By A. David Dahmer
Very few athletes are talented
enough to be in a position where they have to decide whether
they should return to college or turn pro early. It’s an
incredibly difficult and complex situation for a young person to
be in and is exacerbated by the fact that hindsight is always
Sportswriters and sports fans love
to look back and ridicule the disasters while often ignoring the
successes of this particular difficult decision. Some talented
players go into the NBA too soon.
Too young and too immature, they
are quickly overwhelmed and out of basketball within a few
years, making people wonder what they could have been had they
been taken along slowly and given room to learn and grow. Other
athletes stay in college another year, get hurt, and see their
value plummet in the next year’s draft and the millions of
dollars they would have received disappear. Or, worse, they
never play their sport again.
The Wisconsin Badgers’ Devin
Harris had to make such a decision two years ago, and much to
the chagrin of millions of Badger fans, who at the time wanted
him back at the UW, it looks like he made the right one. Only in
his second year, Harris was recently a key player on a Dallas
Mavericks team that made it all the way to the NBA Finals before
falling to Dwayne Wade, Shaquille O’Neal, and the Miami Heat in
“It’s a great accomplishment for
our team,” Harris says of making it to the NBA Championship. “We
fell a little short of our goals, but next year it will be
exciting to know that we have that type of potential on our
team. Coming up a couple games short will make us work that much
harder to get back to that type of level.”
The 23-year-old Dallas Mavericks
point guard was back on his old stomping grounds, running the
Devin Harris Basketball Camp at Middleton High School Aug. 3.
Harris took a little time out from running drills with the kids
to sit on the bleachers and talk with The Madison Times. “It
just gives you a chance to give back and to teach and show where
you came from,” Harris says of his camp, which is in its
“It’s a good opportunity to work
with kids and to be a positive role model.” Harris says that the
kids at his camp are learning a variety of things — playing to
their strengths, using their abilities, defense, shooting — all
of the fundamentals. He remembers the great experiences he used
to have going to basketball camps as a kid in Wauwatosa, Wis.
One of the greatest, if not the
greatest basketball talents to ever come out of Wisconsin,
Harris says he makes it back home about half of the summer,
splitting the time between Milwaukee and Madison. “Madison is
more like a freelance city, and there’s always a lot going on,”
Harris says. “Everybody’s on their own time and relaxed; nobody
is in a rush. We get in all these big cities, and everybody’s in
a rush to do all of these things.
Madison’s a place you like to
relax in. It’s something you don’t get to do very often.” Harris
attended the University of Wisconsin and gained national
attention for his play at the collegiate level. He skipped his
final year at Wisconsin and was a top-five draft pick in 2004.
“I have no complaints so far.
I’m having a good time. I’m
learning a lot, and I’m really trying to enjoy it,” Harris says
of pro life. With an 82-game schedule (versus a 30-game
collegiate schedule) that can reach up to 100 games when
playoffs are included, Harris has learned firsthand how grueling
the NBA can be, with its constant traveling and road trips.
“In college, you’re always coming
right back after the games, but in the pros you can be gone for
10 days at a time,” Harris says. “You kind of get used to it
after a while, and it becomes less and less grueling.”
Playing against some of the best
athletes in the world day in and day out has also been a big
adjustment for Harris, who in college was usually the best
player on the court — sometimes by far. “The mental aspect is
very tough — learning how to compete each and every night
against a different kind of player; learning how to be
successful,” Harris says.
Harris has to guard many
lightning-quick point guards in the NBA. But who’s the quickest?
“There’s a lot of ‘em,” Harris smiles. “[Philadelphia 76ers’]
Allen Iverson is up there. [Atlanta Hawks’] Speedy Claxton. [San
Antonio Spurs’] Tony Parker. Those three are the tops.” Harris
grew up in Wauwatosa, a suburb of Milwaukee, where he was a
superior athlete throughout high school.
Flying somewhat under the radar,
Harris exploded during his senior season at Wauwatosa East High
School, setting school scoring records through an undefeated
regular season. He was named Wisconsin’s “Mr. Basketball” for
2001 and signed up to play for the Badgers.
