At few points during Jalen Harris' basketball journey did he look like a potential NBA draft pick.
The late-blooming guard from Duncanville, Texas just outside of Dallas broke his back in high school and lacked the kind of athleticism required to play in basketball's most prestigious league. After joining his first travel youth team, he was a backup on the third team. He didn't join an elite AAU squad until his senior season and was hurt in the team's first event, eventually outshined by the team's multiple five-star prospects.
Harris was a three-star recruit who ranked 359th in his class, the No. 76 point guard among class of 2016 players, per 247Sports.com. He accepted a scholarship offer from Louisiana Tech, a Conference USA team that hasn't been to the NCAA Tournament since 1991. After 1.5 solid seasons there, Harris transferred to Nevada, where he had to sit for another 1.5 season before becoming eligible. Up until last year, nothing on Harris' résumé seemed to indicate an NBA future.
But after one spectacular season at Nevada, which included its share of adversity due to a foot injury suffered minutes into the season opener, the 22-year-old Harris could hear his name called during Wednesday's NBA draft. A potential second-round draft pick, Harris said he's prepared for whatever happens on draft night given the route required to get to this moment.
“It’s been a unique path for me," Harris said on Tuesday's NSN Daily. "I played for a lot of coaches and a lot of different schools, doing these different things. It just give me another thing to fall back on. When I go to this next level, a lot of people haven’t had to go through that adversity and go through these trials and these different things that I’ve overcome. Some people will get hit with that at the NBA level and not be able to get over it. That’s something, for me, that I’ll be able to push through because I’ve been through things like that.”
Ideally, Harris will be drafted Wednesday, although the number of mock drafts without his name outnumber those with him being picked. Harris sits at No. 74 on ESPN's top-100 Big Board. There are only 60 picks in the two-round draft. But Harris, who entered the draft after his junior season, offers plenty of intrigue for NBA teams.
He was one of the NCAA's most productive players last season, averaging 21.7 points, 6.5 rebounds, 3.9 assists and 1.1 steals per game in his lone season in silver and blue. That included a Wolf Pack record four straight 30-point games, a run broken when he tallied 29 points, 14 rebounds and five assists in a win over UNLV. Harris made 44.6 percent of his shots, including 36.2 percent from three. Invited to the NBA draft combine, Harris, a 6-foot-5 combo guard, posted elite numbers and was the only player to post top-10 marks in each of the athletic testing categories.
Due to COVID-19, the combine wasn't held in Chicago but was done virtually with invitees working out at the NBA arena closest to them, which for Harris was the Dallas Mavericks' facility.
“I was really proud," Harris said of his pre-draft work. "This process in general has been different. It’s a completely different year than usual, but during this time I’ve been going a lot of Zoom interview with teams. I’ve been talking with a lot of different people in the league. I’ve been working out in different locations and whatnot, trying to stay ready and do what I can. With the draft combine, to be able to do that (top 10 in all the categories), it was good going into my hometown arena, my home city, and perform that way, the only person in the draft to do that. I think it was a credit to the work that I’ve put in and what I’m striving to be.”
Harris said he's been selling NBA teams on his ability to do a little bit of everything. At Nevada, he was a strong scorer who also shared point guard duties. A solid 3-point shooter, he also excelled at getting to the free throw line. And his size makes him potentially a good defender at the next level. He's stressed that maneuverability in conversations with NBA teams.
“The versatility is a big thing," Harris said. "With the different teams I’ve been talking to, I’ve been I trying to emphasize different parts of my game to different teams. If a team needs somebody to be a creator, I can do that. That’s a big part of my game. I can create for myself. I can create for others. I can play with the ball. I can play without the ball. I’m athletic. I can guard multiple positions and have a high IQ. The versatility part is big to my game.”
Harris credited his time at Nevada for helping prepare him for a professional career. He was recruited to Nevada by Eric Musselman but played for Steve Alford after Musselman left for Arkansas after the 2018-19 season, a year in which Harris redshirted and practiced against guys like Caleb and Cody Martin, Jordan Caroline and Jordan Brown and Tre'Shawn Thurman and Trey Porter.
“Just being around that high level of players and high level of coaching I’ve had the last few years has been big," Harris said. "My first year sitting out with the Martin twins, Jordan Caroline, the Tres, all those guys, the older guys, and being able to learn how veterans move and how they operate at that level. With the Coach Muss and Coach Alford, guys who have coached pros, been around pros, been a pro, been in that environment, they’ve been able to relay that over to me, which has help me with the transition for sure.”
Harris has been in contact with the Martin twins during the pre-draft process. Both played their rookie seasons with the Charlotte Hornets last year, with Cody doing so as a second-round draft pick and Caleb taking a more difficult path, making the 15-man roster as an undrafted free agent.
“The best advice I’ve probably gotten is to be where my feet are," Harris said. "With everything going on with the draft, you never know what could happen Wednesday. You’re already seeing trades and stuff. It’s just up in the air. For me, it’s just focusing on being here and being in the moment and controling what I can control.”
Harris said he's confident he's an NBA player, but admits there will be nerves Wednesday night as the draft unfolds. He's hopeful a team believes enough in him to spend a selection on him. But, if not, he's ready to take the hard path to the NBA since nothing during his basketball journey has been perfect.
In an ideal scenario, he'd get to stay close to home and play for the Dallas Mavericks. But any NBA jersey would suit him fine.
"Growing up, I’ve been a Mavericks fan," Harris said. "I was a big fan when they had Steve Nash, Dirk (Nowitzki), Michael Finley, Josh Howard, all those guys. Watching them as a kid, that’d be a dream to stay here and do that. But an NBA jersey is an NBA jersey. Whoever takes that chance on me, I’m going to make sure they don’t regret it.”
You can watch Jalen Harris' full NSN Daily interview below.