Gary Harris

by Peter Walsh / @Peter_M_Walsh

Gary Harris didn’t spend his childhood afternoons scraping his knees on the blacktop playing with the other kids. Instead, he faced a much more formidable foe during after-school pickup games: his mother, Joy Holmes-Harris. A former WNBA player, Holmes-Harris taught her son at a young age through backyard one-on-one games and trips to Auburn Hills, MI, where Holmes-Harris practiced and played with the Detroit Shock (averaging 3.1 ppg for her career).

Based on the 19-year-old’s stats so far this season for the top-ten-ranked Michigan State Spartans—a team-high 18.4 ppg to go along with 4.7 boards and 2.4 dimes—it’s obvious that mother knew best. “We stopped playing when I got older, but I’ve always been around the game [because of my mom],” says Harris. “I grew up with a love for the game, and it’s easy when you can go out there and play just for the love, and that’s what I do.”

After being named Big Ten Freshman of the Year this past spring, Harris flirted with the Draft. Ultimately, though, he decided to return to East Lansing to mature both physically and mentally, and prove that a shoulder injury that hampered him as a freshman was no longer an issue.

“Being able to play with the team we had coming back was a great opportunity,” says Harris. “We have high expectations, it wasn’t something I wanted to miss out on. Taking that jump [to the NBA] comes with a lot of responsibility, so I thought ‘Am I ready? Am I mature enough?’ Eighteen years old and being ready for that is a lot, so I came back another year to mature.”

All injury concerns were quelled when Harris dropped a smooth 20 points against Kentucky in the second game of his sophomore season. With the extreme hype around Kentucky in the days leading up to the game, Harris reminded the country that the experienced Spartans are still a force to be reckoned with.

“All we care about is winning and doing what we have to do as a team each and every night,” says Harris. “Those freshmen deserve it, they’re talented players, but that’s not our focus. We’re not focused on them, we’re focused on us.”