Q+A: Paul Harris
The former Syracuse wing is ready for another shot at the L.
by Christian Mordi / @Mordi_TheComeUp
Paul Harris is growing. Not in terms of height, but in regards to his game, and more importantly, as a father and leader in his community. The Niagara Falls native has been working on an untitled documentary, created to help guide troubled young men in urban communities.
“It was huge for me to do this. I wanted my fans and people in general to see how hard I work on and off the court,” Harris said. “I want to let people know you always have to give back.”
When SLAMonline caught up with Harris last week, the wing discussed why he decided to attend Syracuse, the historic six-overtime game versus UConn (in which he posted 29 points and 22 rebounds), his thoughts on the The ‘Cuse heading to the ACC and more.
SLAM: You were recruited by Georgetown, Ohio State, Pittsburgh, but you ended up choosing on SU, which is a great program. Some felt your skill set—a lockdown defender, with great strength and athleticism—would’ve have been better featured in a more open system. Why SU? Did your relationship with Jonny Flynn from high school have a push in it?
Paul Harris: Well, Jonny didn’t have a lot to do with my choice with Syracuse. I chose Syracuse because I felt they were very genuine, in regards to wanting me to go to their school and helping me grow as a player. Coach Hopkins was a key factor in me going to Syracuse—he was at a lot of my games, and always really showed that he cared about me as a person. Also Syracuse being so close to home played a factor as well.
SLAM: You posted close to 9 points and 7 boards your freshman year, garnering All-Big East rookie team honors. What did that mean to you? Did you feel like you had made the transition to college ball smoothly?
PH: Well, I felt there were a couple things I needed to work on. I was physically ready from a strength standpoint, but stamina wise, I felt like there were a couple things I needed to work on, to continue to play at that high level and not get tired was something I needed to work on.
SLAM: You came back after a great sophomore year, in which you posted averaged 14.5 points, 8.2 rebounds, 3.3 assists, and 1.7 steals per game. Shooting touch improved, field-goal percentage and free-throw attempts increased from 3.6 and 4.9, per game. You improved on the deep ball also—your three-point percentage skyrocketed from 5 percent to a respectable 32.4 percent—earning you Second-Team All-Big East honors. What were some of the deciding factors to stay another year, a championship?
PH: Well, [playing for a championship] played a huge factor in coming back. I remember being at Coach Boehiem’s house one year and not being called and that hurt. I thought we were good enough to make it that year. Playing in the NIT, and knowing that I knew we were a better team than that—and wanting to prove that—played a factor in coming back.
SLAM: Did you feel like there were certain parts of your game you felt needed more polishing, maybe the class was loaded that year, and you wanted to cement your first-round status some.
PH: I also felt like I another year would allow me time to work on my jump shooting as well in the offseason.
SLAM: You were also a leader and member in the Big East tourney during the 6OT win vs UConn. Many consider that game one of the best-played in the tourney’s history. In that game you logged 56 minutes, dropped 29 points and grabbed 22 rebounds. How was it playing in that game? I know you guys were dogged tired.
PH: I always tell people, on all the levels that I have ever played on, that was the most intense game that I ever played in. I knew it was going to be something special when they said Eric [Devendorf]‘s shot didn’t count. It was an amazing game played by all players, and I just was so happy that we pulled out the victory in that one. One of the best games I ever played.
SLAM: This is a very interesting time of the year, seeing as how March Madness is here, and you were one of my favorite performers in high school.
PH: Yeah March Madness, this time of the year has always been special to me as well.
SLAM: Can you describe some of the feelings of March Madness, the atmosphere, pressure of the games, and some of your favorite personal moments in the Tourney.
PH: Well, we played in the NIT my first two years, so that year when we made the run in March Madness was very special to me. The fans were intense; we had a nice run that year, and the game, the atmosphere when we played Oklahoma was crazy. March Madness was a great experience.
SLAM: On your junior year you averaged 13 ppg with 8 boards while battling a hand injury early on in the year. Despite having another year of eligibility, you opted to go to the NBA. What were some of the deciding factors to leave then?
PH: Well I left after my junior year because I felt like I had accomplished a lot of my goals during that time. We had a good run in March, I felt like I had made improvements in my game each year, and I felt like I was ready to play on the next level.
SLAM: Seeing as how the conferences will be realigned and Syracuse will be moving to the ACC, what are your thoughts on that, the tradition, and rivalries of Villanova, Georgetown, will be things of the past.
PH: Well, I can tell you that I really don’t like the move, and it’s not good for the game. Many of the great rivalries in Big East basketball revolve around Syracuse, whether it’s Villanova, Georgetown… I don’t like the move. This will also have an effect on the Big East Tourney and the games in the Garden. Some great games fans went out to see won’t be played anymore. I mean it will be cool to see teams like Duke and UNC come now on a regular to play games in the Dome—to see the fans fill the stations for those games will be cool—but it won’t be the same.
SLAM: Despite not being drafted, you continued making waves with your career, starting out first at Maine in the D-League, averaging 15 and 9 per. Halfway through the season you went to play ball with a league overseas in the Philippines, which I heard, was a success. How was the transition to the international game?
PH: Well going over to play overseas, it was a big help to my confidence. It reminded me of like when I was in high school, when I was heavily relied upon to score… just be a true go-to player and create. It was very good for me from that standpoint, and helped my offensive game and confidence a lot.
SLAM: I heard recently you were considering breaking into a new sport: Football. I even heard you tweeted, “Before you hear it on the internet I’m trying out for the NFL as a tight end. I will be at the combine, never played football in my life…” Was this a possibility?
PH: I will only speak about this once: Basketball is the only sport I will play. I love basketball.
SLAM: Now you have settled back in the states, currently finishing up with Maine and preparing for NBA Summer League. How did you like playing in the D-League, any differences? What are some things you would like to accomplish during your time here at this level?
PH: Well, playing on the D-League was different than playing ball on any other level I have played on in my life. It was just a lot to handle because one night you could be playing alongside a guy, then the next night he’s guarding you, and it happens all the time. It was very hard to get in a rhythm as a player; I know it’s hard for the coaches to get set lineups. I mean it was hard because whenever I would get into a rhythm and playing great, then trades would happen… it was just a lot. From a fan standpoint, it was great, the fans in Maine love basketball, and I really liked playing there, they always showed their support.
SLAM: How does Paul Harris gauge success on and off the court, and what’s next on the horizon for you?
PH: Well as a man, I gauge success by being a good father to my son, and taking care of my family, making sure my mom and everyone is OK everyday. From a basketball standpoint, I gauge success by playing hard and growing each day. My goal is to continue to take my game to another level and one day play in the NBA. I plan on working hard, taking my game back overseas and hopefully get the push this year in Summer League for a team.