In his freshman season, the
2001-2002 season, Harris was already a starter on a relatively
unheralded team. The Badgers came into the season predicted to
finish as low as ninth in the Big Ten Conference, but they
unexpectedly won the Big Ten Championship. Harris’ sophomore
season saw him lead the Badgers to their second consecutive Big
The Badgers reached the “Sweet 16”
in the NCAA Tournament before falling to the University of
Kentucky Wildcats, a perennial basketball power. The 2003-2004
season had Harris establishing himself as one of the top players
in the nation. He was named Big Ten Player of the Year, won the
Silver Basketball award, and was named a Second Team
All-American. Harris decided to leave college early, after his
junior year, to play in the NBA. Badger fans weren’t
particularly happy with that decision.
They clearly wanted Harris to
stay, but he weighed many factors before finally deciding to go
pro. Washington selected Harris with the fifth overall pick and
subsequently traded him to the Dallas Mavericks. “It was a very
That rookie season, I wasn’t
playing as much; and the team was not doing well,” Harris
recalls of his 2004-2005 season, in which he averaged 5.7 points
per game (ppg) and 2.2 assists per game (apg). “But now it
doesn’t really matter, because I’m in a position where I’m
really focusing in on a pro career and excelling at that.”
Harris was well aware that his
Badgers were doing pretty well while he was getting a lot of
pine time during his rookie year. They made it to the finals of
the Syracuse Regional before narrowly falling to the eventual
champion, the North Carolina Tarheels. Would he have made a
difference in the tournament had he stayed? “I watched that
North Carolina game. But who’s to say I wouldn’t have gotten
hurt and even been there?”
Harris asks. “Who knows what would
have happened? It’s a tough way to look at it.” Reminded that
people live to guess and second-guess about such hypothetical
scenarios, Harris reluctantly offers what would have been.
“Alright, then. If it makes everybody feel better, we probably
would have beat Carolina and went on to win the championship,”
Harris laughs. Harris still chats with his former Badger
teammates regularly and keeps track of how they are doing.
He’s looking forward to the
upcoming season. “I think they’re going to play really well.
They’re probably one of the deepest teams that we’ve had in the
last five or six years or so,” Harris says. “They lost
[graduated forward] Ray [Nixon], but everybody else is back. I
think they really have a shot to do well.” Harris is also
focusing on his own game, where he’s hoping to repeat his
successes in both high school and college.
“In high school and college, the
first year is always the toughest, the second year was a little
better, and the third year I really exploded. I really
understood the game, and I really did well,” Harris says. “I’m
hoping that this is the same type of transformation in the NBA.”
Harris showed marked improvement in the early stages of the
2005-06 season, especially when it came to scoring, ending the
year with averages of 9.9 ppg and 3.2 apg.
He improved his jump shot and his
ability to split defenses and get to the rim, occasionally
ending in powerful dunks. “In college, I used to be a shooter;
now, in the pros, I’ve been a driver,” Harris says. “I’m working
on expanding my game out on the floor and being able to hit the
Harris has always been a good
defender, but he’s bringing it to a new level in the pros.
“Defense came to me over time; being quick and whatnot,” Harris
says. “The point guards we come up against every night in the
NBA are tough. So you have to be able to play some defense, or
it will be a long night for you.
It’s something that I’ve been able
to learn how to do and that I’ve become very good at.” Harris
really began to show off all of his skills during this past
year’s playoffs, proving himself invaluable in Dallas’ quest for
a championship. He burst onto the scene in the conference
semifinal series against San Antonio, starting the final six
games of that series and averaging 20.6 points in the Mavericks’
victories in games two, three, and four.
His high was a 24-point effort in
the Mavs’ 104-103 win in Game Three. Against the Phoenix Suns in
the Western Conference Finals, Harris started the series with a
monstrous effort. He scored a career-high 30 points in Game One.
It’s clear that Harris is — along
with his good friend and former adversary at Marquette
University and present adversary in the 2006 NBA finals, Dwayne
Wade — one of the NBA’s exciting young rising stars. “My goals
are to continue to get better,” Harris says.
“Long term, I want to win a
championship. “And then maybe another one,” he adds with a