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Maurice Harkless: Ready For Next Test

Forward Maurice Harkless of St. John’s has always been a fierce competitor and standout performer on the basketball court. A native of Queens, the athletic forward was named the borough's High School Player of the Year by the New York Daily News as a junior, after averaging 16.5 points and 11.5 boards for Forest Hills High School. Just prior to his senior season, Harkless decided that he wanted to take on an even greater challenge than the tough New York City high school basketball scene, transferring to elite basketball powerhouse South Kent (Connecticut). 

“I wanted to play the best competition there was,” he told the New York Daily News regarding his choice.

The decision turned out to be the right one. 

Playing against some of the nation’s top high school teams, Harkless averaged a jaw-dropping 27.2 points, 13.6 rebounds, 4.2 assists, 3.1 blocks, and 1.6 steals as a senior at South Kent. Surprisingly, his breakout season did not earn him many scholarship offers from top college programs, as he was reportedly extended offers from Arizona, Cincinnati, Maryland, Memphis, NC State, Oregon, Rutgers, and, of course, St. John’s.  

“My whole career, I’ve never (been paid) too much attention,” he told DraftExpress.com in an interview in mid-June.

Luckily for the Sixers, Harkless continued to fly under the radar, even after putting up stellar numbers en route to Big East Rookie of the Year honors last season. Thursday night, the Sixers made him their first selection in the 2012 NBA Draft.

It is rare that a team picking outside the lottery (top-14 picks) of the draft is afforded the opportunity to select a player with the kind of outstanding physical tools and equally impressive pedigree that Harkless possesses. 

At just 19-years-old, he already has an NBA body and at 6-9 and weighing 207 pounds, Harkless still has room to grow, according to Sixers President Rod Thorn. 

Maurice Harkless

“Maurice is a great athlete,” said Thorn following his team’s selection of Harkless with the 15th pick in the first round. “His growth plates are still open, so we actually are expecting him to grow even more.”

With a 7-0 wingspan, 37-inch vertical, and the best agility drill numbers of any small forward drafted in the first round, Harkless is a player with nearly limitless potential. Add to that the fact that he averaged 15.5 points, 8.6 rebounds, 1.5 assists, 1.6 steals, and 1.4 blocks per contest as a Freshman at St. John’s and you’ve got a scary combination of theoretical and proven value. 

“When myself, the coaches, and the rest of the front office sat down and talked (about Maurice Harkless), we felt like he had too much potential to pass up,” said Thorn. “We saw him as one of the top-8 players in this draft; he was the number-one choice (on our board at the time of the pick).”

Harkless enters into an interesting situation in Philadelphia. Many have compared his game to that of new-teammate Andre Iguodala. Thorn indicated that he would like to see the St. John’s-alum play some minutes at the power forward position, in addition to small forward, once he’s filled out his frame a bit more, but with Elton Brand, Lavoy Allen, Thaddeus Young, and fellow-rookie Arnett Moultrie on the roster, minutes could be tight at the 4 position. The rookie is not worried, though, as he sees it as a great opportunity to learn from veterans who share, with him, similar playing styles.

“I think it’s going to be great,” Harkless said of playing for the Sixers during his post-draft press conference in Newark. “They are a young team and they play really fast. That’s the type of game I like to play, so I think I’ll fit in well.”

Time will tell how the athletically gifted forward will contribute to the Sixers as a rookie. One thing, though, is for sure. He’ll have the luxury of competing against some of the best in the league at doing what he does on the court. Always one for a challenge, Maurice Harkless will surely relish the opportunity.