Michigan State Basketball: 5 Things Gary Harris Must Do to Meet Expectations
In all likelihood, this season will be the last at Michigan State for Gary Harris.
After capping his stellar prep career at Hamilton Southeastern (Fishers, Ind.) in the spring of 2012 with Mr. Basketball honors, the former 5-star recruit, per Rivals, joined the Spartans that fall with top-25 player hype.
During his first year of college, he won the Big Ten Freshman of the Year Award and was the Spartans' No. 2 scorer with an average of 12.9 points per game. He's evolved from a freshman to watch to a household name.
By now, most are aware of his No. 1 shooting guard props courtesy of The Sporting News' Mike DeCourcy. Harris, projected to be a lottery pick in the 2014 NBA Draft, has designs of leading Michigan State to a national title.
Getting to where you're going is determined by how you get there.
Talk to Shawn Respert
Skill-wise, Gary Harris is very similar to former Spartans knock-'em-down marksman Shawn Respert, who is considered one of the greatest all-around players in Michigan State history.
As a freshman in 1991, Respert averaged 15.8 points per game, just a couple of baskets better than Harris' frosh average of 12.9.
Like Respert, Harris can create his own look and is great at shooting from just about anywhere. Spot-up, drive, catch-and-shoot—he can do it all.
The only real difference between the two is that it took Respert four years to be recognized as an elite, NBA-bound shooter. As a senior, he averaged 25 points per contest prior to winning Big Ten Player of the Year honors. Also named player of the year by The Sporting News, Respert was later selected No. 8 overall by the Portland Trail Blazers in the 1995 NBA Draft.
Harris should talk to Respert, or someone else who's been in a like situation. Harris is definitely a contender for conference and national player of the years. He's a near-certain top-10 pick in the upcoming draft.
He's Shawn Respert, just two years earlier in the process.
Dialing the Michigan State legend would be a wise choice.
Don't Try to Do Too Much
This slideshow is supposed to be about what Gary Harris must do this year. But let's flip that, and mention something that he must not do: too much.
Despite lacking a big-name recruiting the class, the Spartans are a well-rounded team that's as good or better as last year's team, which was certainly better than its Sweet 16 exit indicated.
Don't look at what Michigan State, ranked No. 3 in ESPN's preseason poll, doesn't have without Derrick Nix. That's counterproductive. He's gone. Look at what the Spartans have now that sharp-shooting forward Kenny Kaminski is healthy and ready for his first year on the court. Look at the arrival of Gavin Schilling, a Euro-style forward with a dynamic skill set.
Branden Dawson has the potential to be an upper-echelon wing. Denzel Valentine is a versatile weapon. Matt Costello can muscle rebounds.
Harris will be fine.
And so will the Spartans, who also have guys named Adreian Payne and Keith Appling. There is no need for Harris to force anything. He'll likely step up his pace, but Harris shouldn't expect or intend to shoulder the entire load.
Take It All in Stride and Listen to Family
Just because this year could be his last doesn't mean it will be.
Gary Harris has three more seasons of college ball if he so chooses to play. Jumping to the draft this year would be a life-changing decision.
His game is ready.
But what if he isn't?
What if wants to live-up the college experience? He has a pro career waiting, why not stick around in East Lansing for a little longer, make more friends, break some records and earn a degree.
According to MLive.com's Diamond Leung, Gary Harris Sr. recently spoke of his son's time table during a radio interview with The Drive's Jack Ebling.
Harris Sr. said the following:
I think all of that NBA stuff will take care of itself whenever it's time, whenever that is. There's no timeline. Just keep getting better, and if he's fortunate enough to make it, then we'll just sit back and be fans.
He enjoys school, so it's not a situation where he ever wanted to come to school to get in, get out...No timeline. No next year-type deal, but it's just whenever it seems right. Whenever it is, that's when it'll be.
It's important to listen to the elder Harris' tone during the interview. It's evident that Harris has a family behind him that wants him to make the best personal decisions. Having a support system like that is crucial.
Some athletes feel the need to go pro to support their families. Harris is supported by his.
By the sound of it, whatever choice is made will be the correct choice. In the interview, Harris Sr. said that his son enjoys school, "never wanted to get in and get out" and that there wasn't a set timeline on his collegiate career.
Lead the Spartans in Scoring
If the comparison is to hold true, Gary Harris has to do something about his scoring average. Not that nearly 13 points per game aren't good, but he's capable of going for 18 to 20 a night, which slightly touches the Respert Zone.
He can get there. His 23-point outburst during a 70-48 romping of Memphis in the NCAA Tournament more than proved that. The Tigers were a No. 6-seeded team, so it wasn't like he faced a roster full of lower-tier players who couldn't come close to guarding him. He's just that good.
And for a freshman to do something like that in March is nothing short of impressive.
When revved up, senior Keith Appling can let loose for 20 points as well. He's a productive scorer, but the offense seemed to click when he did the dishing and Harris did the scoring.
Stay Focused on the Final Four
This year is Final Four or bust for Tom Izzo, who has six of them on his sparkling resume.
Gary Harris is a big part of that goal. He'll have to remain focused on playing his game and not worry about NBA hype, individual accolades or statistics.
While he'd be much more effective and beneficial as the Spartans' leading scorer, he'd still be a solid contributor with 10 points per night and shut-down defense.
Often overlooked, Harris's defensive skills are worth raving about, warranting a comparison to Charlie Bell from Izzo.
So he's a mix of Bell and Shawn Respert. That's not a bad combination.
Harris seems to be grounded. His future in the pro ranks awaits, but his story at Michigan State has yet to be written.
Follow Bleacher Report's Michigan State Spartans basketball writer Adam Biggers on Twitter @AdamBiggers81