Harris and Jones Shine at Jordan Classic

Syracuse fans were treated to an advance look at the future of the program on Saturday night, as both Paul Harris and Mike Jones were feature players in the 2006 Jordan Classic. The two combined to score 32 points for the Black team, but it wasn't enough to hold off Thaddeus Young (28 pts, 13 reb) and Sheron Collins (14 pts, 6 ast). The White team won the game 108-95 and controlled the game almost from start to finish.

The Jordan Classic is rapidly gaining ground on the other top high school All-Star games. In fact, it may have already passed the venerable EA Roundball Classic, and with the current crop of players, it's not far removed from the fabled McDonald's All-American game. No "cream of the crop" list would be complete without the likes of Kevin Durant, Thaddeus Young, Tywon Lawson, Paul Harris, Spencer Hawes, and Sheron Collins. All of these players participated in the game, along with several other players vying for elite status in the class of 2006.


Michael Jordan observes from courtside.

Syracuse was one of only 5 schools with multiple participants in the game. The first, Paul Harris, is by now a household name among Orange enthusiasts. The second, Mike Jones, was looking to break into the coveted top 20 rankings of the much-respected recruiting "gurus". The two players combined to score more than 1/3rd of the Black team's points on the evening, but it wasn't enough to keep the Black team in the game.

The White team opened up an 18-13 lead five minutes into the contest, using their superior team speed and athleticism to pull away from the Black team. Paul Harris had a slow start, but began to turn things around midway through the half when he grabbed a rebound and turned it into a fastbreak assist to Demond Carter, then scored seconds later on a dunk after a sweet pass from Kevin Durant.

The assist and jam gave the Black team a short-lived 26-23 lead, but Harris ended the quarter on the bench after he picked up a third foul trying to defend Duke-bound Jon Scheyer on the perimeter. Once Harris left the game, the White team took control of the game and extended its lead to 50-43 at the break. The White team's lead was built on the fantastic transition basketball of MVP Thaddeus Young and the accurate perimeter shooting from Louisville-bound Edgar Sosa.

Despite the rough start for the Black team, Mike Jones turned in an admirable first half performance with 9 points. He showed a pretty nice shooting stroke and had much better balance to his shot than he'd shown the during the Friday scrimmage. He finished the evening with 16 points on 6-8 shooting and finally looked comfortable after seeming overmatched the previous afternoon.


Mike Jones goes to the hoop.

Jones had a particularly shaky start to the game when he stole a pass and raced in for an apparent breakaway dunk, only to realize that he taken off too far from the basket. He tried to compensate by turning it into a finger-roll attempt, but the ball bricked off the back of the rim. From courtside, Vince Carter was heard to say "You gotta dunk that." Jones responded by saying that he'd dunk it the next time, and this opened a dialogue between the two that continued throughout the evening.


Vince Carter and Mike Jones shared a few jokes throughout the game.

To his credit, Jones rebounded from the embarrassing miss to hit a three pointer from the wing a minute later. He then threw down a fastbreak dunk, and later knocked down a pair of free throws. Jones shows solid (but not spectacular) athleticism and appears to have a well-developed midrange game. But even with the strong performance on the evening, he does not stand out as an elite talent in this class, given his struggles during Friday's scrimmage.


Mike Jones is fouled on the way to the hoop.

Paul Harris, on the other hand, does stand out as an elite talent. Harris opened the second half with an absolute flurry, taking over the game with 6 quick points over a 2 minute stretch. Two of the scores came on dunks, and the other score came on a mansized offensive rebound and putback over Scheyer. One of the Harris dunks was an "instant classic" of a highlight, as he stole a midcourt pass and turned it into a vicious one-handed tomahawk dunk.


Harris powers up to the basket.

One of the most striking things to watch in Harris's game is his ability to transition from defense to offense. If his team is on the verge of forcing a turnover, he changes gears into offensive overdrive in the blink of an eye. Harris loves to throw long outlet passes once he's secured a defensive board, but if that avenue is shut off, he'll just as quickly race up the court with his own dribble.


Harris thrives in transition.

His playmaking was on full display in the second half, as he took over most of the ballhandling responsibilities for the Black team. Unfortunately, at this point Harris is much more comfortable running a team in transition than he is in a half-court setting. He had several crisp passes on the fastbreak that helped his team to easy baskets, but when the game slowed down, he settled on several ill-chosen perimeter shots.

Harris did make a three pointer from the top of the key late in the game, but overall his perimeter shooting was poor (1-5 from 3). He has a hitch in his shot that will take quite some time to sort out, but his form and mechanics have improved over the last 15 months, so it should be possible for him to become a consistent perimeter shooter.

The only knock on Harris in this game was the fact that he tried to do too much over the last 5 minutes. With the White team holding an 8 to 12 point lead for much of the second half, Harris tried to single-handedly get his team back in the game. It appeared that he was pressing, and forced several poor long-range shots, most of which missed badly. It was somewhat reminiscent of the games when Gerry McNamara tried to bring SU back from large late-game deficits, but instead shot his team out of the game with rushed shots.

Even so, Harris was a strong contender for MVP after finishing with 16 points on 7-15 shooting with 2 rebounds and 2 assists. Even more impressive was his defense on Wayne Ellington, who scored almost all of his 11 points while Harris was on the bench.


Harris picks up Ellington 80 feet from the basket.

Harris's teammate Kevin Durant (16 pts, 7 reb, 4 ast) shared the MVP honors with Thaddeus Young.


Kevin Durant and Thaddeus Young shared MVP honors.

Overall, the duo of Harris and Jones gave Orange fans plenty to be excited about. Harris is a dynamic force on both ends of the court, and is so tough that he actually jumped center at the game's onset, and also lined up on the blocks during opponent's free throw attempts. Jones brings an offensive game that promises the ability to score in multiple ways, be it transition buckets or mid- to long-range shots. Unfortunately, the two players never really got a chance to play together at the same time, but it appears that they should make an excellent high-scoring duo once they step foot on the Syracuse campus.


Paul Harris jumped center to open the game. Game-time photo journal courtesy of Clinton Langevin.

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