The Tutelage of Tobias
Part I: Teenage rookie Harris taking big time in stride
"It's been good,” Tobias Harris said. “It's been a great process. Being a 19-year-old in the NBA is a dream come true. Every opportunity I get, I just try to take advantage of it, embrace it and take everything in."
As Scott Skiles began his fourth training camp as head coach of the Milwaukee Bucks, he made an observation.
“This is probably not the ideal season to be a rookie,” Skiles said. “There was no rookie league. Rookie league is so important for the rookies because we throw a lot at them. They play in that and then they come back in August, so by the time camp starts, you just put them onto your team. So they’re behind where they would normally be.”
In the same breath, though, Skiles was quick to qualify his observation.
“But there’s no reason to predetermine anything,” he continued. “Just like with any other player, we’re excited to get a look at our rookies and see where they are in comparison with the other players and how they pick up things and where they fit.”
Tobias Harris was already counting his blessings, but if he had heard those words from his coach, he no doubt would have added them to his list.
Harris was among the three rookies – joining Jon Leuer and Darington Hobson – who made the Bucks’ opening-night roster for the lockout-shortened 2011-12 National Basketball Association season.
The Charlotte Bobcats drafted the 6-foot-8-inch, 226-pound forward out of the University of Tennessee with the 19th overall selection in the first round of the NBA Draft on June 23, then traded his draft rights to the Bucks in the three-team deal that also brought Stephen Jackson , Shaun Livingston and Beno Udrih to Milwaukee.
Harris, only 18 years old on the day he was drafted, has since turned 19, but he began his rookie season as the second-youngest player in the NBA, 44 days older than Charlotte’s Bismack Biyombo.
Enes Kanter of the Utah Jazz and Kyrie Irving of the Cleveland Cavaliers are the league’s only other 19-year-old rookies.
The first 16 games of Harris’ pro career included the typical rookie peaks and valleys: he scored in double figures in three games and did not play at all in seven others.
He showed veteran savvy, though, in putting his lot in perspective and said he has enjoyed life at the top of his profession.
"It's been good,” Harris said. “It's been a great process. Being a 19-year-old in the NBA is a dream come true. Every opportunity I get, I just try to take advantage of it, embrace it and take everything in."
Harris was born July 15, 1992, in Islip, N.Y., to Torrel and Lisa Harris and was raised in a basketball family. Torrel played collegiately at Duquesne and Murray State. Tobias’ sister .Tesia earned third-team all-Colonial Athletic Association honors in 2009-10 while playing at the University of Delaware before transferring to St. John’s University. Tobias’ brother Tyler has seen action in 13 games as a freshman at North Carolina State University. And Tobias’ cousin, Channing Frye, is in his sixth NBA season and his third with the Phoenix Suns.
When asked what individuals in his life have been most influential on his path to the NBA, Harris was quick to reply.
"My parents, first and foremost, just making me the person I am today and keeping me humble,” Harris said. “Also all the coaches and friends I have. Those are the main people. They've all wanted me to be the best person I can be and also the best player I can be."
Tobias made what his father considered his “first NBA move” at the age of 10 while playing for the Long Island Unique All-Stars against the famed Gauchos of the Bronx. But it wasn’t until about six years later that Tobias first sensed that a pro career was a legitimate possibility for him.
"It was probably at the end of my junior year (in high school) and into that summer,” he said. “I was getting ranked and getting my name out there. In my senior year and in college, it was pretty much a matter that, if I continued working hard, it would happen.
"My thing is to put all my faith in God and embrace every moment I have."
Tobias achieved a rare distinction during his prep basketball career. He played in New York state championship games for two different high schools.
He spent his freshman and sophomore years at Half Hollow Hills West High School in Dix Hills, N.Y., then transferred to Long Island Lutheran High School for his junior year and carried his team to the New York Class A state title.
The following year, he transferred back to Half Hollow Hills West and led the Colts to a 24-2 record and the New York Class AA state championship game, averaging 24.7 points, 14.4 rebounds, 3.6 assists and 3.3 blocks per game.
Harris became the 12th Long Island prep player to score 2,000 career points, was named New York's Mr. Basketball and made the all-USA Today Team.
A dramatic transformation took place between Harris’ state championship games, though.
Visit Bucks.com again soon to read Part II of this story.