For the first time in what’s seemed like an eternity, Gary Harris looked vulnerable.
Before the holiday season arrived bringing cheer and full-blown mid sections, Harris couldn’t hit a shot. Earlier, Michigan State entered the Barclays Center for the annual Coaches vs. Cancer Classic tournament and played Virginia Tech. The Spartans guard was still feeling the high of dismissing a freshman-led Kentucky team in Chicago, only 280 miles from the emerald and white halls of State.
So naturally, embracing his confidence, Harris entered the game in the first minute and launched a 20-foot jumper under pressure. Clank. It sputtered off the right side of the iron. The sophomore guard shrugged it off and tossed up a second one 30 seconds later. Clang. Second time wasn’t the charm either.
Harris didn’t score for 15 minutes in the opening set and coughed up two turnovers in the process. The 6-4 guard finished the game with 19 points, going 6-for-19 from the field.
But when asked about his obvious future at the next level, where missing your first five shots earns a seat on the bench, he responded similarly as when he missed his first shot. He casted a wide grin, leaned back and let out a boisterous snicker.
“I should probably worry about making some shots first,” Harris told Dime during a postgame interview.
“I was struggling today but honestly I’m just focusing on what’s ahead of me right now and taking it one day at a time. Trying to stay away from that type of stuff.”
“That stuff,” meaning the media attention surrounding his probable jump to the big leagues. The Fishers, Ind., native is a consensus top-10 pick in next year’s draft, though it’s only one month through the collegiate basketball season. The Spartans, however, aren’t gathering a large amount of media attention.
They don’t have the typical model for success as a variety of teams across the NCAA. There isn’t a star freshman player, rather, there’s a bevy of above average players and three go-to guys. They haven’t won a championship in 13 years nor have been close to one since 2009. And Head Coach Tom Izzo doesn’t bring the same flash as some other big-name coaches.
But instead of building from the typical mold, the Spartans have found something different to get them through their opponents. The old formula to success: building from experience. But even though they’ve claimed the No. 1 spot on the AP Poll, Harris still pays attention to the freshmen that are sprinting past him. It doesn’t bother him.
“You have to pay attention to that stuff,” Harris said. “All you do is see it on ESPN. But good for them, those guys are well deserving of it. Those guys are having a great season so far. But we are focused on this team and we are trying to win as much as possible.”
With the top of the draft filled with Wildcats, Blue Devils and more, it’s quite possible that Harris is being overlooked. Sophomore off-guards that are primarily shooters who can’t strike from deep coming off screens worries certain NBA personnel.
His footwork is shaky. He appears to be uncomfortable with his release at times. But the improvement is there and it’s tangible in every game he enters. And even though he’s not as polished as some of the other prospects, his experience is still intriguing the right people.
“I just like his overall feel for the game,” one collegiate scout told Dime last week. “He’s not going to be a huge shot creator at the next level, but he plays to his strengths. He’ll use the attention he receives as a shooter and defenders’ over-aggressiveness closing out to open up driving lanes for him. And he really battles on the defensive end, making up for his lack of elite athleticism with physical strength, positioning and effort. He could be the quintessential 3-and-d guy.”
Harris left the court abuzz. The Spartans crushed the Hokies and went on to win the championship several hours later. And their luck wouldn’t run out. Mount St. Mary’s fell a few days afterwards.
The Green and White remain undefeated and the Spartans and Harris sit atop the college basketball world, gazing from their pedestal, awaiting a challenge, a contender, anything to remind the squad that they deserve their placing.
As Harris entered the locker room to the swarm of reporters from each coast, he completed the routine that’s become regular to State’s star guard. He ruffled his shady, curly locks, cast a wide beam and released his amiable chuckle. He doesn’t need anyone else’s shine to remind him of his own. Whether he misses 13 shots or is perfect from beyond the arc, Harris can only do what he knows best.
Be Gary Harris. No more, no less.
“I don’t even think about it like that,” Harris said when asked if the freshmen’s success has motivated him to play harder. “I think about it as a team thing. We are all here grinding and doing it together. I just want to see us be successful as a team and however we are going to do that than that’s what we will do. Everyone’s mentality here is about the team and not individual players.”
Will the Spartans win it all this year?
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