While the Shooting Stars have enjoyed more cohesive in the past, they still featured a great deal of talent in 2014. But despite playing alongside Luke Kennard and V.J. King, among others, A.J. Harris managed to stand out.
Harris always has had to face skeptics and long odds. Standing only 5-9, the diminutive floor general slots into that category of player whom college coaches almost literally see over as they’re scouting prospects.
But Harris forced his way into recognition at a tender age. Early in his prep career, at the 2012 Spiece Run ‘N Slam, he leapt out as a fast and productive little guard who loved to face down his challengers and triumph. His competitive spirit has shone consistently from day one, and Dayton jumped in with a scholarship offer prior to his sophomore season.
Still, he entered his rising junior summer sporting fewer offers than his fellow touted — and typically taller — peers. That fact simply meant he’d have to bring the fight with even more intensity, however, and following the 2013 travel season he drew offers from Illinois State, Akron, and Xavier, in addition to the Flyers.
But it was another offer, received that August, that he’d craved all along. Ohio State coach Thad Matta had witnessed Harris sufficiently to offer a grant during an on-campus visit, and Harris eagerly snatched it up.
Advancing to this year, Harris proved with the Shooting Stars that he’s a tough, aggressive performer who knows how to blend with talented teammates yet understands when to call his own number as well.
Given that he’s small, Harris wisely utilizes every tool at his disposal. Thankfully, he’s quite quick and very fast in the open court. He pushes the ball effectively on the break and also knifes into the paint in the halfcourt, either scoring himself (frequently off the glass) or hitting a teammate for a better look.
Harris benefits handsomely from being left-handed. He’s a slick finisher who shoots from angles that are less familiar to shotblocking big men, and he uses both hands to score on reverses along the baseline. Not many sub-six footers are as effective scoring in that fashion.
|Harris is mentally ready for Big Ten competition|
Meanwhile, he has improved his jump shot. Though not entirely a marksman at this stage, Harris shot 40 percent on threes through 16 EYBL games. He shot roughly three triples per game and generally made certain they were higher percentage attempts. That’s an approach the Buckeyes’ coaches will appreciate as well.
And he’s even better on defense. Harris loves to get under his opponent’s dribble and rip away steals. He pressures ballhandlers to such an extent that they sometimes must turn their back to him, and he also jumps passing lanes.
In a tight game handling versus pressure himself, he knocks down his free throws as evidenced by his 80 percent mark with the KJSS.
His take no prisoners approach also can be infectious, and he maintained his effort level even when his travel squad bogged down at times.
Like it or not, size is very important in college basketball, and at least some of the concerns about Harris do register as valid. What happens when he’s trying to run the offense while guarded by a long, quick 6-2 opponent? Will he be able to defend those same big, strong guards himself, or will they simply overpower him?
Along with that, he can improve his decision-making from the point guard spot and will need to force fewer passes than he does at present. He’s a capable playmaker, not a dynamic one, so minimizing his mistakes becomes all the more critical for him in order to boast a strong assist-turnover ratio.
Harris appears in these eyes to be an excellent four-year addition for the Buckeyes. Certain players and teams may disturb his game, but over the years he has learned ways to compensate and ideally will be able to carry that forward. He also applies great pressure with the ball in his hands, and thus even when matched up with someone difficult, he’ll be able to create his own positive action for OSU.
For him to become an impact player for a program of that caliber, Harris will need to continue knocking down his threes. He continues to have some skeptics in terms of his jump shot, and becoming consistent from that range will make his defense and fullcourt abilities all the more potent.