Get to Know: Tobias Harris
By John Denton, OrlandoMagic.com
Link to story at OrlandoMagic.com,
Even now, as a 20-year-old, second-year NBA player, Tobias Harris can close his eyes and hear the voice of his father, Torrel Harris, who often pushed him so hard as a young player that he routinely contemplated giving up basketball.
Even with Harris firmly entrenched in the NBA, his father’s voice is never far away as the two talk after every NBA game. Torrel once played collegiately at Duquesne, later worked as an agent representing Hall of Famer George Gervin and has since poured his life into helping his son become a success in the NBA.
These days, Harris can chuckle at the long, winding road he’s been on to get to the NBA. And his father has been right there almost literally every step of the way, helping his son reach his dreams of playing basketball professionally.
“It was tough. I used to tell everybody that I probably quit basketball as a kid a hundred times because of how hard he was working me, but it all paid off,” Harris remembered. “That’s why my dad is so excited that I’m in the position that I am now. The hard work all paid off for me to be in the NBA, but it doesn’t stop there.”
When he found out that he had been traded to the Orlando Magic last Thursday, along with point guards Doron Lamb and Beno Udrih, Harris first called his father to let him in on the news. The two shared excitement because the trade to Orlando designated a fresh start for him and an opportunity to get more consistent playing time with the Magic.
Harris has wasted no time in taking advantage of his opportunity in Orlando, twice leading the team in scoring in his three games with the Magic so far. He had 16 points in Tuesday’s stirring victory in Philadelphia and he was the lone bright spot in Wednesday’s loss to Sacramento with 23 points. Incredibly, he has made 21-of-31 shots so far by relentlessly attacking the rim.
The 6-foot-8, 226-pound Harris said that while he was initially stunned by the news that he had been traded from the Milwaukee Bucks to the Magic, he couldn’t be happier about being in Orlando. And, of course, his dad was there to affirm to him the positives of being traded to a Magic team that is built around promising young players.
“When (Torrel) heard the news that I was coming to Orlando he was pretty excited because he knows this business. He knew the opportunity that I had here and what was at stake here for me,” Harris said. “He still plays an important part in my life. He’s like my second agent. He’s always giving me feedback and keeping me on my toes. He’s not my first (agent). He might think he is, but he isn’t.”
For Harris, this foray into the NBA is clearly a family affair. While his father takes an active role in his on-court performance, his mother often tends to his duties off the court. Harris has already approached the Magic about having his mother help coordinate his appearances in the Central Florida community while representing the Magic.
In Milwaukee, Harris was one of the Bucks’ most active players in the community. He made appearances at a Boys and Girls Club, signed autographs for fans at an appearance at a grocery store and met with youth “Super Readers” at a local library. It’s that kind of work that Harris said he hopes to continue doing in Orlando for years to come.
Magic Head Coach Jacque Vaughn has already become a big fan of Harris’ because of his versatility and desire to come into games with an aggressive nature. Because of his rare combination of size and lateral quickness, Harris can play both small forward and power forward and Vaughn believes the “tweener” label attached to Harris early on is a misnomer.
“Tobias gives us the ability to guard multiple positions and create mismatches on the other end,” Vaughn said. “We’ve already seen frequently Tobias’ ability to grab the rebound and show the ability to push the ball up the floor himself. It allows us to increase our pace, which is good for us.”
Harris’ success in Orlando could ultimately come down to how he meshes with promising small forward Maurice Harkless. Their length and versatility allow the Magic to play the kind of free-flowing game that Vaughn likes, where traditional position lines are blurred. Already the duo has built some chemistry because they have known each other for years – with Harkless being from Queens, New York, and Harris growing up on Long Island in New York.
“Tobias was always a hard worker and he was always in the gym,” Harkless remembered of Harris. “We worked out with the same trainers and every time I was at the gym, I would see him there. He’s a hard-working kid and I can’t wait to work with him more here.”
Added Harris: “I knew (Harkless) about in the 10th grade. When he was coming up he was under the radar and by his senior year (of high school) he was still under the radar. He was ranked 100-something (nationally), but I always knew Mo was going to be good. At St. John’s, he blew up that year and he’s a great player on the Magic now.”
Harris said he’s patterned his game after a couple of great players – Gervin and Carmelo Anthony, who coincidentally also happens to be Harkless’ favorite player. While working out as a child with his father, Gervin would give Tobias advice. The two worked out together after his one season at Tennessee and before the NBA Draft when the Bucks made him the 16th pick of the 2011 Draft. And it’s Anthony whom Harris compares himself too because of his ability to play multiple positions and keep the pressure on the defense with his attacking nature.
“I look at a guy like Carmelo Anthony with the size and skills that he has and I try to mimic my game after him a little bit,” Harris said. “I just want to try to improve my game. You are only going to be as good as you work. You’re not going to be the next somebody else (unless you work).”
As for his jersey number with the Magic, Harris chose No. 12 – the same number worn the previous eight seasons by the departed Dwight Howard. Whereas Howard was often known as “D-12” in Orlando, some Magic fans have already taken to calling Harris, “T-12.” But in all actuality, Harris said choosing No. 12 had nothing at all with trying to fill Howard’s enormous shoes.
He’s worn No. 12 since his senior year of high school in honor of former AAU teammate and close friend, Morgan Childs, who died of a rare blood disease. Harris wore No. 12 at Tennessee, but couldn’t do so as a rookie in Milwaukee because Luc Mbah A Moute already owned the number. When he was traded to Orlando, he requested No. 12 and didn’t pause just because Howard had worn the number previously. That, in itself, says a thing or two about the swagger and strong beliefs that Harris has.
“I know that was Dwight Howard’s old number, but that’s the number that I chose,”
Harris said brazenly. “I know there are a lot of expectations with that number and I’m happy to take on those expectations.”
As for his father, Harris said he’s gotten good feedback from his father so far about his play in Orlando. The two talked often in Milwaukee when he wasn’t playing and his father convinced him to keep working and that his time would eventually come. That opportunity has come now in Orlando, and Harris is eager to take advantage of it.
“My dad is just really happy to see me out there playing again,” Harris said. “My dad has been impressed by the fan base that we have here in Orlando and how the entire organization is run first class. … I was pretty down in Milwaukee, but my dad always told me that they’re not paying you right now to play, but they are paying you to stay ready to play. That’s what I love to do and I continued to work and got better. Now, this opportunity has come in Orlando and I’m playing and that time I spent staying ready is paying off for me.”
*All photos of Harris taken by Fernando Medina.