David Griffin, general manager of the Cleveland Cavaliers, first met Joe Harris in a hotel corridor before Harris’ Virginia Cavaliers took on the Michigan State Spartans at Madison Square Garden in New York City. During their brief encounter, Griffin joked about having Harris remain a Cavalier at the pro level.
That joke has turned into reality.
The Cleveland Cavaliers drafted Chelan native and local basketball legend Joe Harris with the 33rd pick of the NBA Draft on Thursday night.
Those who know him best applaud him for being a humble person, a fierce competitor and a deadly 3-point shooter. The man making the picks in Cleveland recognized all three of those things.
“One of the things that spoke to us about Joe is that he is an over-achieving personality type,” Griffin said. “He’s going to do whatever it takes to win a basketball game. He’s a standup individual, he’s never been about himself, and he’s always been about the team. And when you can shoot like he does, especially off of screens, he is going to draw attention.” Griffin said the organization knew Harris was its pick after Milwaukee selected 31st overall. “My agent called after the Bucks picked and told me (Cleveland) was going to take me at 33 if Philly didn’t take me first,” Harris said. Harris put up double digit scoring averages in each of his four seasons at Virginia, leaving the school first in games played and second in 3-pointers made. His statistics took a dip from his junior to senior season. His Virginia squad went 30-7 on the year, winning the ACC regular season and tournament championships. The decline in numbers is a testament to his team-first philosophy, and NBA teams took notice. “When you look at his numbers from his junior to senior season, when you make sacrifices like that for the betterment and outcome of your basketball team,, that speaks a lot about who you are as a player and as a person,” Griffin said.
The 33rd overall pick is the highest a Virginia player has gone in the draft since Cory Alexander went 29th overall in 1995.
Tony Bennett, head basketball coach at the University of Virginia, lauded Harris’ off the court behavior as much as his playing ability, emphasizing his work ethic and how his peers gravitated toward him.
“The kid was an absolute rock star at Virginia, let me tell you,” Bennett said. “Maybe not as prominent as Thomas Jefferson, the founder, but damn close. How could you not be? Humble kid, great ball player, good looks the whole package. The best part about it though, is that it hasn’t changed him as a person at all.”
Bennett started recruiting Harris while he was still coaching the Washington State Cougars. When Bennett made the cross-country trek to become Virginia’s head coach, Harris followed.
Harris said he always wanted to compete in a powerhouse conference and when Bennett gave him that opportunity, he signed on to be a Cavalier.
“What made Joe and my relationship so special was that when I was recruiting him to Wazzu, he and I forged a new and strong friendship. We ventured out together and tried to turn the Virginia program around,” Bennett said. “(Harris) said, ‘I’m going to fly across the country’ and ‘I believe in coach Bennett,’ we were kind of together during the whole thing. You really can’t top that player-coach relationship we had.”
Bennett said he made multiple trips to Chelan over the course of the recruiting process. On top of being part of a beautiful part of the country, he said the hospitality he was shown inside the walls of the Harris home was unmatched.
Most current NBA players are highly touted coming out of high school, have four or five star rankings next to their names and are McDonald’s high school All-Americans.
Harris was none of those, which shows how much work he is willing to put in to become successful professional athlete.
“When you can find a guy that comes from a place like Chelan, that really says something to you,” Bennett said. “That’s a place that isn’t really a hot bed of a place, not a major city. Those types of kids that make it from those sorts of towns are really special.”
After his senior season at Virginia, Harris was not on many teams’ draft boards. He went to numerous workouts with different teams over a span of two months, and his draft stock steadily began to rise.
The Cavaliers have a lot of depth on their roster at the guard position, so Harris will need to perform at a high level to fight for minutes in the backcourt.
With household names like Kyrie Irving and Dion Waiters along with veterans Jarrett Jack and C.J. Miles on the roster, Harris said he knows minutes might be tough to come by, but is willing to help the team out however he can. “I’m going to be the guy who is going come in and be an extremely effective role player,” Harris said. “I’ll have great work ethic, I’ll come in early, stay late, always putting in the time.”I’m going to be completely fine with the role that I am assigned. Whatever it is, I’m a basketball player and excited to get going and to work on my game, and my confidence is sky-high. Keep building, keep learning.” Harris was home in Chelan for the draft with family members and friends. It was the first time in over a year all the Harris siblings were in the same house. The group fired up their grill and anxiously waited for Harris’ name to show up on the ticker of ESPN. Harris’ father, Joe B. Harris, said the wait for his name to be called was agonizing. “I knew the projections had him going anywhere from pick 20 to pick 40,” Joe B. Harris said. “It got to 25, 30, what are we going to see, and then his agent called saying he’s the next pick and here we go.”
Joe B. Harris said the emotions that followed were a little overwhelming and the mood in the room was electric.
“As a coach, you’re not usually at a loss for words,” he said with emotion in his voice. “I’m at a loss for words. He is going to be in the NBA.”
Joe B. Harris coached his son when Joe M. Harris was a Goat playing at Chelan High School. His physical stature and presence might have changed since then, but his drive, hard work and passion for the game has not.
It has been a goal of Joe M. Harris’ to be in the NBA since he was in eighth grade, somewhere many young basketball players dream of ending up. The difference with him was that he set goals for himself and wouldn’t let himself fail as a person or a ballplayer, Joe B. Harris said.
Playing against all-star talent such as Kyrie Irving and newly acquired first overall pick Andrew Wiggins in practice will be challenging and rewarding for a player like the younger Harris. He said he welcomes that opportunity with open arms.
“When you can play against people who are at your level or better than you, that just means I’m going to get better,” he said. “I’m a player who rises up to any challenge, never back down. When the play I’m around is elevated, I feel like I can use that to my advantage and get better myself.”
Mike Brown is out as head coach for the Cavaliers for the second time in five years. David Blatt takes over the reigns, and Harris seems to fit on nicely with Blatt’s coaching philosophy offensively and defensively. Griffin said he thinks Harris is a great piece to the puzzle.
“I think he will be a great fit with this team,” Griffin said. “Coach Blatt’s system really allows for shooting off of screen action, people who can shoot off of relocation and who can defend adequately, both of which are Joe’s strengths. We will definitely be able to have him come off a bunch of screens.”
Harris will get right back in the swing of things with summer leagues starting in Orlando and Las Vegas Monday, but for now he is letting draft night sink in and enjoying the limited time he has left in Chelan.