A couple weeks ago I called Reggie Williams the NBA D-League’s biggest success story of 2010. That was for his work outside the D-League. For accomplishments in the D-League, Mike Harris was the runaway winner. The reigning league MVP led the Rio Grande Valley Vipers to a championship earlier this week, putting up 27.8 points and 10.2 boards in the playoffs.
Harris appeared in 13 games with the Rockets and Wizards during the season, and expect him to be in some NBA team’s training camp this fall, potentially cracking a roster by Opening Night. A couple months ago I profiled Harris in a “What’s My Name?” piece that ran in Dime #55.
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Unlike a lot of players who find their expressway to NBA dreams loaded with road blocks, Mike Harris doesn’t point fingers or give excuses. For every instance where he’s been overlooked or snubbed by the spotlight, he can identify his own role in the process and puts most of the blame on himself.
Coming out of Hillsboro (Texas) High School, Harris was only offered some partial scholarships to major-conference schools in the Big 12 area, and a couple of full rides to mid-majors. “But, I only took one college visit,” Harris acknowledges. “That probably had something to do with it. I was kind of a nerd in that I didn’t want to miss school to take any visits.”
Harris landed at Rice, and four years later, the 6-6, 235-pounder owned the Owls’ all-time records in points and rebounds, averaging 20.6 points and 11.7 boards as a senior. Despite the numbers, however, he wasn’t selected in the 2005 NBA Draft. Rather than blame politics or the scouts, Harris again looks inward. “I was undersized at my position. I should have been working on small-forward and power-forward skills; instead, I looked at it like I was a five. I should have worked on showing more versatility. All I did was power-up and dunk.”
Between pro stints in the Ukraine, China and Kuwait, plus one season (’06-07) in the D-League with Colorado, Harris has been a training-camp invitee of the Bucks, Rockets and Thunder. He saw 17 games of regular-season burn with the Rockets as a midseason pickup in ’08, but mostly made his living overseas.
Ripping up the D-League in his second go-round, however, it didn’t take long for Harris to make it back to the big leagues. After averaging 25.3 points and 7.1 rebounds in his first 10 games with the Rio Grande Valley Vipers, Harris was called up to the Rockets in late-December, shortly before this issue went to print.
“I contemplated going overseas this year, but this is a better opportunity. It’s a better look for me,” Harris said of the D-League. “I was in a similar situation before. It’s out-of-sight, out-of-mind when you’re overseas. If an NBA team wants to get somebody immediately in the middle of the season, there’s a lot of paperwork, flights, a whole bunch of other things. Overseas you get paid pretty well, but my ultimate goal is to play in the NBA.”
This past summer, Harris split his time working out at the ATTACK Athletics complex in Chicago with Gilbert Arenas, Devin Harris, Tracy McGrady, Jonny Flynn and O.J. Mayo, among others, and in Cleveland, where he worked with LeBron James and some of the Cavs. Intent on improving his ball-handling and shooting, Harris’ work has been reflected in his numbers: he was knocking down 45 percent of his three-pointers for the Vipers at the time he was called up to Houston.
As a combo forward, Harris brings an ability to score with his strength inside and his touch outside. He hit five threes on his way to 27 points against the Austin Toros on Dec. 8, a few games after he put up 28 and 10 boards on the Toros while only taking one trey. But he won’t necessarily label himself a scorer.
“I would describe myself as a basketball player, not any specific thing like I’m a rebounder or I’m a scorer,” Harris says. “I think I can bring whatever a team needs. Every team has a particular reason for calling you up. I don’t think most teams need a scorer. Most of the times they need a positive guy that they can put in and can bring energy, keep the turnovers down, and don’t make mental mistakes. If it’s guarding multiple positions, rebounding, running the floor … whatever they need I’m capable of doing.”