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Former Longhorn Fran Harris finds a new home court on HGTV

Shermakaye Bass
Former UT basketball player Fran Harris works out at a gym near Dallas, where she lives. She's been helping families repair their relationships and their homes on HGTV's 'Home Rules.'

No, it's not a flashback. If you've seen Longhorn basketball legend Fran Harris on the tube lately, it's a different kind of fast break you're witnessing: a spirited foray into the world of reality-show hosts.

Harris, a Dallas-based life coach and former broadcaster, hosts a new HGTV series that taps her experiences as a team leader during her hoops career in the 1980s and '90s. Granted, her goals with "Home Rules" — which debuted March 15 and airs Tuesdays at 8 p.m. — are different than when she helped the Lady Longhorns snare their only NCAA title in 1986, or when, as a pro, she helped the Houston Comets win their first Women's National Basketball Association title in 1997.

Even as a child, her family says, Harris was a natural at unifying and problem-solving. Those skills helped her on the basketball court, and now she's using them on HGTV to help homeowners overcome family conflicts while renovating their houses.

"I've always been very attuned to other people," says Harris, who also coaches an eighth-grade girls' basketball team in Dallas. "I was always a kid that was inquisitive and very in touch with emotions and people. So I think I come at it — at coaching and this show — from that place. I was already predisposed to this kind of thing. I think that losing my mother unexpectedly when I was 16 really sensitized me to the things that are important in life."

Harris, who has bachelor's and master's degrees in journalism from UT, has parlayed those abilities into a 20-year career helping others overcome adversity: Since first entering the public eye as a Longhorn (she ended as the team's fourth-highest all-time scorer, with 1,798 points), she has been an author, guest TV commentator and an executive speaker who has addressed major clients Coca-Cola, Dell, Lockheed Martin and Procter & Gamble on how to build a winning team in the workplace.

"I loved it when I was at UT because I was always surrounded by great entrepreneurs and CEOs that watched us play every night. We had this program called `Fast Break' after each game, where season ticket holders could come after press conferences and ask us questions about the game. And so people kind of got to know me through interviews on television and those informal meet-and-greets."

Now she's shooting — and HGTV executives hope she's scoring — with "Home Rules," a weekly home-renovation-meets-family-counseling show that follows the affable (still tall and lanky) Harris as she coaches people through relationship issues that have disrupted a home's design and flow. "The HGTV executives thought, 'We do all these renovations for homes, but what if we actually had a different impact?' Meaning, we get into the lives of the people whose house we're renovating," the 45-year-old said recently, after wrapping up filming of the 13-episode season in New York City three weeks ago.

The network says they are happy with the public interest in the show's first season and are trying to build its audience, according to Terri Murray, the show's director of programming.

"Fran shows tough love and gets real results," she said.

On "Home Rules," as on the home court, Harris takes a no-excuses approach. She tells the show's guests, who are selected from around the country by her and the producers, that if they don't do the hard work of the heart — like overcoming bad financial habits or destructive interpersonal patterns — her design crew can't do the external work on the hearth.

For each episode, the coach meets with household members, pinpoints their conflicts and then, during seven days, provides the family with exercises and methods to resolve the problems - including, in one episode, using cue cards with fill-in-the-blank phrases like, "What I love about you is … " and "I'm sorry that I …," an exercise that ended a communication breakdown between one couple that was on the brink of divorce. In the meantime, a design and building crew spend the week addressing the house's physical needs, fixing broken appliances or renovating rooms or doing much-needed additions. Thirty days later, the "Home Rules" crew returns to see how the family is faring.

Harris explains that in the aforementioned episode, the husband and his mother had purchased the family's home without consulting his wife. The wife became resentful, which resulted in her extreme neglect of the house. In fact, the house was in such disrepair that once the couple opened up to Harris about their deep-rooted emotional problem, the design crew had decided the house was too far gone, even if the marriage wasn't. They demolished the entire interior, adding a wing and totally revamping the existing structure.

"It was totally falling down around them," says Harris. But after the 30-day period, the couple had "reignited the love in their relationship. … They (later) had a recommitment ceremony, and now they're doing great!"

Harris says she finds great satisfaction in coaching families on "Home Rules" — and that it's actually the latest step in her own life-long search for transformation and harmony. As a coach for the Stallions (which her Dallas-based production company will document for a film this summer), she's learned that it's important to listen carefully, offer positive feedback and encourage discipline and accountability. No excuses. Just do it.

Ditto for families on her show. Ditto for anyone who wants to transform.

"People will say to me, 'Yeah, but do people really change?' The truth is, people can change on a dime — if they want to. The reality sometimes is that we don't want to. And a lot of people would like to think, 'Oh, I have no idea how I got here!' Because it's painful to look inward. It's not the easiest journey to take! We try to make that journey more palatable for the people on our show."

Harris believes that her latest gig is the manifestation of a life's worth of positive thinking, of evolving and expecting the best from others and from one's self. "I really believe that if you're a good and decent person, and you try to do the right thing, good things will happen. People will remember you."

A perfect example? Harris has done television since she left the WNBA, sportscasting for the Lifetime Network, as well as guesting for ESPN. She also did a brief stint as an Austin-based reality-show host in 2001, when her series "America's Fitness Show" aired on Fox 7 for a season. All the while, the basketball star continued auditioning for national TV gigs, including one about four years ago — "Renovate My Family," which she ultimately lost to Dr. Phil's son Jay McGraw. But when the supervising producer for that show was tapped for the "Home Rules" pilot, she remembered the outgoing basketball star.

Harris was at home in Dallas when the phone rang. "I was here and just having a good time. For the first time, I was producing and directing my own play ("Rapper's Delight"), and I got a call from Leopard Films, which is the production company that produces my HGTV show … and they said, 'You were recommended as a coach. Are you still doing life coaching?' I said, 'Yes I am.' … So, that was like on a Wednesday. They said, 'We want to do a Skype interview with you, and if that goes well, we'd like for you to come to New York on Friday, if that's possible.' And so I did that. On Monday, they called and said they'd like to move forward the show. So, within 72 business hours, I'd gone from directing a play in Dallas to having my own TV show!"

Chalk it up to Harris following her own set of home rules.

"The first one: 'Own your stuff!' Know what you're bringing to the drama in your life, and if you champion what you're projecting onto people in your relationships, it will change the complexion of every relationships you have (for the better). So … own your own stuff! The second is, 'It's not that deep.' Seriously, most things are not that deep. Don't sweat the small stuff — and most of the stuff is small.

"And my last rule would be, 'Live in truth.' I made a decision about 10 years ago to never lie again. For anything. Ever."

Harris says that philosophy, as hard as it's been at times, has led her to a life of peace and harmony. "It made me realize how much we lie — and for what?" she muses, chuckling. "You got to do too much finagling when you lie! But making that decision totally changed my life — and it changed the way I am in all my relationships."

Karma, she believes, is a powerful thing.