NBA Draft Analyst Matt Babcock recently talked to prospect Jalen Harris of the Nevada Wolf Pack. They discussed his upbringing in Texas, his transition from Louisiana Tech to Nevada, the 2020 NBA Draft, and more.
Matt Babcock: Being the son of two former college athletes, you seemed destined to lead a life of basketball. Could you start off by giving us an idea of what your childhood was like growing up in Texas?
Jalen Harris: I played a variety of sports growing up, including baseball, football, and track until I got to high school. We would go from batting cages to running routes on the field. I’d get to the gym as quickly as I could when I was growing up. My parents did a good job of leaving it open to me but slightly pushed me towards basketball. They left it in my hands and it instilled a natural work ethic in me. We didn’t live in a big city. We stayed in a small city called Seagoville and I went to school in Duncanville. My younger brother and I commuted daily.
Who would you say influenced your basketball mentality most in your formative years within your household, Mom or Dad?
It was a good mix of both. I'd say my dad was more intentional about it, and my mom was more natural from a mentality standpoint. I was more like my mom growing up. It took some effort to transfer over to using my dad's mentality. My mom was a great player, a Hall of Famer, and broke all kinds of records at SMU. My dad had more of a path where he had to be gritty. That taught me to appreciate everything, be grateful, and not take anything for granted.
You have been a guy who seems to appreciate those who were there for you early on in your career with your initial reluctance to head to larger AAU programs and choosing Louisiana Tech over Indiana, Kansas State, and Utah State. What was it about Louisiana Tech that persuaded you to head to Ruston coming out of high school?
I wouldn’t say I was reluctant. It was more of a situation where they didn't want me at first and then I got bigger and better. I decided to stay true to those who helped me get to that point. My last year in high school I joined Pro Skills which was a part of the EYBL. I wanted to prove that I could play at that level. Louisiana Tech offered me everything I wanted out of high school. I wasn't concerned with the size of the school, it was more about how I wanted to play. I felt that I could have been a two and through guy, if it were the right system, but I wanted to play in a point guard-oriented offense. It was a point guard-heavy system and it seemed like a perfect fit for me. Most of the other schools talked about how they liked me for my scoring. I wanted to be more of a creator. I grew up playing point guard so I felt I was more naturally a point guard. I didn't get the opportunity to play point guard later in high school just because I was one of the biggest guys on the team.
Even with offers from Indiana and Kansas State, for a player with your talent level, it’s safe to say that you were a bit under-recruited. Did that lack of recognition put a chip on your shoulder coming into your college career?
Most definitely. I feel that I've never gotten the props that match my production. I developed that chip at an early age, and I learned to use it as a driver for me. I will use that chip my whole career. The one thing that stung me the most was SMU not recruiting me. It was so close to home. I am a double legacy, my mom is in the Hall of Fame at the school, and I was productive. How did they pass on me? That has definitely sharpened my drive.
Being a rare transfer player who was very successful at both schools, how do you feel your time at Louisiana Tech helped prepare you for the role that you had this year at Nevada?
I would say the biggest thing is that it helped me develop my ability to adapt. I had to learn to adapt to change early and often. The coach that recruited me left. I didn't play the position that I was recruited to play. The school even changed from Nike to Adidas. There were a lot of things that happened that could have thrown me off, but I think it helped me focus and stay locked in. I wasn't playing point guard at Louisiana Tech so I had to become a better scorer and a better defender playing off the ball. When I went to Nevada, I was faced with that same situation. Coach Musselman left. After I committed, Lindsey Drew, who is a full-time point guard, returned for a fifth year. They changed from Nike to Adidas. I had to adapt and become more versatile. I had to play on and off the ball and deal with all of those changes.
When you initially committed to Nevada, it was under Coach Eric Musselman’s leadership. How did Coach Musselman’s move to Arkansas and Coach Alford’s takeover this season affect you?
It had a profound effect... Muss and I have a great relationship. I have a lot of love for his passion, attention to detail, vision, and, most importantly, his style of play. I felt like his system fit my style. I think I could have had a legitimate chance of averaging 30 points a game if I played for Coach Muss. When he left it hurt. When Coach Alford came, I thought he and Muss were different in as many ways as they are alike. We had a new roster, coach, and style of play. We had to learn the new system, but the coaches did an excellent job and put us in a position to be successful all year. I think we had a much better year than what most people expected. I think that was indicative of our leadership. My role didn't change much. I was still expected to lead, create, and score. I had upperclassmen Jazz Johnson, Lindsey Drew, and Nisre Zouzoua with me to go along with experienced coaches so that all made the transition more successful.
