Freshmen Who Fit: Vols' Harris leads group of instant contributors
Three weeks ago, we conducted a study entitled the
Is there any common link between the freshmen that
The best 2010-11 case study in Freshmen Who Fit is Tobias Harris, the starting power forward for 6-0 Tennessee. He's averaging 16.7 points and 5.8 rebounds for the Vols while playing a team-high 26.8 minutes per game. He's 6-foot-8 and 226 pounds, but rather than being relegated only to the block, he's being used in a versatile point-forward role: as a press-break ballhandler when Tennessee's guards are being hounded; a perimeter playmaker who's drawing a team-high 7.2 fouls per 40 minutes against mismatched opposing bigs; an occasional three-point shooter (he's 6-of-8 on the season); and a low-post operator who has a wide array of offensive moves.
(The visual evidence: His first two scoring plays in the Vols' biggest win to date, over Villanova in the NIT Season Tip-Off finals on Nov. 26. In the three frames below, Harris picks for Cam Tatum , pops to the left wing , and drives on Corey Stokes for a leaning bucket :
In this next image -- also from the game's first four minutes -- Harris gets a favorable iso on the right wing against Antonio Pena , drives left toward the free-throw line , then spins back to the right and blows by Pena to draw a blocking foul :
That's not the way your typical rookie four-man operates.)
It's no fluke that Harris, a former five-star prospect, is working out well for the Vols. Coach Bruce Pearl envisioned Harris filling the point-forward spot that Tyler Smith once had in the team's Flex Offense; and Harris and his father, Torrel, targeted Tennessee because of what they saw on film of ex-Vols such as Smith and Dane Bradshaw. "One of the main things my dad and I did in the recruiting process," Tobias said, "was look specifically at what schools let their 4 men create, and let them play in a way that fit my game."
Torrel, a former basketball agent who worked with Hall of Famer George Gervin, trained his youngest three children -- Tobias, Tyler (who signed with N.C. State for 2011) and Tesia (who's on the women's team at St. John's) -- to be point forwards, and gave them pointed advice on choosing a college. "A lot of people pick schools for hype," Torrel said. "The worst thing you can do is pick a school because of hype, just so your friends can say, 'Oh, that's big-time.' Kids do that all the time. But what if there's no way you can play
Torrel said he was wary of coaches who would give lip-service to using point forwards -- "but then, as soon as Tobias got there, they would've probably said, 'Well, he can rebound, post up well, so we'll put him in the post, because that's what works with our system.'" He was hands-on in the recruiting process and told Tobias to approach it analytically, by considering playing styles and roster construction along with his opinion of the campus setting. Torrel recounted his thoughts about seven of the schools Tobias seriously considered -- UConn, Georgia Tech, Notre Dame, Syracuse, Maryland, West Virginia and Tennessee:
• On UConn, Georgia Tech and Notre Dame: "We liked UConn as a school, but when it came down to it, I think they would've tried to put him on the block. ... I think Notre Dame -- because they didn't have many big men -- would've done that too. ... And I didn't really think Georgia Tech would use him as a real point forward, either."
• On Syracuse: "[Coach Jim Boeheim] would probably have let Tobias play point forward. But what scared me there was they had already had four guys in a similar position on the wing -- James Southerland, Kris Joseph, C.J. Fair and Mookie Jones -- and we weren't sure Wes Johnson was going to the NBA yet. ... I was like, 'Whoa, that's a lot of guys,' and so I wasn't as high on them as Tobias was. But even he said at the end, 'I can see making it through 1-2 guys, but five? And if I got hurt, and sat out, I'd have to battle through them again.'"
• "So it really came down to Maryland, West Virginia and Tennessee."
• On Maryland: "Gary Williams would have let Tobias run the point forward in his system, the flex. And Tobias liked Gary and Maryland, and knew the school because my oldest son [Torrel Jr.] went there. But Tobias just didn't want to be next to a big city -- in the end he wanted to be in a college town."
• On West Virginia: "I love [Bob] Huggins, and Tobias could've played the point forward there. They showed us the way they used Da'Sean Butler and Devin Ebanks as versatile forwards, and we watched them a lot, and we strongly considered going there. But I think Tobias just would've been going there for Huggins and basketball -- he wouldn't have picked [Morgantown] if he was just a regular student."
• On Tennessee: "What put it over the top was that he liked the school and Knoxville more than West Virginia. But what made us consider it in the first place was that, in my mind, Bruce Pearl's system put a priority on using a point forward like Tobias. And they just lost three forwards from the year before [Smith, J.P. Prince and Wayne Chism all did work on the perimeter], which meant there was an opportunity. That made me even more secure in the feeling that Tobias could go there and play."
Strategic placement -- and a polished, versatile skill set -- helped Harris become one of the nation's highest-impact freshmen this season. He's the captain of my unofficial Freshmen Who Fit Team*, whose starting lineup also includes the following: