conversation about Xavier’s talents.

The next night in the hotel lobby — watching the Purdue men’s basketball team play Iowa State in the second round of the NCAA tournament — Xavier was presented with his opportunity.

“They gave him some sticks and said, ‘Show us what you can do,’ ” Erica said.

The next night Ae’Rianna was surprised to see who was playing the drums in the hotel lobby.

Xavier never had a lesson until about one year ago.

Enter Pamela J. Nave, an associate professor of bands at Purdue. She also oversees the Gold and Black Sound and quickly noticed Xavier’s talents.

“After we met Pam, she said: ‘He has something you can’t teach. It’s a special gift. You can’t teach what he has; you can only enhance it. What he has is natural and there’s no teaching that,’ ” Erica recalled.

Nave provides special instruction to two students each year, Erica said. Xavier became part of the group.

“I was ecstatic,” Erica said. “At that point, he hadn’t had any instruction and I felt like it was time. That’s what he’s been doing since March of last year. He’s picking up stuff.”

What’s next for Xavier?

Ae’Rianna has two seasons left with the Boilermakers before graduating. The WNBA doesn’t have pep bands. Attending college is a likely option, and Purdue would seem logical based on the instruction he’s receiving right now.

That’s too far ahead for a 9-year old to think about.

“I’m going to keep on drumming at home,” Xavier said.

Xavier does play basketball, but it doesn’t ignite the same passion as playing the drums.

“This will take him wherever he wants to go,” Erica said. “He can do pretty much anything with it and we’ll keep investing in him and watching him grow. I’m super excited for him.”

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Source: (Lafayette) Journal & Courier, http://on.jconline.com/2FkQFwR

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Information from: Journal and Courier, http://www.jconline.com

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