Frye Had Big Influence on Harris' Development

Note: The contents of this page have not been reviewed or endorsed by the Orlando Magic. All opinions expressed by John Denton are solely his own and do not reflect the opinions of the Orlando Magic or their Basketball Operations staff, partners or sponsors.

By John Denton
July 22, 2014

ORLANDO -- Tobias Harris grew up with a father who was a NBA agent and several of his workouts were supervised by Hall of Fame forward George ``The Iceman’’ Gervin.

But the person who had quite possibly the biggest influence on Harris’ rise to becoming a high school basketball All-American, a standout at the University of Tennessee and a first-round draft pick in the NBA was his first cousin, Channing Frye.

There’s a discernible age difference between Harris, 22, and Frye, 31, but Tobias looked on with earnest as Frye became a star college player at the University of Arizona from 2001-05 and then a first-round draft pick by the New York Knicks in 2005. That moment raised the bar on Harris’ hoop dreams and let him know that anything truly was possible if he put his mind to it.

``I followed (Frye’s) career all throughout high school and college. When I saw him make it to the NBA, it really motivated me to make it, too,’’ Harris said. ``It showed me that anything was possible. It was a dream come true for me to just play D-I basketball, but Channing showed me that I could play in the NBA also. That was really big for me.’’

Harris and Frye will soon accomplish another dream come true when they play simultaneously for the Orlando Magic next season. Harris, a three-year NBA veteran, has established himself as one of the Magic’s most reliable scorers in his 1½ seasons in Orlando. Frye, an eight-year NBA veteran, signed a four-year free-agent contract with the Magic last week, and he spoke about his excitement of playing alongside of Harris.

``I’ll be honest, (Harris) works harder than I do and I work hard,’’ Frye said of his cousin’s renowned drive. ``For him, he just has to enjoy it and the work he does needs to be seen on the court. For me, I can tell him how to score, how to have longevity in the league and how to do things. He has the skills, the talent, the body and the mind for basketball, but he just needs to be around one person who can explain it and help him become an elite scorer.’’

Tobias’ mother, Lisa, is sisters with Channing’s mother, Karen, making the two sweet-shooting forwards first cousins. The two of them grew up in New York on Long Island, but Harris’ older brother is actually closer to Frye because of the age gap between the two. Harris said the excitement of Frye signing with the Magic and joining Tobias in Orlando has been coursing throughout the family for a couple of weeks.

``(The moms) are just as excited as us,’’ Harris said with a laugh. ``They are already going back and forth on the phone trying to plan trips of when they are going to come down to Orlando. It’s just pure excitement.

``When Channing was in New York (while playing for the Knicks), it was always exciting for the families going to watch him play,’’ Harris continued. Now, they can watch both of us play at the same time.’’

The family pride extends all the way down to Harris’ and Frye’s grandfather, 90-year-old John Mulzac. Lt. Col. Mulzac joined the U.S Army Air Corps in 1942 and he eventually became an original member of the famed Tuskegee Airmen as one of America’s first black military pilots. Lt. Col. Mulzac was a pilot in the Korean and Vietnam wars before eventually returning to Brooklyn to raise eight children. Tobias said that his grandfather’s influence is all over his family and it is one of the big reasons why both he and Channing have the drive that they do today.

``We’re both still really close to him. He’s always watching our games. He always says he’s so proud of how we’ve grown from little kids handing out in the backyard to playing in the NBA,’’ Tobias said. ``When Chandler played in New York, ``Daddy John’’ – that’s what we call him – would go to all of the games.

``Looking at the structure of our family, my dad (Torrel) is a hard worker and he always did the best he could to feed his family. And then there was my grandfather, who was such a successful person in terms of being a leader and having character and charisma,’’ Harris added. ``That sort of stuff trickles down onto the children and the grandchildren. He’s that type of leader who was successful and helped us be successful people.’’

The hope is that Frye’s addition will make the Magic more successful next season. The 6-foot-11, 248-pound power forward was a big reason why the Phoenix Suns were the surprise team in the NBA last season and winners of 48 games. Frye was a major cog for the Suns by averaging 11.1 points and 5.1 rebounds a game, while shooting 38.5 percent from 3-point range.

The belief among the Magic is that Frye’s basketball smarts and strong leadership qualities will greatly benefit a Magic roster loaded with youth. Also, Frye’s ability to stretch out defenses should give more room to operate for the likes of Victor Oladipo, Nikola Vucevic and Harris.

``Having Channing on the floor is going to give us so much more spacing and versatility,’’ Harris said. ``His ability to shoot the 3-ball will help all of us so much because his guy just can’t afford to help off or sink back to protect the rim. I know when we played the Suns last season we had to be aware of where he was on the floor at all times. He shoots the ball so well for a big man and he’s a guy who works at it all the time. That’s just who he is.’’

Harris averaged 14.6 points and 7.0 rebounds a game last season for the Magic. He scored a career-best 31 points (with eight rebounds) in March against the Philadelphia 76ers and he recorded the first 20-point, 20-rebound game of his career in January when he battered the Los Angeles Lakers for 28 points and 20 rebounds. The versatile forward scored at least 20 points in a game 12 times. His best highlight of the season came on Feb. 7 when he capped an 18-point, five-rebound night with a jaw-dropping, hustling dunk at the buzzer to beat the Oklahoma City Thunder.

Frye helped motivate Harris to get to the NBA as a teenager, and now the younger player is hoping that his older cousin can help to give him a few tips on how to thrive at basketball’s highest level. Harris, who is nicknamed ``All Business’’ because of his serious, no-nonsense approach to basketball, believes that having his cousin next to him on the Magic will assist him in getting the maximum out of his vast potential.

``Channing can get me tips on how to push my body and at the same time get the best out of my skills over the long run,’’ Harris said. ``It’s definitely going to help me listening to a guy like him who has been in the NBA for a while. The best thing about him is his willingness to keep fighting. Him going through the heart issue the season before last, he was able to be patient and trust God to get through that. It shows a lot about who Channing is as a person. So I really think he’s going to be able to help me.’’