By Joe Henricksen
Oswego East's Jay Harris, one of the most coveted senior prospects in the state this past season, stuck to his recruiting plan, stayed the course and went with a school he felt strong about from day one. With a verbal commitment given Monday, Harris will sign with Valparaiso in April, ending a recruiting battle that came down to Valpo and Ball State.
When looking at the quality of player in comparison to the level of program he signed with, Valparaiso has locked up the biggest recruiting steal from Illinois in the Class of 2010. Harris, the Hoops Report's top uncommitted player in the state, is the rare prospect that didn't get caught up in all the hoopla surrounding his recruitment. Having to play at the highest level was never a concern for Harris. He doesn't care that people say he can play at a higher level and didn't care about all the misinformation that surrounded his recruitment. With the exception of Virginia Tech, which was on Harris pretty early but didn't end up offering, he never entertained overtures from other bigger, high-profile programs. There was another high-major school that came calling as recently as last week. But as Harris did with several others, he politely said, "Thanks, but no thanks."
In this day where kids get extremely caught up in the recruiting game, the possibilities and the endless attention thrown their way, it's refreshing to see a scenario play out the way Harris' recruitment did. And credit needs to be given to Harris, who did things the right way. He didn't lead coaches or programs on. He was always upfront. And you just don't see that in todays recruiting game. Even the people surrounding Harris didn't get caught up in the sudden recruiting storm that hovered over Harris with his breakout year.
In looking back at the recruitment of Harris, it's a feel-good story for a lower-level college program and a recruiting scenario that other small college programs can feel good about. They can say, "Hey, there is a chance a kid sticks to his word and remains loyal." That's exactly what Harris did.
Typically, this is not what happens. Typically, this scenario plays out a different way: prospect blows up, big suitors come in and the little guys that were in on him early are left in the dust. All the hard work put in by those coaches and the established relationship is washed away in an instant. Again, not so with Harris.
Harris had a very inconsistent and sometimes unproductive summer on the AAU circuit. It's not as if he was overlooked by college coaches. He had plenty of exposure in some big events in front of college coaches. There were a few that remained quite intrigued, but the overall interest was cool heading into the November signing period with the exception of a few programs. Those schools that were interested were sure glad they continued to show the love as they were the ones left battling for him in the end.
The slender 6-1 combo guard with a beautiful shooting stroke and feathery touch exploded offensively this season for Oswego East. He averaged 17 points a game as a junior and then 28 a game this past year as a senior, so the comfort level and confidence he had with his high school team was obvious. He fit in, thrived in Oswego East's system and was utilized perfectly.
What was unique about Harris is that he was actually one of the more unselfish big-time scorers the Hoops Report has ever seen. He was more than willing to give the ball up. He was a scorer but not a gunner. He rarely forced shots and produced whopping numbers while taking fewer shots than current high-scorers or those in the past.
Valparaiso, particularly assistant coach Bryce Drew, who established a relationship with Harris that played a huge part in the recruitment, were rewarded for being there from the beginning and continuing its pursuit through good and bad. Valpo, which finished 15-17 overall and 10-8 in the Horizon League, boasts a ton of freshmen and sophomores on its roster and returns seven of its top eight players. Harris, though, is the type of player who can make an instant impact at that level and, in time, be an All-Horizon League caliber player.