Marcus Fuller covers the Minnesota Gophers for the Minneapolis Star Tribune. Big thanks to Marcus for taking the time to answer some questions about Jamir Harris, who played 2017-18 for the Gophers before decided to transfer to American. Harris will sit out the 2018-19 season, per NCAA rules, before suiting up for the Eagles in 2019-20.
1. From all accounts, Harris was a rotation player who at times played more than 30 minutes during his freshman season at Minnesota. What led him to wanting a change of scenery?
A: Without having discussed the situation with Harris, I was under the impression he saw more opportunity for playing time and having a major role elsewhere. Entering his freshman year, Harris talked about wanting to prove to Gophers coaches he was a leader and could contribute right away both as a shooter and defensively. It ended up taking him longer to see the court than he expected. Once he was given the chance, Harris ran with it initially. Looking back to his career-high 16 points at Penn State in his first start, Coach (Richard) Pitino shocked us all with the decision to insert him in the lineup. Isaiah Washington was a higher rated freshman guard. Harris delivered with 10 points in overtime to help snap Minnesota’s losing streak. He followed that up with 10 points at Maryland. Fans hoped Harris would continue to play and gain valuable experience for next season, but Pitino eventually played Washington more than Harris to end the season. I think Harris and his family just couldn’t see his role expanding as a sophomore, so they decided transferring was the best option.
2. Describe Harris' game for someone who hasn't watched him play. What are his strengths? What does the 6-2 guard need the most work on?
A: From the first time I saw Harris in high school, I was impressed with his confidence to take big shots and his deep three-point shooting range. When he played at the Patrick School in New Jersey, Harris performed in the clutch in big games to help his high school finish as one of the top teams in the country. So I think confidence in his ability is high on the list of strengths. Obviously, Harris will be expected to be one of American’s top three-point shooting threats. The Gophers wanted him to expand his offensive game to penetrate and get to the free throw line more often. At 6-foot-2 and 190 pounds, Harris has the physical makeup to be a solid on-ball defender. I think improving defensively and understanding how he can make an impact on that end will be an important step as well. Sitting out will allow him to develop in those areas, so it will be exciting to see him take that next step with his game.
3. What spots on the floor does Harris, a 34 percent 3-point shooter, excel the most from that you witnessed during his one year?
A: I’m not a heavy analytics guy, but Harris was deadly when he spot up in the corner for three-pointers. The Gophers struggled at times rotating the ball, but he rewarded his teammates by knocking down shots when they did swing the rock to him on the perimeter. I would say a lot of his shots came from the left wing from what I remember, but it’s hard to tell for sure without breaking down the advanced statistics.
4. How do you see Harris performing at a much lower level, the Patriot League, than the Big Ten? Where can he really stand out playing against teams with less skill, less size, less quickness?
A: Mid-major basketball is still played at a very high level in my opinion. Pretty often players who transfer from high-major programs immediately expect to be a star if they go down a level since the competition supposedly isn’t as tough on a nightly basis. But Division I ball is Division I ball. And there are great teams and players at every level – even in Division II and III. So Harris isn’t just going to show up and be an All-Patriot League player because he played in the Big Ten. It’s up to him how much he can continue to develop his game and how he fits in American’s system once he’s eligible to play. I’m not sure what the roster will look like when Harris plays in 2019-20, but he’s the type of kid who wants to be a leader. He will do anything to help the team win, so I believe he will eventually earn a starting role. What happens after that will be up to him and the situation.
5. How would you describe Harris' on-court persona and how he fits into a team?
A: I’ll say again that Harris was always a team player and did what coaches asked of him without complaining when playing time was inconsistent. He was one of the hardest workers on the team in practice, which earned him a starting role in a few games. He’s a smart kid and has leadership qualities. He’s an excellent shooter and has the physical ability to be a good defender. Sky’s the limit for Harris with his new program and in the future. I wish him the best.