By Joe Henricksen
In the last Hoops Report blog on Oswego East's Jay Harris in January he was referred to as the high school version of Monta Ellis. But when watching Harris lead Oswego East this season, the easiest way to describe and picture the year he's had is to think back to the sensational sophomore season Stephen Curry had for Davidson.
Remember when the little-known, slender shooting guard from Davidson took the NCAA by storm at the end of the 2007-2008 season? He averaged nearly 26 points a game, led Davidson to the NCAA Tournament and grabbed national attention with an unforgettable March run to the Elite Eight. Now Harris is putting on a nightly game of horse, averaging 30 a night and leading his unknown Oswego East team to a 22-4 record and a conference championship. Harris & Company head into March as the No. 5 seed in the Neuqua Valley Sectional.
Could Harris' recruiting be the same as Curry's as well? Curry was a slim 6-0, 160-pound senior who shot 48 percent from three-point range and scored over 1,700 career points at Charlotte Christian School in North Carolina. However, the thought was he would not be able to handle the physical play of the ACC or any other high-major conference. He received offers from Winthrop, Davidson and Virginia Commonwealth. The rest is history as he's now averaging 15 points a game in the NBA.
Obviously the point here is not that Harris is bound for an NBA career, but rather the parallels in playing in obscurity and putting together one magical season that is now grabbing headlines. After the Hoops Report watched Harris two more times this week, when he lit up Neuqua Valley for 38 points with coaches from Loyola, Illinois State, Ball State, Virginia Tech and New Mexico State in attendance Tuesday night, and scoring 30 more in a win over Plainfield North, the superlatives just don't stop and the recruiting won't be the same as Curry. There are too many schools clamoring over the 6-1 combo guard as he's surpassed the expectations of anyone and everyone. Here is a player who entered the season in November as the 28th ranked player in the senior class. That was too low. When the new Hoops Report 2010 rankings come out he will likely jump into the top 10.
In the end, no matter what happens from here on out and what people want to believe and as crazy as it may sound with all the attention and interest, Ball State and Valpo will be tough to beat. Harris has been very upfront and honest with his appreciation to the two schools that were in on him from the beginning. Little do people know Harris actually has turned away schools with bigger basketball pedigrees and reputations, some of which offered.
For a little more Jay Harris background information and breakdown of him as a player, below you will find a past Hoops Report blog from this past January.
Unsung Harris Lighting It Up
By Joe Henricksen
Playing in the far western suburbs in the Southwest Prairie Conference can have its disadvantages. Just ask Oswego East's Jay Harris.
So while the Chicago media praises the exploits of the Jereme Richmonds and Wayne Blackshears of the prep basketball world and the local media in the far western suburbs gets hung up on East Aurora's Ryan Boatright and Neuqua Valley's Dwayne Evans, all Harris has done is light up the scoreboard and evolved into the high school version of Monta Ellis.
There was the 32 points he scored on Boatright and East Aurora in an 83-78 win and the 35 spot he put on Peoria Central in December. He hung 47 on Plainfield North and 36 more against Willowbrook in the last couple of weeks. And this past Friday night he was 10-of-11 from the field (often against a box-and-one defense) for 27 points in a huge conference win over rival Oswego, which vaulted his Wolves to 15-4 overall and into a tie for first place in the Southwest Prairie. For a kid who had to have people call him Jay because everyone was spelling his given name -- Jordon -- incorrectly all the time in the papers and internet, he's doing just fine now in making a name for himself. The problem is few people have gotten out to watch Harris.
Harris, a 6-1 combo guard, has been one of the most electrifying scorers in the state after averaging just under 18 points a game as a junior. The senior guard is averaging 28 points a game while attracting more and more interest from college programs. While schools like Ball State and Valparaiso may have a leg up on Harris due to being in on him hard and early and extending offers, the word has spread and the interest has skyrocketed. Wichita State, New Mexico State and Creighton have shown interest, while several others have and will be steadily climbing into the picture with sudden interest.
"Those five schools have definitely shown the most interest," says Harris of the aforementioned Division I schools, "with Ball State and Valpo being right there at the top."
Harris, though, still says he's figuring it all out and is just glad the doors have been opened. Those doors have swung open wide as the smooth, slender scoring guard is one of -- if not the -- top uncommitted prospect in the state, along with Julian guard Walter Lemon and the Hyde Park duo of Phillip Jackson and Fabyon Harris.
Harris just seems a whole lot more comfortable, at ease and dominating with his high school team than he did during the AAU season. The interest from colleges following the summer was mild and the November signing period passed, but there was no panic for Harris. And that has carried over into the season. He's not forcing things -- remember, he took just 11 shots against Oswego and just one attempt the entire first quarter -- while still getting his points in the end.
"I've calmed down and I've let the game come to me," says Harris of a change in his game. "Plus, playing in front of crowds like this [against Oswego] is a lot different than playing AAU where no one is watching. This feels really good right now. The notoriety I am starting to get is great. This is my senior year and I want it to be special, and right now we're winning and with this win we're tied for first."
Things are certainly coming together for Harris, who also has improved his academic standing in the classroom. The Hoops Report has projected Harris as a really nice fit at the mid-major level, a no-brainer when it comes to playing in a league like the Mid-American Conference or Horizon League, where he could really flourish.
Harris, who is among the top 20 prospects in the senior class, is at his best by putting the ball in the hole with a quick and consistent jumper, particularly off the dribble, that doesn't need much space to get it off. He is one of the best shooters in the state, regardless of class. Whether he's shooting from 20-23 feet or his developed mid-range, pull-up game, his shot and release are soft. Opposing teams are completely focusing on him defensively -- rotating different players at him, playing gimmick defenses -- so he's under pressure most of the time and still finds a way to hit shots virtually every game. With his perimeter shot and creativity off the dribble, he puts a lot of pressure on the defense with his offensive abilities. Although he lacks natural body strength and will always be on the thin side, he still will need to find a way to pack on some strength.