NBA Sunday: Tyler Harris, the Unorthodox Path and Following the Process


Another city.

Another hotel room.

Another workout.

According to his father and his older brother, it’s all just a part of the journey.

So in many ways, then, it was fitting for Tyler Harris to wake up on Father’s Day in 2016 in a foreign country, nowhere near his father Terrell.

Only about 500 miles from his home of Long Island, New York, geographically, the neophyte isn’t very far from home.

From where it all began, though, still, somehow, he is worlds away.

“Everybody has a different path,” Harris said. “But I’ve been waiting for this and I know that my time will come.”

Trying to find his way, the younger brother of Tobias Harris—a featured player on the improving Detroit Pistons—wakes up in the Le Germain hotel. In the shadows of the Air Canada Center, this morning’s date is with Masai Ujiri’s staff of the Toronto Raptors.

Armed with a mature, candid demeanor, the benefit of experience and a pair of sneakers, Harris continues out into the sunlight of the early morning Canadian sun.

He continues out on his determined journey to prove that he is more than just the younger brother of one of the NBA’s rising young forwards.

* * * * * *

“Of course I’m in his shadow,” Harris says of his older brother.

Fueled by the want to prove himself on his own merit, Harris admits that he has benefitted from the success of his older brother—but not in the ways that one would typically think.

Drafted by the Charlotte Hornets with the 19th overall pick in the 2011 NBA Draft, Tobias Harris would be traded to the Milwaukee Bucks on draft night and would spend the first two seasons of his career buried at the end of the bench of Scott Skiles. Eventually, a trade to the Orlando Magic gave the older Harris brother an opportunity to play meaningful minutes and, since then, he has excelled.

The entire way, his younger brother, who has long had NBA aspirations of his own, took notes.

“When Tobias first got drafted, he was showing what he could do but wasn’t getting the big opportunity that he really wanted,” Tyler says. “But throughout that entire time, he kept telling me ‘This is all just a process,’ and that everyone has to go through the process.”

“Now, I feel that’s exactly what I’m going through. [Tobias] went through the process, was patient, and continued to work on his game. He took advantage of the opportunities that he had, and as long as you focus on the process and realize that everyone has to go through the process, then the good will come to you. He taught me that and I’ve taken it to heart.”

Apparently, learning is something that has come quite easy.

Having spent his collegiate career at three different institutions, one who isn’t familiar with Harris’ development may assume the worst. From NC State to Purdue to Auburn, the immediate assumption would be that Harris—a young black man—had eligibility issues or otherwise couldn’t keep out of trouble.

“I usually get questioned about that when I go into meet with teams,” Harris says.

“People might think it’s a red flag, but once they realize the reasons I went to these three schools, they realize it was for good reasons.”

Shortly after Sidney Lowe had received a commitment from Harris to play at NC State, Lowe was removed. Harris, wanting to honor the commitment and being willing to earn his keep in incoming coach Mark Gottfried’s rotation, decided that he would keep his word.

Gottfried opted to give the bulk of his meaningful rotation minutes to his incumbent players and, to his credit, the team found success. Harris was along for the team’s ride to the Sweet Sixteen and saw, firsthand, what success at the collegiate level requires. Wanting to have an opportunity to get his own repetitions, though, Harris decided it would be best to seek his experience elsewhere.

After deciding to transfer to Providence to play for Ed Cooley, Harris sat out his sophomore year. His junior year, he played about 32 minutes per game and helped Providence win the Big East Men’s Basketball Tournament by averaging 11.6 points and 5.1 rebounds per game. The following season, as a senior, Harris put up similar numbers and helped his team to a second consecutive NCAA tournament berth. It was the first time Providence made tournament appearances in consecutive years since they did so in 1989 and 1990.

Having one year of eligibility remaining after sitting out his sophomore year, Harris decided to pursue his Masters Degree and eventually found himself being offered an opportunity to play for Tobias’ former coach, Bruce Pearl. Without hesitation, Harris took the opportunity to play the 2015-16 season with the Auburn Tigers.