Could you take us through your current daily routine as you prepare for the NBA Draft?
First off, I wake up and I pray. After that, I do what we call Goata exercises. It's a set of movements and corrective exercises that I've been working on. I'll do those and then I usually go to the gym. For my first workout of the day, I do skill work and some competitive play. Then I’ll get a quick snack or a good lunch before I head back to the gym for my second workout, in which we focus more on the strength and conditioning side of the Goata exercises. I also do plenty of shooting in the second workout as well. There’s more micromanagement stuff in the second workout whereas the first workout is more situational. After my workouts, I do a lot of recovery work and I've been watching a lot of film. It's been hard finding a gym sometimes due to the Coronavirus, but I’m grateful for the time that we have and I’m appreciative that I’ve been able to get in as much as we have up to this point.
For those who are unfamiliar with your game, would you mind giving us a quick rundown of who you are as a player on the court?
I'm very competitive and versatile. I believe I'm the most complete guard in the draft. On offense, I can create for myself and others at a high rate. I’m good at using ball screens. I’m effective in transition and in iso situations. I can score on three levels and can post-up. In addition to all of those things, I’m a high-level creator and finisher. I've shared backcourts with all-conference guards at Louisiana Tech and Nevada, so I’ve learned to be comfortable off the ball. I’m good at moving without the ball with weak side cuts, catching lobs, and spotting up for threes. My size and athletic ability, along with my instincts, allows me to play and guard multiple positions. I can influence the game on both sides of the court.
Who is the one player you model your game after the most?
I think everybody says they take bits and pieces of everybody's game, I think that's true in my case, too. I do really like to watch a lot of Grant Hill though, so I'd say he’s probably the one player I would pick. He was able to attack in so many different ways, whether it's downhill in transition or off isolations, or getting others involved in pick and roll actions. He was good at getting to his spots in the mid-range and he was able to defend multiple positions. He just had a really good overall package. I’m more of a three-point shooter than he ever was, but other than that I think his overall package was really great.
What are some things that you would like to work and improve on your game?
I would like to work and improve on being able to make NBA reads on both sides of the ball more clearly. For example, being able to anticipate the next two rotations of a defense. The better my anticipation becomes, the easier it'll be for me to play at my own pace. That's a big thing for me, and that's why I've been watching so much film and breaking down games. I want to see what, when, and how veterans use information to feed their IQ. I’m constantly trying to transfer the things I’ve learned from watching film into my workouts. I'm a good shooter, passer, and defender. I'm still constantly working on improving those areas, but I'm really prioritizing my anticipation and my decisiveness.
Conversely, which aspect do you feel you’ve grown the most during your time in school?
I would say problem-solving. Nothing has really gone according to the script. I've been presented with many opportunities to practice. Each challenge I have faced has given me a chance to grow. Instead of getting upset when things haven’t gone the way I wanted, I have learned to embrace them and be thankful. My leadership skills have grown and my assertiveness has improved. I've become a much better player playing off the ball. I’ve learned to be able to get open and get to my spots even with the opposing team keying in on me. It's been great practice this past year. I'm excited about my opportunities at the next level, to play against closeout defenders instead of multiple help defenders.
Let's pretend you've just entered an elevator with a general manager of a team that's considering selecting you. What is your elevator pitch as to why you're the guy?
Well, it depends on which GM is in the elevator with me, honestly. I think that each team has different needs. Every team needs different skill sets, and I feel like I'm versatile. For example, let’s say I'm in the elevator with Donnie Nelson from the Mavericks. I would emphasize my ability to be more of a catch and shoot threat and cutter off the ball. I also rebound well for a guard and I can defend multiple positions. One thing that separates me from the other guys is that I can play as a high-level primary creator, too. I could be a guy that you plug in and play in any role in the offense and I wouldn’t disrupt anything, regardless if Luka Doncic was off the ball or off the court. So like I said, it depends on which GM it is. Another example would be if I was in an elevator with Pat Riley of the Miami Heat. I would emphasize my competitiveness and my fight. I’d tell him about the obstacles I've had to overcome as a lifetime underdog. I'd mention my ability to be successful in an offense that emphasizes ball movement as opposed to being ball-dominant. Again, what separates me from other guys is that I can consistently get my team a bucket at the end of the shot clock or if the play breaks down. Regardless of who they want me to play with, I can and will do everything that they need me to do, and I’ll do it at a very high level. There are stats and film to prove it.