Harris sweats summer for winter success
The first day of summer camp has wrapped up at Long Island Lutheran and the gym is growing more uncomfortable by the minute as hot and humid air seeps in from outside.
Brian Carey, Lutheran's basketball coach and director of summer programs, peers out from his second-floor office overlooking the basketball court and is stunned at what he sees.
Tobias Harris is running the floor and putting up shots in a full-fledged workout. He should be worn out after spending the morning refereeing scrimmages and instructing the middle school campers. And it's still only the middle of the afternoon, so there's plenty of time for him to hit the pool or the movies with his friends.
But when Harris' job ends, his work is just beginning. Harris spent most afternoons this past summer working out in Lutheran's stuffy gym with sister Tesia, a sophomore baller at Delaware, and younger brother Tyler, a sophomore at Long Island Lutheran.
"You can't beat that kind of passion," Carey says.
That dedication is one of the main reasons Harris has emerged as New York's top junior, rated No. 18 nationally in the ESPNU Super 60. After beginning his prep career at Half Hollow Hills West, Harris transferred to Long Island Lutheran, known as LuHi, for his junior campaign.
Harris first played varsity ball beginning as an eighth-grader for Half Hollow Hills West. Back then, he was only 6-foot, so he spent most of his time on the perimeter and envisioned himself as a combo guard in college. Then he started growing.
By his freshman year, he thought of himself as a big shooting guard. As a sophomore, he was a small forward who could shoot from the perimeter. Checking in at 6-foot-8 and 225 pounds these days, Harris can play either forward position and retains the backcourt skills he developed a few years ago.
"Back then, all I did was stay on the perimeter and shoot," Harris says. "But now, with my shooting and ability to post up, versatility is my strength."
"He's grown through different positions so he has a bunch of different skills," Carey adds. "He's not afraid to put the ball on the floor or to take a 3-point shot."
There's no question Harris can score. He left Half Hollow Hills West as the school's all-time leading scorer with 1,186 points. He dropped 52 on Riverhead in a game last year and finished the season averaging 29 points, nine boards and two blocks per game.
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But with that kind of success comes some backlash. On the Newsday website there was a message board discussion titled, "Tobias Harris would be an average player if he played high school basketball in New York City."
That would be news to Rick Pitino, Jim Boeheim, Bob Huggins and the countless other big-time college coaches who've offered Harris a scholarship and made the trip to Long Island this fall to watch him practice. For his part, Harris ignores the doubters.
"My motto is that if people are talking about you, then you're doing something good," Harris says. "I'm not going to change what I'm doing."
Harris has proven himself at the nation's highest levels -- in AAU tournaments and the elite Rbk U summer camp -- and could star at any traditional NYC prep powerhouse.
But part of the reason Harris transferred to Long Island Lutheran was the tougher competition. And the Crusaders' 2008-09 slate doesn't disappoint. In addition to facing local juggernaut Christ the King and New Jersey foe St. Anthony, LuHi also tangles with elite national programs like San Diego High (San Diego, Calif.) and National Christian Academy (Fort Washington, Md.).
"I'm going to have to raise my game," Harris says. "I just have to keep working hard."
That's never been an issue for Harris. Whether it's hot summer days at LuHi or a one-on-one workout with an NBA legend, Harris always goes all out.
Thanks to some connections through his father, Torrel, a former NBA agent, Harris has received advice and personal training from Hall of Famers like George Gervin and JoJo White. Torrel used to represent Gervin and the two remain close, so he's had his son fly to San Antonio to work out with the nine-time NBA All-Star known as The Iceman.
"We did a lot of shooting," says Harris, who also speaks regularly with current Portland Trail Blazer Channing Frye, his cousin.
"[Gervin] taught me about the right form and all that stuff that will help me in games. He also told me the importance of having the right mental focus."
That lesson was just one part of Harris' hoops development, a process that started at age 3 when his dad first put a basketball in his hands. His childhood was dominated by hoops, including backyard games against his father, who played college ball at Duquesne, and older brother, Torrel Jr.
"Even though I was smaller and not as strong, they'd still rough me up," Harris says. "That's definitely helped me a lot, because now when I'm playing with people my own age I'm able to do some of that to them."
The influence of his family and former NBA stars has kept Harris humble. Despite all his success and publicity, he is intent on improving his defense this year and working hard to get his teammates involved.
He already has the talent and the scholarship offers. But Harris wants to be great.
That's why he weathers the heat in the summer -- so come game time, he can turn it up on his opponents.
Ryan Canner-O'Mealy covers high school sports for ESPN RISE.
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