“When I graduated [from undergrad], I had an opportunity to go play another year and to go get my Master’s degree. At the same time, Coach Pearl was looking for a player and he also coached my brother,” Harris said. “I felt like it was a win-win situation, where I could play for Coach Pearl in the SEC and figured he could put me in the position he put Tobias—at the point forward position.”

As a result, Harris, just one year his junior, will begin his professional career five years after his older brother.

“Even though I did go to three schools, they were all specific moves to help me and they all were great moves,” Harris said. “I went to NC State and got a Sweet 16 experience, went to Providence and won a Big East championship and went to Auburn and got the opportunity to go get my Master’s degree and learn from Bruce Pearl—the coach who helped my brother develop.”

In a day and age where the gross majority of NBA prospects enter the league without having come close to earning a Bachelors Degree, Harris will enter the league with a Master’s.

A student in the classroom, after having had the opportunity to develop relationships with four head coaches and play for three of them, Harris has also been able to continue his development as a student of the game.

Now, as he looks toward the next level, some scouts feel that his ability to contribute on the NBA level may be overlooked.

“Draymond Green was selected with the 35th pick and it was mainly due to concerns over his size and how he would translate at the NBA level,” one scout told Basketball Insiders.

“Tyler Harris is in a similar predicament. But with his size, vision and ball handling ability, it’s difficult to imagine him not being able to help an NBA team almost immediately.”

In recent years, we have seen the “one and done” freshman dominate the headlines and the early picks of the draft. However, the list of more experienced players who have become difference makers includes Stephen Curry, Kawhi Leonard, C.J. McCollum, Damian Lillard and Draymond Green, the latter three having played four years of college basketball.

Harris hopes to join that list. And he has worked hard to ensure that he has the opportunity to fulfill his potential.

* * * * * *

“I bring versatility that every NBA team needs,” Harris says. “I can handle the ball like a guard. I can pass and shoot outside from off the dribble. I’m a great scorer, defender and rebounder and I’m a lefty, so I’m really crafty. I can get to the rim and score for myself or create scoring opportunities for others.”

And although his recent workouts have brought positive feedback from scouts and two front office sources who spoke with Basketball Insiders, Harris realizes that his adjustment to the NBA is going to require some additional studying.

“I need to continue to work on my right hand and going right,” Harris admits. “I also need to focus on the speed of the league. It’s going to be a lot different from college and I will need to continue to work on my shot and get used to the NBA three-point line. I want my shot to be consistent where I’m knocking it down consistently and on a regular basis. There’s so many great shooters in the league right now, I just want to be one of those guys.”

A simple conversation with Tyler Harris reveals a young man who is mature beyond his years and thoughtful about the decisions he makes. He has a rare combination of humble candor and outspoken confidence.

With a quick first step, a nice reach, appreciable size and the ability to start or finish a fast break, what will help Harris get to where he hopes to go will be just as much about what’s between his ears as it will be about his brawn.

Each step he takes, though, whether in person or in spirit, he carries the lessons taught to him by his older brother and his father.

“I represent the definition of work ethic and that’s really what I live by,” Harris says. I’m a person who’s in love with the game and wants to improve as a player and as a person, each and everyday. I think that’s just really what separates me from everybody else; I’m never satisfied.”

And best believe, Tyler Harris is also not done.

* * * * * *

As he laced up his sneakers and began his workout with the Toronto Raptors, Harris continues along in his journey. On this day, separated from his father—the person who first put a basketball in his hands—Harris continues to work hard to achieve the goals that he has set for himself.

More than 500 miles away from where it all began, separated from his father, Harris carries his legacy with him.

“My dad wants me to be the best I can be in life, both in basketball and as a person,” he says. “Teaching [my brothers and me] drives him each and every morning. He’s one of the hardest working and devoted people I know and I’m gonna make him proud.”

And on this morning in particular, in spirit, Terrell Harris is with his son. Yes, the journey continues and the process persists.

Where it ends, at this point, we can’t be too sure. But what we do know is that here and now, Tyler Harris has traveled the road less trodden. And in the long run, it may end up having made all the difference.


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About Moke Hamilton

Moke Hamilton

Moke Hamilton is a Senior Writer and Columnist for Basketball Insiders, covering the NBA and international basketball.

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