harris lebronAKRON, Ohio - Midway through Thursday's opening game of the Lebron James Skills Academy, Michigan State recruiting target Gary Harris pulled down a defensive rebound, and began to lead the break with the dribble.
He encountered traffic near midcourt, and went from back to front with a between-the-legs dribble, and then accelerated into the open floor.
A year ago, Harris would have picked up the dribble and passed to a teammate in that situation. But this year, the new-and-improved Harris can negotiate obstacles with the dribble like a point guard, all while moving like a sprinter. Simply-put, his ball handling skills are catching up with his immense foot speed.
"That's definitely not something I would have done last year," Harris said. "I'm a lot more comfortable dribbling the ball now and I feel like I can do more stuff with it. I'm not as timid to put the ball on the floor."
It wasn't a show-off move. It was a necessary maneuver to create a transition opportunity when others might have relented. All the more reason to be impressed with his expanding game, which is on display this week at the LeBron Camp. The annual camp boasts 80 of the top-ranked players in America, divided into eight teams for a week of instruction and competition.
The camp ends on Friday, with a single-elimination tournament. Harris's team, ironically named "Michigan State" by the NIKE organizers, will play in the quarterfinals at 9 a.m. at Rhodes Arena on the campus of the University of Akron.
Much More Game
Harris, a 6-foot-6 wing guard from Hamilton Southeastern High School in Fishers, Ind., is ranked the No. 28 player in the country by Rivals.com. He maintained a similarly high ranking a year ago when competing at the LeBron Camp as an underclassman, but didn't have nearly as much game.
"I feel like my ball handling is a lot better," Harris said. "I feel like I'm getting better with my shot; it is becoming more consistent."
Harris hasn't had to rely much on his perimeter shot this week at the LeBron Camp. He has found success in getting to the rim with various paces of quickness and speed. He says he has noticed that the improved ball handling ability has put defenders on their heels, and opened more avenues to the rim than he had before when he wasn't quite as a good with the ball.
"It's a pretty big difference," he said.
When faced with obstacles, Harris has shown a terrific level of basketball intelligence, finding teammates with well-timed, accurate passes rather than forcing a shot or a drive. He has played a clean, tidy, athletic style of basketball this week, with a handful of top-level coaches watching closely.
Michigan State's Tom Izzo and Purdue's Matt Painter were among the first five or six coaches in the gym on Thursday morning to watch Harris, and others, in early workouts and walk-throughs.
Izzo stayed throughout the afternoon and evening, watching Harris's team win at 4:30 p.m. and 9 p.m.
Harris lists six Midwestern schools as his favorites.
"IU (Indiana), Michigan State, Notre Dame, Purdue, Louisville, Illinois," he said.
Harris was asked at least five times during Thursday's interview sessions to name his top schools. Each time it began with "IU, Michigan State ..." and the rest.
Notre Dame's Mike Brey, Louisville's Rick Pitino and Illinois' Bruce Weber also scouted the LeBron Camp on Thursday, and kept a close watch on Harris.
"I feel comfortable with all the schools that are recruiting me, the coaching staffs, and I know I can get a good education at any of those schools," said Harris, whose parents attended Purdue University. "I have visited all of those schools. I haven't planned any more for the upcoming months."
No Leader, No Timetable
Harris repeatedly said that there is no leader in that top pack, and said he has no time table as to when he would like to make a decision.
Indiana's Tom Crean was not at the LeBron Camp on Thursday, choosing to scout elsewhere.
"IU has been recruiting me a lot," Harris said. "Coach Crean has done a good job recruiting me. The players that are going there or are committed there, I already have a good relationship with them. The same with Purdue. I have a great relationship with the players there. Notre Dame, I know Cameron Biedscheid, who I just played against here. All the schools that I'm looking at, I know the players that are going to be there."
What about Michigan State?
"Coach Izzo is a great coach," Harris said. "When he is recruiting you, and he is recruiting hard, it kind of puts a good impression on a school when he shows that he really wants you to come there, so if kind of appeals to me."
Harris first attended an MSU basketball game during the winter of his sophomore year.
"Last fall was the last time I had a chance to get up there," Harris said. "It's a nice campus. Great facilities. It's a great school.
"He (Tom Izzo) is a great guy. He is one of the best coaches who ever coached. That says enough in itself and a lot of guys would love to play for him.
"I'm probably going to get up there again, probably after July, after all this AAU stuff is done and try to get some visits in."
Notre Dame remains firmly in the lead pack.
"They have been in, in the last year or so," Harris said. "Coach (Anthony) Solomon and Coach Brey, they have been communicating with me, sending me mail, trying to get me to come to Notre Dame."
The University of Kentucky continues to be in contact, but has not offered.
"They said they were going to watch me and try to get me to come visit in August," Harris said. "I've been hearing from them a little bit."
The wide receivers coach for Kentucky's football team has been in contact.
"They (UK football coaches) said if I wanted to come there that they would take me in a heartbeat," said Harris, who is a standout football player at Hamilton Southeastern. "I plan on playing basketball in college but I play football in high school and I'm still getting a lot of football looks."
But basketball is king in Harris's mind. For now, he is not listing Kentucky among his favorites.
"I feel like with all of the schools that are recruiting me it is going to be hard to choose one school," Harris said. "It's going to be a hard decision."
But the process is still enjoyable.
"It's not difficult," he said. "I don't have a problem with it. I know most people say they don't like it and just want to get it over with, but I'm still enjoying it. I only go through it once, so might as well make the most of it."
As for the LeBron Camp, this is his second opportunity, and he is enjoying it more the second time.
"Last year, when I came in here as a junior, I didn't really know what to expect," he said. "There were a lot of older players that I didn't really know too much about. This year, I knew what to expect, I knew some of the players that were coming, so I'm a lot more comfortable this time.
"Last year, I feel like I could have played better. I was just kind of hesitant. I was young. I was just being timid."
All of that timidness is gone now. Partly due to increased poised and experience. And partly due to that improved handle.
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