Florida State Men’s Basketball Walk-On Harrison Prieto Eyeing Career In Meteorology

As a senior at St. Paul’s School in the New Orleans suburb of Covington, La., Harrison Prieto was named the district’s Most Valuable Player and to nola.com’s first-team All-Metro team. Several Division III colleges recruited Prieto, and the 6-foot-8 forward received offers from a few Division I coaches to walk-on at their programs.

Still, Prieto had no intention of playing college basketball. Instead, he chose to attend Florida State, where he would pursue his long-held dream of becoming a meteorologist. The Seminoles’ men’s basketball staff had no shown interest in Prieto, which was fine with him.

Now, Prieto already has his undergraduate degree in meteorology and is scheduled to earn his masters degree in July. And, rather than being a forgotten high school star who gave up the game, Prieto is in his sixth season as a walk-on at Florida State, having decided when he enrolled in the fall of 2016 that he indeed would give basketball another shot. He made the team as a walk-on as a freshman and has remained in that role ever since.

“Ultimately, I was like, ‘I’m going to choose where I go to college for meteorology and if the basketball thing worked it, it worked out,’” Prieto said. “And it did. I have no regrets about that decision to come here and do that as opposed to going elsewhere.”

Indeed, things have turned out better than Prieto ever expected. During his tenure with the Seminoles, Prieto has been given a catchy nickname (“The Weatherman”), been a two-time captain and been a part of four NCAA tournament teams. The Seminoles are not expected to make the NCAA tournament this season barring a deep run in this week’s ACC tournament at Barclays Center in Brooklyn, NY The No. 8 seed Seminoles (17-13 overall, 10-10 in the ACC) open league tournament play on Wednesday against No. 9 seed Syracuse with the winner facing No. 1 seed Duke on Thursday afternoon.

Still, this season Prieto has received the most playing time of his career and shown that he can compete in high-level college basketball. Prieto only scored 24 points and played 65 total minutes in his first five seasons, but this season he has played 251 minutes and scored 76 points in 20 games, including a career-high 14 points and 26 minutes against Virginia on Feb. 26. During that game, Prieto also threw an inbounds pass with a second left to Matthew Cleveland, who caught the ball and made an off-balance 3-pointer at the buzzer for a 64-63 victory.

Afterward, a few of Prieto’s former coaches at St. Paul’s exchanged text messages.

“We were like, ‘Man, that kid just never ceases to amaze us. He’s always doing something. He’s unbelievable,’” said Greg Waguespack, a St. Paul’s assistant.

Waguespack remembers Prieto as a talented athlete who was also an All-State swimmer, but even moreso he admires Prieto smarts and work ethic. Even in high school, Waguespack could tell Prieto had the brains and fortitude to stick it out with meteorology, a challenging major, especially for a Division 1 athlete who practices, plays or trains several hours each day.

“We try to tell our kids now, ‘Look, you can accomplish whatever you want in life. Just look at him,” Waguespack said. “I just try to use him as an example for the other kids that are still in our program as someone to look up to.”

Prieto said he first was drawn to meteorology when Hurricane Katrina hit the New Orleans area in August 2005. Back then, Prieto was seven years old and in second grade. His family lost power for several days, so they stayed with a neighbor rather than flee the area, but all things considered they were very fortunate as the hurricane ended up leading to more than 1,800 deaths and $125 billion in damages.

“I very distinctly remember when Hurricane Katrina hit and we had stayed through it, I remember going through a period of like, ‘I’ve got to figure out what just happened, how that worked,’” Prieto said. “Honestly, my whole college experience has been fulfilling that situation that happened so long ago. I’ve got to figure out how the weather works because of what happened with Hurricane Katrina.”

As Prieto got older, he focused on science and math, two areas that were of the utmost importance when it came to fulfilling his goal of becoming a meteorologist. No one in his family had ever been a meteorologist, but that didn’t deter Prieto.

“My parents did a really good job nurturing that interest I had, constantly being like, ‘OK, you can put on the Weather Channel,’” he said. “(Meteorology) books and anything nature-related they would let me look at whenever I wanted to. They pushed me in that direction and said, ‘You’ve got this natural inclination towards this thing. Let’s see where it goes.’”

Prieto is now one of only 24 people enrolled in Florida State’s two-year masters meteorology program, and he serves as a teaching assistant for two undergraduate classes. He has been named to the ACC Academic Honor Roll each year he’s played at Florida State, and for the past three years he won the Golden Torch award that’s given to one Florida State men’s basketball player for academic achievements.

During his time at Florida State, Prieto has worked as an on-air weatherman for the student television station, and he’s even appeared on the Weather Channel and on the network’s Weather Geeks podcast. Still, Prieto does not intend on working in television. Instead, he plans on pursuing a job with an energy, financial or insurance company, which employ meteorologists on staff and appreciate their data analytics, computer programming and forecasting skills that could make a huge difference when it comes to profits.

“If you think about it, weather really impacts everything,” Prieto said. “It impacts whether the food’s going to grow, where you’re going to need more natural gas for energy plants, insurance companies need to know where natural disasters are more likely to happen. There’s tons of things like that everywhere.”

For this week, at least, Prieto’s full-time foray into meteorology has to wait as the Seminoles begin play in the ACC tournament. Florida State has battled injuries all season and lost eight of nine games before winning the past three.

Prieto has been one of the lone bright spots, as he has improved in all facets of his game since the fall of 2016 when he reached out to Seminoles assistant coach Stan Jones, who oversees the walk-on tryouts. A few others vouched for Prieto, as well, hoping they could put a good word in for him when he decided to give basketball another shot.

“People kept talking about what a good leader he was for his high school team and how good of condition he was in from being a former swimmer and he’d be able to handle the rigors and psychology of being a non-scholarship player,” Jones said. “To his credit, those people probably undersold him, He’s been a fabulous part of our program in terms of leadership and practice effort and preparation effort. We’ll miss that in our locker room when he’s gone after this year.”

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published.