Denton: Harris Wishing Speedy Recovery for Friend, College Hoops Star

By John Denton
April 1, 2013

HOUSTON – When Tobias Harris got word of Louisville guard Kevin Ware’s gruesome leg injury on Sunday during the NCAA Tournament, it became a very personal matter for the Orlando Magic forward.

Harris got to know Ware three years ago when Harris was a player at the University of Tennessee and Ware for an elite-level recruit who had verbally committed to play for the Volunteers. Harris was a host for Ware on his visits to the Tennessee campus and the two formed a quick friendship.

Ware, who eventually backed out of his commitment to Tennessee when then-head coach Bruce Pearl was fired, suffered a compound fracture to his leg on Sunday when he landed while trying to block a shot. Ware underwent surgery on Sunday night to have a metal rod inserted and to have the wound in his leg closed.

Harris wasn’t watching the Louisville-Duke game at the time of the gruesome injury, but soon heard about it from people aware of his friendship with Ware. Harris said he immediately said a prayer for his friend upon hearing about the severity of the injury.

``I saw the pictures and it hurt me to even look at it. I had aches and pains for something like that to happen to such a good kid,’’ Harris said. ``You just continue to say prayers for him, know that he will be fine and know that he will come back. I know him as a kid and he’s a strong-willed kid and has great family support. I’ll be excited to see him back on the court next year.’’

Harris and the Magic (19-55) are in Houston where they will face the Rockets (40-33) tonight at the Toyota Center. The Magic are in the midst of a five-game, 10-day road trip – one that started with a disappointing 97-88 to the Hawks in Atlanta. That robbed the Magic of their momentum from an impressive home win against the Washington Wizards on Friday.

The Magic could very well catch a huge break with Houston star guard James Harden still ailing because of a sore right foot. The NBA’s fifth-leading scorer at 26 points per game did not play in Saturday’s defeat of the Los Angeles Clippers and Rockets coach Kevin McHale said on Monday morning that Harden is unlikely to play.

Houston could also be without Orlando native Chandler Parsons, who is suffering from food poisoning or ``Wolverine poisoning,’’ as McHale jokingly referred to it. Parsons, who is averaging 15.1 points per game, is a University of Florida graduate and looked on on Sunday as the Gators lost to Michigan in the Elite Eight round of the NCAA Tournament.

Magic coach Jacque Vaughn said his team prepared for the high-scoring Rockets as if Harden and Parsons will play.

``They’re a unique basketball just with the way that they play, whether it’s getting to the rim very early in the shot clock or shooting threes at an alarming rate,’’ Vaughn said. ``We practiced like Harden is going to play and that’s how we prepared.

``Make or miss, no celebrating and we have to get back in defensive transition and keep them in front of us,’’ Vaughn continued. ``They will pull threes at any time and multiple guys will do it. And we can’t let them outhustle us – guys like Greg Smith, (Omer) Asik, (Thomas) Robinson coming off the bench – and we have to control the offensive rebounds. And then at the end of the night we have to contest their threes.’’

Harris had three career games early last week by scoring 20 points against Miami, 29 versus Charlotte and 30 on Friday in the win against Washington. However, he struggled against the defensive presence of Atlanta’s Josh Smith on Saturday, making just five of 18 shots and scoring just 11 points. Harris went back on Sunday and looked at the video of that game and vowed he would be better tonight.

``My looks were there and when I watched it they were shots that I usually make,’’ said Harris, who is averaging 16.3 points and 8.0 rebounds in 19 games with the Magic. ``You just can’t stress (a poor shooting night) too much and do other things out there on the floor. I think I did a pretty good job of that and stay encouraged. That’s just the nature of the NBA sometimes and you live for another day.’’

Harris said that his thoughts throughout Sunday night and Monday morning were still on Ware’s recovery from surgery. Both hail from New York – Harris from Islip and Ware the Bronx – but they didn’t meet until their time together at Tennessee where they formed a friendship. Harris stressed that Ware will be in his prayers until he sees him back out on the court again next season.

``I got to speak with him (while at Tennessee) and got to know him as a player and a person. I wish the best for him and his family,’’ Harris said. ``It breaks my heart to see an injury like that, but I know he’ll be back.’’

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