All this week and leading up to MSU’s season opener on Nov. 8 against McNeese State, I’ll break down every scholarship player on the Spartans’ roster. These should serve as your primer for the remaining exhibition game Monday against Division II opponent Indiana (Pa.).
Next up on the numerical list is No. 14 Gary Harris, who bypassed the NBA draft after a strong freshman season and returns as one of the Spartans’ two preseason All-America candidates.
PLAYER: Gary Harris
POSITION: Shooting guard
HOMETOWN/HIGH SCHOOL: Fishers, Ind./Hamilton Southeastern HS
HEIGHT/WEIGHT: 6-4, 210
2012-13 TOTALS: 33 games (33 starts), 12.9 ppg, 2.5 rpg, 1.3 spg, 1.4 apg, 29.7 mpg, 45.6 pct. FG, 41.1 pct. 3-pointers, 75.5 pct. FT
STRENGTH: Outside shooting
WEAKNESS: Shoulder injury
ROLE: Well-rounded perimeter offensive and defensive star
BACK FOR MORE: Much like Adreian Payne, Harris flirted with the NBA draft after the Spartans ended their season. Scouts were enamored with his all-around talents, and there was talk that he likely could have been a first-round pick had he come out after his freshman season.
Unlike Payne, it was a quick decision to return to East Lansing for another season for Harris.
“To be honest with you, I did some checking on Gary. His parents asked that we did, and they did,” MSU coach Tom Izzo said. “And that thing was over so fast I didn’t even get a chance to give my answer. That’s what Gary decided to do.”
And Harris comes back to lofty expectations – he’s the preseason Big Ten Player of the Year according to USA Today and is a second-team preseason all-American by both USA Today and Sporting News. Lindy’s basketball guide ranks him as the third-best shooting guard in the nation.
“As he stated to me, he wanted to just sit back, get healthy, work on his game and enjoy college,” Izzo said of Harris’ decision. “And I think he did that to the fullest.”
VITAL COG: Harris’ 3-point shooting and defensive ability made the Spartans a much more versatile team a year ago. Izzo had struggled to find a consistent deep-shooting threat the previous few seasons, and he may have one of his best ever with Harris – and the coach sees even more improvement heading into this winter.
“Gary, now, is able to do it off the dribble much better coming off screen-and-rolls,” Izzo said. “We’re going to use him in 100 different ways. He’ll have the ball in his hands more, more pick-and-rolls for him, more pick-and-pops. He’s just doing more. But he can pull up on a dime. And we haven’t had that. I think he brings a value to us. We’ve never had a guy who can shoot it like that and still guard people.”
GETTING HEALTHY: Harris also suffered two shoulder injuries over the course of his first season, forcing him to miss essentially three games. Instead of playing for USA Basketball or hitting the summer camp circuit, Harris instead opted to stay at MSU and spend the summer rehabbing his shoulder rather than having surgery on it.
“It was a pretty educated and mature decision on his part,” Izzo said.
One thing that a healthy shoulder would allow Harris to improve upon is his ability to get in the paint and mix it up for rebounds. Izzo has likened the former McDonald’s All-American to some of his program’s best rebounding guards, but Harris wasn’t able to show much of that a year ago while often wearing a harness to keep his shoulder in place.
Harris also played with a balky back for part of last season that affected his running ability. Then late in the summer, he sprained his ankle in a pickup game. Neither of those is an issue now.
“I think the Gary Harris that I see now is as good a shooter, but a lot better with the ball, a lot better decision-maker, still a great defender, and I think will be a much better rebounder,” Izzo said. “He’s running the court more like Shannon Brown and Mo Ager, which is what I think he have to get back to.”
PREVIOUS PLAYER PROFILES
Quick hits from Tom Izzo on the Spartans.